On 8 January 2015, the people of this country exercised their true democratic grit to dispel the rule of President Rajapaksa and his family. The right of the people was exercised in a clear wave of hope to end corruption, inequality and establish justice, which most thought was diminished under the Rajapaksa rule.
The result was unexpected and happened against the series of overwhelming public endorsements received by the Rajapaksa Government in successive elections prior to the people’s presidential verdict. The scenario brings to mind a saying of Niels Bohr, “The best weapon of a dictatorship is secrecy, but the best weapon of a democracy should be the weapon of openness.”
High expectations were set on the coalition Government formed with the advent of Maithripala Sirisena as President and the then minority United National Party. Three years have now passed, but the country still hangs over a wave of corruption, injustice and inequality. Despite many inquiries and court house dramas, the so-called corrupt deals of the previous regime are yet to be justified and proven under a court of law.
The Government is also overshadowed by the bond scam, which has lost billions of rupees for state institutions and the impact to the country is in such high propositions that is yet to be accounted in full. In simple terms “Yahapalanaya” has not yet been established.
One could argue the fact that the wrongdoers in the bond scam were exposed in the wake of good governance and the establishment of the Presidential Commission was a result of such conducive atmosphere. The reality is that such measures were adopted as a result of the surging public uproar that spread throughout the country against such day light robberies.
It has been over 13 years with the country under the rule of President Rajapaksa and thereafter the coalition Government led by President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe. The years of these rulers have witnessed the country making way for prosperity, but with no clear implementation plan to reach its vision.
President Rajapaksa should be credited with the defeating of terrorism and subsequent drive in infrastructure development, despite the questions raised over its economic feasibility. The coalition Government spearheaded the movement to create better international relations, media freedom and establish economic freedom. Despite the positives, one thing common that we observe in all three political celebrities is the hunger and greed for power. The true nature and interest of such desire is unknown to the common voter.
Will the Premier ever become president?
Twenty-three years as the leader of the country’s biggest political force and four-time Prime Minister serves well to fall into the category of qualified personal to hold the office of president. However, the Premier is thus far the most unsuccessful leader of the Grand Old Party which under his leadership has failed to produce a president from the party for the past 23 years and even having to sacrifice the candidature of the party to common candidates at two prior presidential elections. Even Wickremesinghe tried his luck at the presidency only to fall short on each time.
The UNP under his tenure has detached itself from the common masses and even failed to form a Government that is stable and capable of implementing the policies owned to the UNP. On both occasions that the UNP came to power under the leadership of Wickremesinghe, the result was hinged on crossovers of key personal from the SLFP. Taking into consideration the past performance of the premier it seems that he might not be destined to become President despite the ambition that rests within.
Will President Sirisena contest again?
In his inaugural address to the nation as President, Sirisena highlighted that he had no intention of contesting another election. In further speeches that followed his term in office, the President reiterated his stance and made it clear on one occasion that he would consider shortening his term to four years given the possibility.
However, the post of high office seems too attractive to give up easily, even for those who came to power to relive it off its superior powers. Many ministers in the camp of President Sirisena have already pronounced that the President in deed would seek another term, even though no clear indication came from the President.
Though President Sirisena is yet to comment on his desire for re-election, he has also not rejected that possibility. His recent comments on seeking the view of the Supreme Court on his term and the speech made at a recent election rally clamming that his rule will end the day corruption ends in this country, are blurred but indicative that the President has a high propensity to seek re-election.
After taking his Presidential oath, President Sirisena went on to snatch the leadership of both SLFP and UPFA and even went on to the extent of appointing his own henchman to key positions of the party. However, the leadership of President Sirisena has not been convincing or spineless as one would call it, as he is yet to take action against prominent personal of SLFP, such as President Rajapaksa for his active involvement with the competing party, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna.
President Sirisena seems to be in fear of the popularity of Rajapaksa and the subsequent repercussions of expelling him from the party. The same goes with the rest of the UPFA defectors that have resorted to supporting the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna.
Will President Rajapaksa ever come to power again?
President Rajapaksa will always carry the title of the leader that ended the bloody conflict that cursed this nation for the past three decades or so. However, his rule also was marked by allegations of corruption, malpractices, lavish expenditure on his family, nepotism and uneconomical mega projects. The named reasons were the decisive factors behind the people’s verdict to end his rule. Despite nine long years in power, the greed for power never seems to die within Rajapaksa as seen with the other two.
The main positive with President Rajapaksa is that he is still a popular leader and major crowds flock to embrace his political wisdom. However, time will be the best answer on his future as the 19th Amendment to the Constitution now prevents Rajapaksa from seeking re-election as President. Despite the technicalities preventing the former President from holding top office again, the former Commander in Chief does not seem to be deterred by such impediments in his quest to regain the top office.
Is there an alternative?
The imminent alternative is the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). However, questions can be raised over their administrative competence despite their rhetoric and vibrant orations of their frontrunners including their Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake.
In the ranks of the UNP, Sajith Premadasa seems to be the next in line for the leadership, at least on paper. Sajith Premadasa made an unsuccessful attempt for the post during the crises years of the UNP which only resulted in him luring Karu Jayasuriya to vie for the leadership position, who eventually went on to suffer a heavy defeat at the hands of Wickremesinghe.
The current structure of the leadership in the Maithri fraction does not indicate a leadership candidate or a prospective individual. In the Rajapaksa camp it is evident that the former president is grooming his elder son Namal to take up the reigns of his new party and even go on to capture the leadership of the SLFP, succeeding President Sirisena.
Despite many calls for former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa to seek office, it is yet inconclusive of his eligibility to contest for president.
[The writer, CFA, is the Founder/ Director at Elon Venture Catalysts Ltd., a financial and investment banking services firm operating in Sri Lanka. He has a BEng (Hons) in Chemical Engineering degree from the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom and a MBA from the University of Colombo. He is also a Chartered Financial Analyst, Certified Global Business Analyst and Certified Management Accountant (Australia). He can be reached via email on [email protected] or www.elonventure.com.]