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Electoral politics and Rajapaksa phenomenon

By Srinath Fernando

(August 26, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) It would be pertinent to begin this article with the outcome of the 1977 General Election where voter turnout was 85 percent which is a record in the electoral politics of Sri Lanka. The motive for people to participate in the election could be attributed to the severe economic problems confronted by the population during that dark era. It was merely to protest against the SLFP-led coalition government under late Mrs. Srimavo Bandaranaike. The election was epoch making and that JRJ got a massive mandate and SLFP was reduced to only 9 seats. JRJ turned around the economy and there are still visible concrete structures to feel the effect of the policies adopted by JRJ in the immediate aftermath of the general election of 1977. The massive mandate allowed him to consolidate his power base by hurriedly introducing a new constitution. This very constitution, which some called as ‘grotesque’ (bahubutha), enabled the President Mahinda Rajapaksa to lead the war effort successfully. If it had been a Westminster style constitution, the war effort would have been in jeopardy immediately after its commencement.

We have a classic case study in our history and it centres on the 1945 General Election in Britain. The late Prime Minister Winston Churchill was the most popular Prime Minister in the British history and his approval ratings had never been below 80 percent. But how did he lose the election after a massive victory over Nazi Germany, where he led an Alliance of the Willing to dislodge Hitler and the Nazi political apparatus. Most political commentators were of the view that Churchill would gain a comfortable majority and would lead Conservatives to victory but election turned out to be a greatest ever defeat. Critics believe that the same qualities and political acumen which drove him to the War Victory were ill-suited to domestic politics. There was also another school of thought that soon after the war the party politics came to the fore and Churchill could not master enough strength to meet that challenges and his importance as a leader was made redundant. Conservatives also relied heavily on the personality of Churchill and it fell upon his shoulder to carry the campaign himself. British voters were not subject to emotional appeal but logic, performance and persuasions.

President Rajapaksa could well be the most popular politician as far as current circumstances are concerned. It would be difficult to predict voter turnout at the next Presidential/ General Election and the percentage would never reach the level at 1977 general election. Defeat of the LTTE is still fresh in the minds of the people and the longer he delays election, the more his popularity would be adversely affected. Economic performance has not been up to any acceptable level and if President Rajapaksa can prune his expenditure by reducing the size of massive cabinet of ministers would be a welcome step. He needs to introduce a Code of Conduct for his cabinet of ministers and financial stringency is of utmost importance. IMF loan, yet another feather in Rajapaksa’s cap, was to stabilise the depleting foreign exchange reserves. President must now make use of this opportunity to re-structure the economy by collecting revenue and improving the national productivity. This however, under the existing world conditions, is no mean task. Creating more employment opportunities is the mirror image of the economic progress. Enlarging the public sector by recruiting more public sector employees would further erode his economic stability. All factors of the economy have a direct bearing on the electoral performance as such a coherent economic recovery could well keep him in power till his term ends. The million dollar question is: Would he be able to perform the miracle? Do the people around him have the vision for that? Could people, through public opinion, be able to persuade the President to change his course?

Campaign against political dissent and suppression of media freedom seem to have had a devastating effect on the free flow of ideas and even constructive criticism by moderates seems to have gone into obscurity. The government has to get its act together as regards its foreign policy. Emotional outbursts would only antagonise otherwise friendly countries. We cannot blame Western countries for being Pro-LTTE or a Pro-Separatist lobby. We need to articulate our own strategies to counter adverse propaganda overseas. In the absence of our own views/counter views, the views available through separatist lobby would gain currency. As such, a coherent plan for public diplomacy and lobbying effort must be re-evaluated and re-structured to meet the changing circumstances.

Under the Rajapaksa administration there have been many causes which the Opposition has not yet been able to capitalise on starting from the non-fulfilment of the promises in the Mahinda Chinthanaya and other actions against the miscreants within the government. UNP needs a massive restructuring as far as propaganda is concerned and it needs to woo the Buddhist majority and must consolidate the party position at the grassroots level. This would be a Herculean task in the face of the Rajapaksa Phenomenon. Being the single largest political party the UNP needs to form a grand alliance which might well have a common symbol sans the trunk. This would allow UNP to muster the JVP’s support as well.

Srinath Fernando is a Freelance Journalist and a Political Lobbying/ Government Relations Consultant
-Sri Lanka Guardian

2 comments

jayalal said...

the guys of so called international community including William Blake shoud be reminded that they are making all the mess in the world. They want to to fillup their pockets by instigating a problem at any nook of the world.They might think all what they do in aspiration of their political goals are not known to the public. but it is sad to say that its not that.it is time to be careful by minding your own bussiness rather than putting your nose to avery this and that.

jayalal said...

aS LONG AS unp IS OUT OF POWER PEOPLE OF SRI LANKA HAVE MOR CONSOLATION SINCE WHAT THE UNP HAVE DONE IN THE DISINTEREST OF PEOPLE IN sRI LANKA ARE STILL IN THE MINDS OF PEOPLE IN SRI LANKA.bUT IT IS A SAD THING T NOTE UPFA IS FOLLOWING ALLL WHAT THE UNP DID.IT IS TIME FOR THE PEOPLE OF SRI LANKA TO DECIDE OF A CHANGE OF POWER WITH WISDOM.

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