Efficiency alone does not ensure votes for Basil Rajapaksa. As well, he has to live down many allegations and court cases.

By Kassapa 

It is not always that Basil Rajapaksa speaks his mind but when he does, there is a purpose behind it.

Therefore, when Rajapaksa, the ‘founder’ of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) gives an interview to ‘Sirasa’, a media network generally considered hostile to the Rajapaksas, and has a free and frank discussion, there has to be a motive behind that exercise.

What Rajapaksa said was extremely interesting and offered an insight into the pathetic plight the SLPP has descended to, despite still being the ruling party by virtue of retaining its parliamentary majority.

It was obvious that Rajapaksa was using the interview to try and persuade President Ranil Wickremesinghe to hold a general election before the presidential election. To do so, he outlined his own flawed logic and it wasn’t very convincing.

If a presidential election is held first and a winner emerges even if it is by a margin of one vote, the general election that follows will be extremely advantageous to his or her party, Rajapaksa claims. In the only instances where this has actually happened, the beneficiaries were Basil’s brothers, Mahinda and Gotabaya in 2010 and 2019 respectively. What must be noted is that their victory margins at the presidential elections were very comfortable.

There have been plenty of other Presidents who won elections but their parties didn’t fare that well at the general election that followed. Ranasinghe Premadasa’s United National Party (UNP) managed 125 seats in 1989, Chandrika Kumaratunga’s Peoples’ Alliance won 107 seats a decade later and the United National Front (UNF) could also secure only 107 seats after Maithripala Sirisena’s victory in 2015. So, what Rajapaksa is saying is not very accurate.

In what at first glance appears to be a confession, Rajapaksa acknowledges that the SLPP gaining a two-thirds majority at the 2020 general election did not augur well for the country. That is now a stubborn fact that history will record and, in a sense, it was the arrogance of that majority that led Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his government to act with impunity, bringing about their own downfall at the ‘aragalaya’ in 2022.

Basil Rajapaksa did not have this political wisdom five years ago. It was the same two-thirds majority conferred on the SLPP that enabled the then government to amend the Constitution, removing the bar on dual citizens holding office. This allowed Basil to return to Parliament and preside over the country’s economic debacle as Finance Minister.  

What is more illuminating is the argument that Rajapaksa then puts forward as a strategy for the general election. Among the three major parties, explains Basil, the SLPP has both a party network as well as a vote base, the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) also has a vote base and the UNP has the person most suited to guide the country out of its present crisis in President Wickremesinghe. 

Therefore, the three parties must pool their resources to ensure they returns to power for “the sake of the country”, says Rajapaksa. In so saying, Rajapaksa inadvertently reveals several conclusions that he has obviously reached.

Firstly, Rajapaksa deduces correctly that the SLPP’s chances of winning even at a general election are virtually zero. Even to get a decent number of MPs into the next Parliament, he would have to contest as a coalition with the UNP and, preferably, with the SJB too joining that alliance, improbable though that may seem at this time. The assumption is that, if the votes of the three parties are assessed as one alliance, the proportional representation system will give them a few seats in each district. If they contest separately, they could all end up as ‘also ran’s.

Secondly, Rajapaksa’s strategy is an admission that the SLPP does not have a leader of national stature at this stage. He said as much when he stated that Gotabaya Rajapaksa was not successful. The choice of Wickremesinghe is one of necessity, of choosing of the lesser evil for their own survival rather than marvelling at Wickremesinghe’s political skills and recruiting him to ‘save’ the country.

What Rajapaksa does not say in so many words is also equally important. That is the tacit acknowledgment that the frontrunner in the political stakes at this point in time is indisputably the Jathika Jana Balavegaya (JJB) and its presidential candidate Anura Kumara Dissanayake. Agitating for a general election first is confirmation that Rajapaksa envisages the real prospect of Dissanayake winning the presidential election, if it is held first.

It could still happen even if it is held after a general election but that is precisely what Rajapaksa wants to stifle. He aims to do so by holding a general election first, hoping that the JJB will not win a simple majority. With Wickremesinghe still in office as President, this would create a window of opportunity for Rajapaksa to set up a grand coalition of UNP, SLPP and SJB MPs with rewards being offered in the form of cabinet portfolios etc.

If such a coalition materialises, they could then put forward Wickremesinghe as their presidential candidate and hope that, with the reins of government in their hands, they can swing the results of the presidential poll in their favour. It is indeed a far-fetched strategy but this is what Basil Rajapaksa is touting because that is the only way out for the Rajapaksas now.          

Whether Wickremesinghe will rise to this bait remains to be seen. If he has any political sense after five decades in politics, the best option for him is retirement but people in positions of power seldom see the need to give it up gracefully. He may even have grandiose thoughts of contesting on his own steam and winning.

So far, Wickremesinghe is reported to have told his ministers to prepare for a presidential election and UNP General Secretary Range Bandara has said the presidential poll will be held first. Rajapaksa does have the option of forcing Wickremesinghe’s hand by getting a majority of MPs to pass a resolution to dissolve Parliament but that would antagonise Wickremesinghe and kill any hopes of a coalition.

To summarise then, what Basil Rajapaksa did in his interview was to say that the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna was sinking fast and send out a SOS to Ranil Wickremesinghe to save them. We have to wait and see whether Wickremesinghe responds- or whether he turns a deaf ear.


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