The SLPP was the first to place cash deposits for the local government (LG) elections. No sooner had the Election Commission (EC) announced its decision to accept deposits than the SLPP politicians were seen rushing to the District Secretariats. In fact, they made a public display of doing so obviously in a bid to have the people believe that their party was so confident of winning the polls that it was in a mighty hurry to enter the fray. But the public is not so naïve to fall for such tactics.

The SLPP has decided against contesting the upcoming local government elections in the municipal council areas of Colombo, Kolonnawa and Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia in keeping with an electoral pact with the UNP, according to media reports. The UNP will give the SLPP a piggyback ride in these areas. The SLPP will back the UNP in these areas and receive, in return, some seats that the latter is expected to secure under the Proportional Representation (PR) system. The two parties are contesting the polls jointly in some other areas as well.

Given the present circumstances, the UNP and the SLPP, sharing power at the centre, may not have been able to think of a better alternative. They cannot be unaware that although its leaders have joined forces for expediency, their party members are far from united. They seem to have striven to bring about some unity between the two parties at grassroots level, and strengthen their alliance.

The Yahapalana government disintegrated mainly because the UNP and the SLFP parted company to contest the local government elections in April 2018. The SLFP did not want to enter into any electoral pact with the UNP because such a course of action would have given a tremendous boost to the SLPP, which was eating into its support base. The UNP was also not keen to coalesce with the SLFP, which, it knew, had lost most of its vote bank to the SLPP by that time. Both of them lost the LG elections badly, and the meteoric rise of the SLPP began.

Coalition politics has become the order of the day in Sri Lanka thanks to the PR system. No political party can win an election under its own steam without forming electoral alliances because every vote matters at an election held under the PR system. Both the UNP and the SLPP have formed electoral alliances with others previously, but until April 2022, never would anyone have expected the two parties to join forces, much less contest elections together, for ideologically they are like chalk and cheese.

It was primarily to upend the UNP’s policies and programs that the SLPP sought and obtained popular mandates at the last two national elections in 2019 and 2020. The SLPP branded the UNP as a party of traitors and anglophiles and the latter accused the former of being racist and corrupt. They used to trade countless allegations and even insults in the parliament. One of the main pledges of the UNP ahead of the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2015 was to bring the Rajapaksa family and its cronies to justice for the plunder of public funds, abuse of power, killings and various corrupt deals. But nothing of the sort happened, and today they are together, contesting elections together!

The SLPP obtained a staggering 6.85 million votes (59%) at the last general election and secured 145 seats while the UNP polled only 277,000 votes (2.15%) and none of its candidates were elected; it received only a single National List seat. It is highly unlikely that there has been a significant expansion of the UNP’s vote base during the past few months to turn the tables on its offshoot, the SJB, simply because UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has become the President. The SLFP was trounced at the 2018 LG elections although its leader Maithripala Sirisena was the popularly elected President at the time. Wickremesinghe has not been elected by the people, and he owes his elevation to the presidency to the SLPP parliamentary group, which is afraid of facing elections. State Minister Sanath Nishantha recently suffered a humiliating defeat at the Arachchikattuwa co-operative society election, where he even lost his deposit!

There has been no discernible improvement on the economic front, and attacks on democracy are on the increase under the SLPP-UNP administration. There has been a let-up in public protests against the government, but people are resentful, and the prospect of facing the LG polls must be a really worrisome proposition for both the UNP and the SLPP.

The coming together of the SLPP and the UNP has alienated many of its voters, who are likely to support the SJB and the Freedom People’s Alliance at the LG polls. The recent Supreme Court order that Sirisena pay Rs. 100 million as compensation to the Easter Sunday terror victims could not have come at a worse time for the SLFP. Some floating voters, especially the youth, are likely to back the JVP-led NPP, as they are fed up with the main political parties and their offshoots, and are unaware of the JVP’s ugly past.

The JVP boasts of being the most popular party at present. It seems to have gone by social media campaigns, but whether it will be able to translate its ‘popularity’ into votes at elections remains to be seen. It polled about 446,000 votes (3.84%) at the last general election, and does not control even a single local government institution; the challenge before it is at least to double the number of its votes at the LG polls.

The only way the UNP and the SLPP could gain some respite is to derail the LG polls although such action is bound to be counterproductive in the long term. There is no guarantee that they will be able to recover lost ground and win over the public by postponing elections even if they succeed in putting the economy back on an even keel with the help of the IMF. But a drowning man clutches at anything, and hope springs eternal.

The SLPP and the UNP have not given up their efforts to postpone the LG elections. They have pinned their hopes on a fundamental rights case filed against the EC. etc., for conducting elections amidst the current economic crisis and the recently-ratified election expenditure regulation Bill, which, once certified by the Speaker, will require the EC to put in place required regulations in keeping with the new law before the conduct of the LG polls. The government thinks this process will cause the EC to delay the polls. Such is its fear of elections!


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