DEW makes strong case against snap national polls


... calls for thorough examination of ground realities before holding elections two years ahead of schedule

By Shamindra Ferdinando

General Secretary of the Communist Party and senior minister, Dew Gunasekera is convinced that the ruling coalition should review its decision to go for a snap presidential election early next year, probably as early as January.

Political veteran Gunasekera, in an exclusive interview with The Island, said that the SLFP-led coalition should closely examine several critical factors before advancing the next presidential election. The National List MP said that he was speaking to the media after having discussed the issue with his ministerial colleagues, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Prof. Tissa Vitharana.

Asked whether the leftist parties in the coalition had launched a political project to deter the government from calling for an early national election, Minister Gunasekera emphasized that whatever their opinion, it would be the prerogative of the SLFP to set the dates for not only national but provincial polls as well. "Of course, the dominant constituent of the UPFA can ignore our concerns. Regardless of the SLFP’s position, left parties felt the need to warn of possible consequences of an unneeded election at this juncture."

Gunasekera said: "Calling for either presidential or parliamentary polls nearly two years ahead of the scheduled dates can cause a catastrophe. As last presidential and parliamentary polls were held in January and April, 2010, there is absolutely no need to engage in a risky political venture now."

Responding to another query, the CP chief said that the UPFA had an unprecedented two-thirds majority in parliament as well as all Provincial Councils under its control except the Northern Provincial Council; therefore there couldn’t be any requirement for a fresh mandate. The government still had time to present two budgets before the next presidential and parliamentary polls in early 2016, the minister said. He pointed out that the SLMC and CWC which contested on the UNP ticket at the last parliamentary polls switched their allegiance to President Rajapaksa. Their entry increased the number of members on the government side to over 160, the minister said.

Budget 2015 and budget 2016 could be used to introduce genuine reforms which would bring immense relief to the masses struggling to make ends meet, the CP chief said.

Having admitted that he could earn the wrath of an influential section of the government for taking an entirely a different view, the minister said that he was not seeking any personal gain at the expense of the government. Those pushing for an early presidential poll hadn’t even thoroughly examined the ground realities in the post-LTTE era, the minister said, adding that it would be a monumental challenge to secure over 50 per cent of the vote at the first count.

The possibility of having to face counting of second preference was frightening, the seasoned politician said, asserting that some political parties were preparing to exploit the situation. In case, the Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi led Tamil National Alliance (TNA) fielded a candidate, the political grouping would definitely urge people to cast their second preference to UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe, he said.

Referring to ongoing consultations between the TNA and UPFA constituent, the SLMC, the minister said that an alliance between them could cause a debilitating setback in the run-up to the next national election. Such an alliance would be inimical to the government, the minister said, reminding that the TNA was now free to charter its own course without having to play second fiddle to the LTTE. Government strategists couldn’t ignore the TNA factor, the minister said. "In the run-up to the November 2005 presidential election, the TNA declared on behalf of the LTTE that Tamil speaking people shouldn’t exercise their franchise in support of either Mahinda Rajapaksa or Ranil Wickremesinghe. The LTTE-TNA move deprived Wickremesinghe of a substantial amount of votes. At the last presidential, the TNA directed followers to vote for former army commander, General Sarath Fonseka instead of incumbent President, though both were accused of committing atrocities during the war."

The government couldn’t turn a blind eye to the TNA as well as the JVP calling their supporters to cast their second preference vote to the main Opposition candidate, having fielded presidential candidates of their own, the minister said. Both parties could end up polling 700,000 votes or more depending on their campaigns. "At the last presidential election, though the UNP, JVP, SLMC, CWC and the TNA campaigned together, the incumbent President emerged the clear winner. However, somewhat relatively a poor show at the recently concluded Uva Provincial Council must compel government strategists to examine ground realities. Substantial gains made by the UNP and the JVP in the electoral districts of Badulla and Moneragala is worrying, particularly the significant shift in the postal vote towards the Opposition."

Genuine political reforms were necessary to offset the loss of votes due to minority factor as well as the main Opposition candidate having the advantage of securing the second preferential vote.

Commenting on those who would be voting at a presidential election for the first time, the minister said that the government should also take ongoing anti-government campaign carried out by the social media. The CP veteran said that young voters could make a major impact at the next national level election, primarily due to the Opposition being attractive to them than an alliance which was in power since August 1994 except for Dec 2001 to April 2004. The Opposition could exploit the social media to influence the young electorate much to the discomfort of the government, Minister Gunasekera said.

The minister said that a special effort should be made to win over the young electorate. "Social changes must be studied. Just check the number of people using hand phones. Today, we have 23 million registered mobile phone owners, whereas the population is about 20 mn. We’ll have to adopt drastic reforms to ensure the Opposition doesn’t make headway at the next election."

The CP leader said that the Democratic Left Front comprising his party as well as those political groups led by Prof. Vitharana and Vasudeva Nanayakkara were in the process of finalizing a joint manifesto aimed at influencing far reaching reforms.

The minister said that he discussed current political situation with MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardena and the latter too, agreed with him on some issues.

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