Nomination Battles: Sirisena goes mute as Rajapaksa wins the battle of statements



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by Rajan Philips


Curiously, the Secretary’s statement indicates that the decision on nomination was made by the UPFA Party leaders at the meeting on Thursday headed by President Sirisena – the same meeting that Mr. Nanayakkara called "fruitless and frustrating." The non-SLFP UPFA leaders went euphoric after the statement came out, speaking of a historic agreement and unity between Maithripala Sirisena and Mahinda Rajapaksa. But Vasudeva Nanayakkara cut to the chase and wise-cracked that the "President has given up his January 8 mandate and joined us". He spared calling the turnaround "surrender" – the term he famously flung out in Nugegoda where everything for the pro-Mahinda group started. Where will it end? That is the question.


It was a week of politics by statements. One overriding the other, as statements on whether or not Mahinda will be a UPFA/SLFP candidate in the upcoming election came and went. At the time of writing, the last standing statement is the one issued on Friday afternoon by the UPFA General Secretary, Susil Premajayantha, announcing the decision of the UPFA Party Leaders to grant nomination to Mahinda Rajapaksa to contest the August 17 parliamentary election. The district where he will contest is yet to be determined. And whether or not he will become Prime Minister will depend on the election results. The announcement was well choreographed by the supporters of Mahinda Rajapaksa, and their loud noises were needed to drown out the deafening silence of Maithripala Sirisena.


Sirisena had upped the ante on Tuesday, the day before the expected statement of Mahinda Rajapaksa from Medamulana, rejecting the calls to nominate the former President to run in the parliamentary election. Rajapaksa responded the next day insisting that he would be contesting. Sirisena reportedly played hardball on Thursday in a meeting with UPFA leaders (mostly one-man party backers of Mahinda Rajapaksa) and promised to announce his decision at 10:00 AM on Friday. A dejected Vasudeva Nanayakara called the meeting "fruitless and frustrating." But no announcement came from the President, and his office has been maintaining ‘radio silence’ as the UPFA Secretary’s statement came hours later as the last statement of record, for now.


Curiously, the Secretary’s statement indicates that the decision on nomination was made by the UPFA Party leaders at the meeting on Thursday headed by President Sirisena – the same meeting that Mr. Nanayakkara called "fruitless and frustrating." The non-SLFP UPFA leaders went euphoric after the statement came out, speaking of a historic agreement and unity between Maithripala Sirisena and Mahinda Rajapaksa. But Vasudeva Nanayakkara cut to the chase and wise-cracked that the "President has given up his January 8 mandate and joined us". He spared calling the turnaround "surrender" – the term he famously flung out in Nugegoda where everything for the pro-Mahinda group started. Where will it end? That is the question.


But the JVP did not pull its punches – calling any agreement between Rajapkasa and Sirisena a twin betrayal of the 5.8 million and 6.2 million people who respectively voted for the two men at the January 8 election. The trade unions have voiced their anger and more of it will follow. The UNP is trying to read the unwritten fine print in the UPFA statement and is pinning its hopes on a fight back by the anti-Rajapaksa SLFPers against giving Mahinda Rajapaksa an SLFP ticket to run on. The UNP is still hoping that as the leader of the SLFP, Maithripala Sirisena will not give his January nemesis the SLFP ticket for the August election.


Surreal politics and the real question


As I write these paragraphs a breaking news has come through about a speech today (Saturday) by Maithripala Sirisena, at a foundation laying ceremony for the Matara-Hambantota section of the Southern Expressway. In the speech he has vowed to protect the ‘silent revolution’ of January 8 and asserted that he will not allow political party decisions to undermine the goals of good governance including the fight for justice and the fight against family rule and corruption. That is all well and good, but there was no mention in his speech about the Rajapaksa candidacy or the UPFA statement. It would seem that there is more to the UPFA statement than the euphoria that is being whipped up by the pro-Mahinda UPFA party leaders. But only Maithripala Sirisena can add to or subtract from the UPFA statement. As the week ended, he seems to have lost the battle of statements.


There is no question that Maithripala Sirisena is under intensely competing pressures over the Rajapaksa candidacy. In the broader UPFA alliance, the vociferous pro-Mahinda small-party leaders seem unstoppable. Their support for Rajapaksa is selfishly motivated – securing a Rajapaksa candidacy is the only way they can retain their parliamentary seats, at worst, or recapture their ministerial portfolios, at best. The social profile of the pro-Rajapkasa forces that emerged from the July 1 Medamulana pictures is a study in itself. Even Sarath Silva had made the pilgrimage to be photographed at the Rajapaksa home. Which other country will have such a pathetic "man for all seasons" for a former Chief Justice?


Countervailing the UPFA support for Mahinda Rajapaksa is the pressure against him within the SLFP, without which there will be no UPFA to speak of. How the battle lines are drawn within the SLFP may still determine the rejection, or re-confirmation, of the UPFA statement on Friday. Or, there could be another SLFP split. The young firebrand Hirunika Premachandra has already indicated that she will reconsider her SLFP membership if Mahinda Rajapaksa is given SLFP nomination by Maithripala Sirisena. Arjuna Ranatunga, the recently appointed SLFP organizer for the Gampaha District and one of the few good men in Sri Lankan politics, has earlier advised Sirisena that he may have to join the UNP if Rajapaksa is given SLFP nomination. Sarath Amunugama has said good riddance to pro-Rajapaksa SLFPers who might leave the party over the nomination issue.


In my view, the controversy over the Rajapaksa candidacy is surreal politics. The real question for the August parliamentary election is whether the people’s verdict in the January presidential election is going to be continued and consolidated, or whether it will be frustrated by a majority of the sitting parliamentarians returning as new MPs after the August election. Although the people will not want to turn their own verdict on its head, the reality is that under the current electoral system where people vote for district and national lists of candidates put forward by political parties, they have no way of ensuring that the unworthy MPs in the dissolved parliament will not be returned in large numbers to the new parliament. The only way that can be achieved is by making sure that political parties do not field as candidates for re-election the current MPs who are not fit to be people’s representatives and who will not further the January 8 mandate.


As the voters are not directly involved in the selection of candidates, that task falls on civil society and community organizations, which should develop criteria and put pressure on political parties to abide by these criteria in selecting their candidates for election. Independent campaigns should be launched to differentiate parties fielding new and worthy candidates from those who are fielding as candidates old MPs who are not worthy of being re-elected to the new parliament. That there are plenty of unworthy politicians in the outgoing parliament was confirmed by the only enlightening statement to come out during a week of surreal political statements. That the statement should have come from the head of the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board, Dr. Chamira Samarasinghe, is a testament to the decade long tenure of the Rajapaksa regime.


According to Dr. Samarasinghe, his organization has incriminating information on about two dozen outgoing MPs. 95 of the 225 parliamentarians have failed the GCE O/L examination. A further 50 have not passed the GCE A/L examination. That leaves only 80 of the 225 MPs with a GCE A/L qualification or higher. How many of these exemplary parliamentarians will receive re-nomination by their respective political parties? Will all the political parties take on the offer of Dr. Samarasinghe and have their nomination lists vetted by his organization for eligibility of individual candidates? These are questions that will have to be answered by political party leaders before nominations close.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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