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Sunday, 20 July 2014

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Harin no match for Shashendra

The United National Party (UNP) won the July 1977 general election with a landslide, reducing the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), to a mere eight seats. The SLFP was relegated to the third place and the TULF leader A. Amirthalingam became the Opposition leader.

The UNP's five-sixths majority was a carte blanche cheque to the new Prime Minister J.R. Jayewardene to do anything and everything, except to make man a woman and vice versa. He changed the Constitution and introduced the Executive Presidency and the preferential voting system.

Although Jayewardene was not elected the Executive President in 1978, he exploited the UNP's resounding victory and switched to Executive Presidency and appointed his deputy leader R. Premadasa as Prime Minister - a post which Premadasa compared to a peon after succeeding Jayewardene in 1988.

The enormous power which devolved on President Jayewardene made him feel that the masses gave the UNP a permanent mandate. He ordered that the electoral map be folded and even put off the 1983 general election with a controversial referendum which was marred by large-scale rigging.

Despite the Opposition yearning for elections, during the 17-year UNP regime from 1977 to 1994, the iron fist of successive Presidents from the UNP folded the electoral map and by-elections were also scrapped under the 1978 Constitution.

In contrast, President Mahinda Rajapaksa holds various elections on a regular basis to feel the pulse of the people. Since his first election as President in November 2005, President Rajapaksa has kept the Elections Department on its toes every year.

Be it Local Government elections, Provincial Council elections, parliamentary general election or Presidential election, the masses are given an opportunity to exercise their franchise almost twice a year.

President Rajapaksa has implicit faith in democracy and the people's power. This made him hold elections well ahead of their scheduled dates. Although the then Opposition agitated for elections from 1977 to 1994, the current main Opposition is perturbed over the President holding too many elections.

The UNP's mindset is understandable as it had lost 29 successive elections under the weak leadership of Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. After every election defeat, Wickremesinghe faced severe opposition from the rebels in his party who are determined to oust him.

Wickremesinghe seems to have got cold feet over the recent announcement of the Uva Provincial Council election. Another impending defeat for the UNP is unavoidable in Uva and would add another record - the 30th election defeat under Wickremesinghe's tottering leadership.

Unlike earlier, this time Wickremesinghe wouldn't be able to remain in the UNP leadership if his party loses the Uva Provincial Council election. Hence, he comes up with various strategies to win over the opponents in his own party and tries to discredit the Government with cock and bull stories to mislead the UNP membership.

Nominations for the Uva Provincial Council elections will be received from July 30 to August 6 at the nomination centres in the District Secretariats, according to the Elections Department.

Wickremesinghe who lives in a dream world, says that it is time for all forces to get together and “overthrow an undemocratic and dictatorial regime”. One wonders whether the UNP leader has gone bonkers after suffering so many humiliating election defeats. He is now struggling for survival and is making every effort to retain his post as the UNP and Opposition leader.

When there was mounting pressure from within the party for him to step down from the leadership, Wickremesinghe took a leaf from his uncle Jayewardene's book to introduce the much-talked about Leadership Council. This helped him immensely to isolate his main contender Sajith Premadasa after getting Karu Jayasuriya to head the Leadership Council, a toothless tiger.

Wickremesinghe is now making sweeping statements to boost his ego, fearing that the Uva polls would put an end to his role as UNP leader. Being acutely aware that the increasing number of defeats would compel him to bid adieu to the UNP leadership and politics, Wickremesinghe is resorting to many tactics to woo the support of UNP Reformists who at one time demanded that the party leadership be handed over to Sajith Premadasa.

These demands are fizzling out with the amnesty from the UNP leadership that disciplinary action would be dropped against the reformist rebels. Apart from parliamentarian Palitha Thewarapperuma, Wickremesinghe is reportedly sinking differences with former UNP Provincial Council members Shiral Laktillake and Maithri Gunaratne after the duo were refused UNP candidacy to contest the last Western and Southern Provincial Council elections. The disciplinary action initiated by the UNP against several other reformist group members will also be withdrawn as Wickremesinghe is going hammer and tongs to isolate his main rival in the leadership battle.

Despite the overwhelming odds, Wickremesinghe has fortified his position as the UNP leader and is in firm control. There is no doubt whatsoever that Wickremesinghe would become the UNP's candidate for the next Presidential election. The UNP leader has vowed to contest the next Presidential election sans any outsiders as the common candidate.

The much hyped common candidate for the next Presidential election is only an illusion as none of the leaders in the main Opposition parties would wish to forgo their chances of contesting. Democratic Party leader Sarath Fonseka said that the UNP and the JVP should support his candidacy as the common candidate as they had done in the past.

However, Fonseka himself, is unsure as to whether he could contest an election as he had been stripped of his civic rights on a court order. If Fonseka were to contest, he would not only expose his political nudity but would be unable to command even one-tenth of the votes he had polled in 2010 with the backing of the UNP and the JVP.

On the other hand, Wickremesinghe would not make the same mistake again. Although the new JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake is running helter-skelter in his quest for a common candidate, they would not entertain an outsider for the job. Despite Anura Kumara being in the forefront of the JVP's call to field a common candidate, their trade union stalwart K.D. Lalkantha maintains that the common candidate should be from within the party.

In this scenario, the ruling UPFA is set for another comfortable victory at the Uva Provincial Council election, giving another five-year term to the incumbent Chief Minister Shashendra Rajapaksa. The UNP's chief ministerial candidate Harin Fernando is certainly no match for Shashendra Rajapaksa.

In fact, the Badulla District's only UNP parliamentarian cut a sorry figure when he confronted North Western Province Chief Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera in a television debate recently. Fernando met his waterloo for making unwarranted comments and character assassination to gain petty political mileage.

Although Jayasekera demonstrated his gentlemanly qualities by making a public apology, Fernando is maintaining a deafening silence knowing only too well that his foul language wouldn't be accepted by the masses. People in Uva saw Fernando's true colours after he challenged Chief Minister Jayasekera. His unbecoming conduct is not in keeping with one who aspires to become a Chief Minister. Fernando would, no doubt, have to pay for his sins with a bigger defeat at the Uva Provincial Council elections.

An inevitable landslide victory for the UPFA at the forthcoming Uva Provincial Council elections would induce the Government to go for an early Presidential election, throwing the Opposition into deeper political wilderness.

Certain insidious Western elements have already begun pumping money for a regime change they dream of. Nevertheless, the masses would rally round President Rajapaksa to show their profound gratitude to the leader who had liberated the country from the menace of LTTE terrorism and ushered in peace and harmony.

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