Image courtesy News First

The barbs and criticisms of a political ally can in politics often do greater damage than even the more forthright criticism of an opponent. The reason for this has all to do with political constituency. When the opposition criticizes the Rajapakse presidency, it resonates mainly with those that are already politically in disagreement with the president anyway and is only effective to the extent that it actually is deemed valid by more middle of the road or undecided voters, the members of the public who form the so called floating vote, which is often the decider at elections rather than the block votes of a political party.

As Government spokesman Minister Kheliya Rambukkwella goes public to confirm the holding of presidential elections, two years ahead of schedule, a key government ally the JHU has been taking on the Rajapakse presidency and preparing the ground to leave the government. According to the constitution, four years of the president’s term has to lapse before another presidential election can be called, which would be November 17th and hence the open announcement of the election a month or more in advance is for president Rajapakse to test the political waters. He can still pull back from calling the elections, if his prospects for reelection seem to be dimming. He certainly faces serious issues.

A presidency facing stormy seas 

The Rajapakse presidency which was riding high only a few months ago has in a very short time run into a series of serious political setbacks. The Uva provincial council elections which was a litmus test of the Administration’s popularity was a disappointment for the UPFA, which saw its percentage of votes fall significantly, loose constituencies and in securing 58% of the popular vote in the near 98% Sinhala district of Monaragala, demonstrated that the two thirds 66%-67% of the Sinhala vote it requires to reach the magical 50% of total voters, is eluding them.

Secondly, the legal controversy and wrangling over Mahinda Rajapakse’s eligibility to context a third term in office through a broad and accommodative interpretation of the 18th amendment has run into a storm as former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva has taken the issue head on and with the support of the Bar Association as well as legal opinions from leading academics promises to personally challenge in the Supreme Court, Mahinda Rajapakse’s eligibility to be a third time candidate for the presidency. As he contemplates the cancellation of Pope Francis’s visit to Sri Lanka due to the Pope’s ethical impartiality in avoiding visiting countries during election seasons, Mohan Peiris must be dreading the thought of the unprecedented situation of finding a former Chief Justice and one of the best legal minds in the country challenging him, publicly in open court, making an acquiescence with Rajapakse’s own interpretation of his amendment that much harder. The Bar Association which stood solidly behind Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranaike during the impeachment fiasco, should encourage Chief Justice Bandaranaike to join with Chief Justice Sarath Silva to challenge President Rajapakse’s eligibility to seek a third term. Truly the Tourist Board has it right when it calls Sri Lanka, a land like no other. Irrespective of the outcome, the debate over the legal eligibility brings to the forefront the unpopular 18th amendment, the Administration’s own internal polls stating then that the public believed it was a power hungry, power grab.

The JHU distances itself from President Rajapakse  

However, the real political damage to the Rajapakse presidency is coming from the stinging critique of its erstwhile ally the ultra Sinhala Buddhist nationalist Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU). Now the JHU actually does not command a large voter base in the country. Its official media spokesman, Nishantha Sri Warnasinghe barely received twenty thousand votes in the Colombo district at this year’s Western Provincial Council elections and came in at the bottom of the UPFA list. But like many ideological parties within a non ideological populist political front like the UPFA, it has been disproportionately influential and has often been the tail wagging the dog. Accordingly when the JHU critiques the presidency, the message goes direct to President Rajapakse’s core constituency of Sinhala Buddhist and challenges the claim to be a defender and promoter of Sinhala Buddhist interests.

Most politically damaging for President Rajapakse is that the JHU critique of his presidency is coming on the governance front and based on the very issues that are causing serious disquiet if not dissent among the southern Sinhala constituency. The JHU critique is on the abuse of power, the weakening of democratic institutions, nepotism, corruption, economic mismanagement and complete over centralization of state power in the presidency to an extent that it is not even accountable to Parliament. The JHU demand that reforms be made prior to a presidential election, as the price for its support, looks unlikely to occur and the UPFA may face the same dynamic which the UNP faced in 1994, where it was challenged from within by the breakaway DUNF and a resurgence by the SLFP led People Alliance saw an end to its seventeen year run of government. President Rajapakse faces a similar dynamic, challenged from within by the JHU and from outside by the UNP, the TNA, the trade unions and professional bodies and given the poll results of Uva including insufficient support amongst the mono ethnic Sinhala Buddhist Monaragala, may well  face a very uphill task to electorally prevail.

  • Dev

    Poor poor analysis !
    First and foremost, the JHU leaving the UPFA? It won’t happen. In a straight up fight for the presidency it will never support the UNP (or the common candidate), all these “attacks” are simply storms in the tea cup. Didn’t you see a few months ago Wimal’s drama along the similar lines? Now he says he is going to support the president at the election (well his might was proven in Uva anyways). It is the same with the JHU, standing alone at a parliamentary elections, how many seats can they win? They will go meet the Prez, have a cup of tea, then say “we are supporting him” to save the country from the “diaspora”

    Same with MEP/Liberal Party..etc. Rajiva Wijesinha has been attacking the government for years now, no sign of him or his party leaving is there ?

    Secondly, Sarath N. Silva, “best legal minds in the country” ? This is certainly interesting ! First time I have heard this !

    As for Shirani Bandaranaike, she was the one who approved the 18th amendment without a referendum !

    • sach

      well JHU left and they wanted karu (UNPer) as the common candidate…

  • Sarwan

    JHU is pretending to be democratic and people minded. They are not. JHU is speaking out now because it knows that the “dog is dying and the flees should leave”.

  • Dr Najimudeen

    This is all political drama similar to that of Wimal Weeravansa. Eventually the JHU will support Mahinda Rajapakshe unconditionally

  • reu

    nobody wants the executive presidency except for First Family so let us all voice against it for the betterment of the suffering public

  • Jayalath

    It seems to me that country is on the brink of disaster once again . In a war, you can spot the enemy and easy to destroy but in a tea table how to spot the enemy . However latest out come is utterly alarming threat to the country .i cannot see that many parties or individual has understood the vast consequences of emerging crisis .
    We need a change and the whole country needs it , but not like a black cat instead of white cat which doesn’t meant to be the changed that we require .
    Just imagine lurching back to UNP after 2 decades . Can the UNPers fix the problem as the country needs , it can be disastrous .
    And UNP alone never can defeat Rajapaksa which is sure like the sun rise next morning .so, UNP has to beg the support of TNA and Muslim parties being bent down to their demands , what would the result be ? Haven’t we really learnt from the past ?
    Rajapaksa must take the responsibility ,because his arbitrary decisions caused all the problems and 26000 thousands lives of poor army fellows who sacrificed the lives behalf of peaceful mother land will be cursed in the GRAVE YARDS.
    This is the time to rise against the common enemy regardless personal issues . What did tell us the northern province election results ? If they can unite for their rights ,why can’t we unite together . I’m sorry to say that I cannot see that majority Tamils are willing to live under one country sentiment , which has demonstrated by them more than necessary .
    I accept what JVP is saying ,according to their theory there isn’t a communal crisis and all are attached to political incorrectness which is true but it may be the next century that people in Sri Lanka will unanimously vote for JVP to run the country , therefore until
    Then we got to maintain the one country philosophy ,unless what is the point if the country was divided to pieces when they come to power .
    So , I strongly believe we must secure what we have achieved and it is paramount need .unless we are bickering for small things would cost us for eternal suffering