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this is my nation
Dust settles and new possibilities arise

President Mahinda Rajapaksa- Satisfied with having won the war, what would his next political move be?

On the other hand, if a presidential poll is held first, it is anticipated that President Rajapaksa’s growing popularity in the wake of the military victories in the North would virtually guarantee a landslide for the incumbent, if the recent provincial council elections results are to be considered as any yardstick.

What usually happens if general elections are held thereafter is that the party which won the presidential poll runs away with the general election-often by a bigger margin- due to the snowballing effect the previous poll has on the voters’ mindset

The dust may have finally settled on the most enthusiastically contested provincial poll - the Western Provincial Council elections, but this brings in its wake new political possibilities about which the government has already dropped a few hints.

Media Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena was to announce that the government can hold the presidential election anytime after November this year and this has set off a train of speculation as to what President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s next political move would be.

Of course, the next imminent election would be the provincial polls in the Uva and Southern provinces but nobody is taking bets on the outcome of these polls, the result being a foregone conclusion with only the margin of victory for the ruling United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) being debated.

For the student of local politics Minister Abeywardena’s announcement is hardly surprising. The Constitution of Sri Lanka states under Section 31 (3a)(i) that: “...the President may, at any time after the expiration of four years from the commencement of his first term of office, by Proclamation, declare his intention of appealing to the People for a mandate to hold office, by election, for a further term”.

The only question this poses is whether, by calling for a presidential election at the end of four years-and therefore before the expiration of his first term of six years, President Rajapaksa would have to forego two years of his tenure.

The President would be more than aware of this predicament as his predecessor Chandrika Kumaratunga had to suffer this fate after her intention to continue in office for a full twelve years was challenged in courts.

The Constitution nevertheless provides the answer to this issue. It states, under Section 31(d) that: “The person declared elected as President at an election held under this paragraph shall, if such person is the President in office, hold office for a term of six years commencing on such date in the year in which that election is held (being a date after such election) or in the succeeding year, as corresponds to the date on which his first term of office commenced, whichever date is earlier...”.

This would mean that if a presidential election is held after November 19 (the date on which President Rajapaksa assumed duties for his first term of office) and the President emerges victorious, his second term of office would begin on November 19, 2010 and would end on November 19, 2016, whereby he would complete eleven years as President.

This would of course mean that President Rajapaksa would have to forego one year of the twelve years he is entitled to, but many in the government believe this would be a small price to pay, considering the benefits the ruling UPFA could reap if a presidential poll is held late this year or early next year.

That is because Parliamentary elections are due anyway by April 2010-less than a year from now. If a presidential poll is not held before that, it would mean that general elections will be held first and this is a potential can of worms for the UPFA more than it is for the main opposition party, the United National Party (UNP), however depleted the latter may be.

A foretaste of this was seen at the Western provincial council elections when UPFA candidates were gunning for each other in their battle for the preference vote. This tussle would grow exponentially when the stakes are higher at a general election. It is something that the ruling party could clearly do without.

Added to that will be the burden of accommodating the high flying UNP crossovers in the UPFA’s district lists-the likes of Rohitha Bogollagama, Keheliya Rambukwella and Mahinda Samarasinghe for instance are all still UNP MPs and would have to be accommodated in the Colombo, Kandy and Kalutara districts respectively. This wouldn’t endear them to the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) organisers in these regions and therefore the UPFA will be having its task cut out trying to sort out these turf wars.

On the other hand, if a presidential poll is held first, it is anticipated that President Rajapaksa’s growing popularity in the wake of the military victories in the North would virtually guarantee a landslide for the incumbent, if the recent provincial council elections results are to be considered as any yardstick.

What usually happens if general elections are held thereafter is that the party which won the presidential poll runs away with the general election-often by a bigger margin- due to the snowballing effect the previous poll has on the voters’ mindset.
This is precisely what the UPFA would be hoping for. In the aftermath of a convincing victory for President Rajapaksa in an early presidential poll, the mini-battles within the UPFA are expected to dissipate as the President would be armed with a renewed mandate and would therefore be able to call the shots and discipline his party members.

In fact, some optimists within the Alliance are hoping for an unprecedented two-thirds majority under the proportional representation system of elections. This is not beyond the realms of possibility given the current state of disarray the UNP is in.
Even if the UPFA falls a few seats short of the 150 required for a two-thirds majority, the President has proved to be a master at winning friends and influencing people in the opposition to crossover to government ranks-and this would only be easier if the President has already secured a second term of office.

Given these ramifications, it is clear that the conclusion of the Uva and Southern provincial polls will not bring the curtain down on elections-it will only prepare the stage for the bigger dramas that lie ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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