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This is my Nation


The dismal defeat of JVP and CWC nominees at the PC Polls, lead to serious questions about the credibility of their alleged support base

 Polls throw dilemmas for main parties

For the UNP, the prospects are gloomy and the question is now one of damage control, not of winning elections. As the Provincial Polls are held on a staggered basis, each defeat erodes the party’s image and dims its prospects further. It is a snowballing effect that has been used cleverly by the UPFA to maximise the UNP’s woes.

Previously, after each defeat, there were calls to oust party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. Such demands are no longer heard, for they serve no purpose. Given the government’s popularity vis-a-vis the war effort, not even D. S. Senanayake-quite apart from S.B. Dissanayake, would be able to revive the party’s short term prospects

Last Saturday’s Provincial Polls laid bare what everyone suspected, but few dared to express: that the ruling United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) has a stranglehold on the voter at least for now, and that the prospects for the collective opposition are extremely dim in the foreseeable future.

Realistically, even though the United National Party (UNP) was making enthusiastic noises especially in the Central Province, where a politically re-incarnated S. B. Dissanayake was running for Chief Minister, no one expected the party to win. But what was shocking was the magnitude of the defeat it suffered.

The UNP’s vote base slipped to less than 30 per cent in most electorates-even in the Central Province, which has been a UNP stronghold for generations. Electorate-wise, it retained only Nuwara Eliya, Maskeliya and Mahanuwara, poor results for a party aspiring to come to power at general elections, due definitely by next year.

The Polls though throw up different dilemmas for the main parties, the UPFA, the UNP and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). These questions will be fully answered only after the Western Provincial Council Poll due shortly. But if last week’s Poll is any indication, that election too will be a walk-over for the ruling coalition.

Speculation

There has been furious speculation that a general election is imminent following the Central and North Western Provincial Council Polls. Given the extent of the popularity of the UPFA-due to the war effort or otherwise-with over 70 per cent of the vote in most electorates, a snap general election appears at first glance to be the way to go.

In reality though, that is not the case and we have no doubt that the think tanks in the ruling party are alive to this. This is because, even with a less than 30 per cent vote base, the UNP will be able to secure a reasonable amount of seats in a subsequent Parliament-much more than the forty or so seats it commands in Parliament now.

It must not be forgotten that a significant proportion of Members of Parliament now supporting the UPFA government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa were elected as UNPers in 2004. Theoretically at least they are UNP MPs, even though they have changed their allegiances to the President, ostensibly to resolve the ethnic war.

A snap poll now will change that equation. The UNP will not win, but even if it polls a little less than 30 per cent of the vote as it did in the Provincial Polls last week, it will have about 60 to 70 MPs in the House. That would be a windfall for a party that is facing political wilderness in the near future.

Snap election

This is the argument against a snap general election. Of course, there is a counter argument to this: that any delay in the election will mean that economic issues-rather than military victories, will come to the fore resulting in the opposition gaining ground. But, as of now, this is unlikely given the evolving scenario in the war.

President Rajapaksa is likely therefore to proceed with more provincial polls-the Uva and Southern provinces are due next-before dissolving Parliament. And a Presidential Poll now is just as unlikely, as that would cost the President, at least one year of the twelve years that he is entitled to be in office as the Chief Executive of the country.

For the UNP, the prospects are gloomy and the question is now one of damage control, not of winning elections. As the Provincial Polls are held on a staggered basis, each defeat erodes the party’s image and dims its prospects further. It is a snowballing effect that has been used cleverly by the UPFA to maximise the UNP’s woes.

Oust Ranil

Previously, after each defeat, there were calls to oust party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. Such demands are no longer heard, for they serve no purpose. Given the government’s popularity vis-a-vis the war effort, not even D. S. Senanayake-quite apart from S.B. Dissanayake, would be able to revive the party’s short term prospects.

What then should the UNP do? The Party should aim to recapture the imagination of the masses with a set of cohesive policies regarding the ethnic issue to get rid of its’ ‘pampering to the West’ public image that has hurt the UNP so much. It should also get its grassroots organisations up and running once again. All this is easier said than done.

What the UNP leadership should guard against, is a string of defections of prominent party men; politicians who feel, not unjustifiably, that the UNP will not return to power in the next decade, and would therefore want to cross over to the UPFA. This is a real possibility and could spell disaster for what was once the single largest political party.

There is of course a school of thought in the UNP that the UPFA wins elections by selling the war, and once the war is over and done with, the economic woes will hit the voter. But what the UNP must also realise is that this will not guarantee a return to power. Indeed, its past protests on economic issues have fallen mostly on deaf ears.

The other issue brought into focus by the Provincial Polls last week, was the dismal showing by the JVP and the nominees of the Ceylon Workers’ Congress (CWC). Both parties boast of a support base that does not seem to exist anymore, and these election results will lead to serious questions being posed about their credibility.

What will the elections to Western Provincial Council Polls bring, then? This is the country’s most populous and most prosperous province. It is also the most urban, cosmopolitan and educated region of the country. Therefore, the UPFA may not be able to garner a massive majority. But the eventual outcome is likely to be more of the same.