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Sunday, 6 December 2009

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A marriage of convenience

The United National Party (UNP), the main Opposition, has broken a 62-year-old record by deciding not to field a candidate for the forthcoming Presidential Election.

The UNP, one of the oldest and the largest political parties in the country, has contested all major elections in Sri Lanka under its elephant symbol for over six decades.

Having lost 23 major elections under the tottering leadership of Ranil Wickremesinghe, the UNP decided to end the party's successive election defeats by not fielding a candidate. The UNP's political bankruptcy was highlighted by its failure to field a candidate for the Presidential Elections scheduled for next month.

In other words, the UNP membership does not have confidence in Wickremesinghe. This too is quite understandable as Wickremesinghe is now a champion loser. He was defeated at two successive Presidential Elections, two General elections and many other Provincial Council and Local Government elections.

Wickremesinghe prefers to evade another election defeat so that he could continue to hang on to the party leadership. He knows only too well that winning is out of the question. Wickremesinghe does not favour promoting senior leaders of his party such as Karu Jayasuriya, S.B. Dissanayake, Rukman Senanayake or Tissa Attanayake.

Instead, Wickremesinghe, together with another isolated and bankrupt politician Mangala Samaraweera, introduced the 'common candidate' formula to the party.

On the other hand, the JVP, the People's Liberation Front, has also joined the bandwagon, not knowing which path the so-called common candidate would take. Having lost the cream of its popular leadership such as Parliamentarian Wimal Weerawansa, the JVP is in the political wilderness.

This was manifest at the recent Provincial Council elections where the JVP was rejected in its Southern stronghold.

In the circumstances, the JVP would not even dream of fielding a candidate for the Presidential Election and expose the party's political nudity. The only option for the JVP is to hold hands even with the devil. This was precisely why the JVP decided to come together on a common platform with the UNP, which killed thousands of JVP activists during the height of the 1987/89 terror.

Be it political, social or any other sphere, there are abysmal differences of opinion between the two parties. Understandably, the two political parties have no option due to President Mahinda Rajapaksa's unprecedented popularity as the leader who saved the nation from the clutches of LTTE terror which ruined the country for three decades.

The JVP's main campaign slogan is to abolish the executive presidency, despite the fact that its founder Rohana Wijeweera also contested the 1982 Presidential election. In contrast, it was the UNP which masterminded the controversial 1978 Constitution under President J.R. Jayewardene's regime which gave birth to the executive presidency, stripping executive powers from the Parliament. Will the UNP which 'invented' the executive presidency and enjoyed its powers to the utmost under the Jayewardene and Premadasa regimes, ever dream of abolishing such a powerful system?

Retired General Sarath Fonseka has unveiled plans to contest the upcoming Presidential Election with the blessings of the UNP and the JVP. He intends to contest under a 'hired' symbol, as he is not eligible to contest the Presidential Election as an independent candidate since he was never a legislator at any level. Shortly after the Security Forces liberated the Wanni, the then Army Commander said he would never take to politics as he is not familiar with that subject as he had been a soldier for the greater part of his life - for four decades. But Fonseka has lost the trust people had as he has now decided to enter politics.

We certainly respect Fonseka's right to indulge in politics as any other civilian. But what baffles the public is Fonseka's double standards, as he now adopts a different stand on politics and seeks to grab the full honours for the success of the Security Forces to fulfil his political agenda. Could anybody expect such a person to keep his word on abolishing the executive presidency, in the event he wins?

When the UNP's nominations for the last Colombo Municipal Council Elections were rejected, the party leadership decided to back an independent group led by a three-wheel taxi driver, who promised to hand over power to the UNP after their victory.

But what happened? Though the UNP-backed independent group emerged victorious, they did not hand over the mayorship to the UNP. Wickremesinghe and his men could not control the three-wheeler driver who continued to be the Mayor until recently. As former UNP Minister Johnston Fernando MP rightly pointed out, will Wickremesinghe, who was unable to handle a three-wheeler driver, control a General who has strong aspirations for power? The aspirations of the UNP or the JVP would be thwarted even if Fonseka wins.

What is the guarantee that those two parties could give their voters that Fonseka would not enjoy the plums of office of the executive presidency?

The executive presidency is a dual sword. If it gets in to the wrong hands, the country could head towards a dictatorship or military rule. But a loyal and patriotic leader could use those powers for the betterment of the nation.

President Rajapaksa made full use of his executive powers to give an inspiring leadership to the country's battle against terrorism.

Had it not been for the bold decisions he took with his executive powers, the Security Forces would never have liberated the North and the East.

On securing another term in office, President Rajapaksa would be only too happy to abolish the executive presidency - much more than any other politician. We are supremely confident that President Rajapaksa would hand over the executive powers to Parliament during his second term.

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