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Sunday, 23 August 2015

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Can MR recover lost prestige?

Strategic errors dented his image:

Perhaps former President Mahinda Rajapaksa's fall from grace could be a temporary setback not only for him but for the members of his bandwagon.

Being the executive president twice, Rajapaksa had reconciled himself to contest a seat and appear as an ordinary MP in parliament, in less than eight months.

Yet, the strategic errors committed by his administration had dented his image as well as that of his party. It could also not erase out the ill-feelings in the minds of the ordinary voter who must have weighed the pros and cons before casting his vote this time.

A strong 'Bring Back Mahinda' campaign by staunch Rajapaksa loyalists in UPFA rainbow coalition ensured Rajapaksa's comeback and also paved the way for him to become the head of the UPFA Elections Operations Committee.

The former President made his political come back at the UPFA's maiden election rally held in Anuradhapura on July 17. Though he played the key role at the UPFA's election campaign to overthrow former UNP led government, his attempt failed as the UNP led United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG) secured 106 seats at the August 17 polls while his SLFP led UPFA coalition could muster only 95 seats. Former President Rajapaksa who is considered a war hero by the country's majority Sinhalese for ending a three-decade old LTTE terrorism in 2009 contested from the country's third largest electoral district, Kurunegala, where many voters have their relatives in the military.

Rajapaksa launched his campaign on the Sinhala nationalist platform, warning that the UNP and its leader have weakened the military, putting the country's national security at risk. However, the victory of the UNFGG thwarted former President Rajapaksa's attempt to return to power seven months after he lost the presidency.

According to the outcome of the final results, the ruling UNP had won 11 out of the 22 districts and the main opposition UPFA had consolidated its power in 8 districts. The three districts in the Tamil dominated North and the East were won by the ITAK.

Yet, another significant feature in the election result was that the UNP's number of seats in the 225 member Parliament dramatically increased from 40 to 106 at the recently concluded General Election, barely short of 113. The August 17 election result is a clear testimony to former President Rajapaksa's Sinhala nationalist themes losing ground.

However, after the August 17 electoral defeat of his party, former President Rajapaksa's appearance at Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's swearing-in ceremony was an indication of his attempts at recovering lost prestige. After their victory at August 17 General Election, Premier Wickremesinghe made an open invitation to build a consensual government to create a new country.

Both President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe stressed the importance of forming a national government with the participation of the two main political forces during the run-up to the August 17 parliamentary election.

Rajapaksa conducted the UPFA's election campaign on a pledge not to form a national unity government with the UNP. Refuting Rajapaksa's claim, UNP General Secretary Kabir Hashim and SLFP General Secretary Duminda Dissanayake on Friday (August 21) signed a MoU for the formation of national government just after UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe's swearing-in as the new Prime Minister.

Despite signs of resolving the internal disputes in the SLFP after the August 17 General Election , the UPFA on Friday made drastic changes to their national list announced before the polls. The new 12 member UPFA's national list included 7 UPFA candidates who contested recent General election but failed to enter parliament.

It was evident that almost all the names of Rajapaksa loyalists in the previous national list had been replaced with new members who joined previous UNP led government accepting ministerial portfolios.

In addition, a couple of hours after the SLFP signed the MoU with the UNP, UPFA Parliamentarians Kumara Welgama, Pavithra Wanniarachchi and S.M. Chandrasena who were ardent supporters of former President Rajapaksa were removed from the UPFA's Executive Committee.

President Sirisena and Rajapaksa became bitter rivals after the former broke away from the SLFP and joined the then UNP led opposition to challenge Rajapaksa and later defeated him.

But President Sirisena was not able to withstand pressure from Rajapaksa's loyalists and had to give him a party ticket to contest the polls from Kurunegala district. The SLFP on

Thursday (August 20) announced that they will form a national unity government with the UNFGG after Mahinda Rajapaksa failed in his bid to become Prime Minister.

At present, Rajapaksa loyalists have engaged in yet another attempt to make him the Opposition Leader of new parliament while a large number of UPFA Parliamentarians elected to the new parliament have requested former President Rajapaksa to accept the post of the Opposition Leader. However, Rajapaksa has not given a positive signal so far but expressed his desire to remain as a backbencher giving the opportunity for a SLFP senior to accept the post of the Opposition Leader.

 

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