The Nation Sunday Print Edition - page 12

Page 12 Sunday, November 23, 2014
9, 201
The Nation
‘Why don’t you write anything about the
common candidate?’ This is a question that
was put to me by several people over the
last few days. ‘What can I say?’ was the only
response I could offer.
There’snothing tosay, really.TheRajapaksa
Regime (not the UPFA) has been asking a
question inaderisive tone.Well, that question
has been answered. It is not an answer that
sounds as simple or easy as they expected.
If the answer was ‘Ranil’, it would have been
‘simple’ (Ranil cannot win an election on this
soil, but would easily become the Speaker
if he ran in England). General Fonseka
(whatever anyone says he is ‘General’ to me)
has long since lost relevance.
This country will not have a future with
President Mahinda Rajapaksa (whatever
anyone says he is still ‘President’ to me). I
have always saluted him and still salute him
for ending a 30-year war and bringing about
peace. But the people of this country will
never forgive the useless, vilemorons around
him who have turned a man who could step
down from throne as a hero duly garlanded
into someone who would have to leave as an
insane tyrant (I am not implying here that
Mahinda is a baby, by the way).
No surprise 
There are MPs leaving the UPFA. Daily. It
was the JVP that first stepped aside from the
road to dictatorship. Then it was the JHU.
If tomorrow someone says that Parliament
has been turned inside out, I will not be
If ChandrikaranagainstMahinda, Iwould
not think twice about voting for Mahinda. If
it was Champika running against Mahinda,
I would stand in line from 6.00 am to vote for
him. That’s for Champika, not Mahinda. But
in this Mahinda-Maithree equation I don’t
see any stark contrast to inspire attraction.
Even today, near Osu Sala, there a giant
banner claiming that Maithripala Sirisena
is the Deputy Chairperson of the World
Health Organization. Maithripala is no baby.
He sees. He knows. For me, therefore, this
‘replacement’ is a joke. 
Andyet, thereare jokes and thereare jokes.
For example, Fonseka is a joke that would
redden one’s eyes. Mahinda is someone
who once was admired but in time became
a joke one would recall again and again and
laugh, and is not a tired, old joke. Ranil is a
standing joke. Maithree is also a joke in the
sense that one is not sure whether or not
to laugh at him. Still, there’s no doubt that
people are more willing to laugh at this new
and strange joke that isMaithree rather than
at the stale joke that is Mahinda which is no
longer funny. 
Maithripala is a good leader but not an
exceptional one. Forget him. Peopleare ready
to say ‘no one can be as bad as Mahinda’. So
it’s not about whether Maithripala is a great
guy but about Mahinda being hated.
Your Excellency, Mahinda Rajapaksa,
I know you will not be reading this. I am
sure you have lots more important things to
attend to rather than read Facebook status
updates. But I firmly believe that it is not
too late for you to end all the insanity and do
something good for the country. If you want,
you can cancel this presidential electioneven
tonight. You still have two more years left in
your term. That’s more than 700 days. You
can return all things that have been unduly
secured from the state for the private use
of your family and friends. You can put an
end to corruption. You still have time to put
the country back on track. You have enough
time to put an end to the nonsense that is
racing around Kandy while half the country
is starving. Instead of a country where
lawlessness rules, where courts and laws
don’t count and where white vans roam the
streets, you can consecrate the Rule of Law
and create a land of justice and pace. Instead
of going after money, property and power,
you could still become the most farseeing
leader this nation has ever known.  
It is not for nothing that the royal insignia
of the Emperor Ashoka adorns the Indian
national flag, even though he killed over
40,000 people in Kalinga. When he passed a
mountainof bodies, all victims of his cruelty,
it is said that due to the vibration caused by
his footfall the head of a seven-year-old child
had slipped and come to rest by his feet. That
very head has rolled down to your feet now.
It is the head of a nation that you have by
omission and commission led astray. You
can follow the Emperor Ashoka’s footsteps.
You can be a Chandashoka who becomes
a Dharmashoka. Or you could, like Count
Voivode Dracula be remembered as a tyrant
fated to be cursed by history. 
I was among those who were ecstatic when
you brought peace to this country in 2009. I
escaped no less than four bomb attacks. I
know that it is largely due to you that I am
still alive and not a victim of what could
have been a fifth explosion. Therefore, I
believe that you should say your goodbyes as
a hero and not a villain or loser. You should
leave as a hero and not as someone defeated
by second hand politicians.  
This is not a ‘post’ written to
support Mahinda. In fact, it is most likely
that he will not get my vote.
Candidate jokes and a note to the Prez 
arly days. Remember that. Keep
in mind also that in a 40-day run
each day counts and that ‘early’ can
quickly bleed into ‘late’ and ‘too
late’. That said, let’s consider Maithripala
Sirisena’s press conference on Friday
November 20, 2014 where he announced he
would be the ‘common candidate’ of the
’ [‘Maithree Paalanayak,’
meaning ‘Compassionate Governance’].
What a wonderful signature for a campaign!
Pithy. Easyon the tongue. Captures the entire
thrust of the project. Contrasts itself from
what the principal opponent is identified
with. Brilliant.
The candidate is not without credentials.
A long-time party loyalist who enjoys
considerable support from the Sri Lanka
Freedom Party, Maithripala Sirisena has
moreappeal fromawider cross-sectionof the
voting population than the other contenders,
KaruJayasuriya, RanilWickremesingheand
remarks, prefaced by a
struck the right note. There was sobriety.
There was humility. There was purpose.
He sounded presidential. Then it all went
It didn’t help that he was flanked by
two discredited politicians. Chandrika
Kumaratunga, Victor Ivan will remember,
earned the sobriquet
fp!r /cs
(The Queen
of Deceit). In eleven years, she not only
deceived, but presided over violations not
second to any she charges the Mahinda
Rajapaksa regime with, not to mention a
sorry track record with regard to handling
the scourge of terrorism. Rajitha Senaratne
is hardly a heavyweight any more. Still, it
was the ‘MaithreeMoment’ andnaturally the
cameras didn’t pan to those two has-beens.
All he needed to do was thank those who
made his candidacy possible, outline his
objectives and leave. He tried to do more and
ended up doing less. The biggest blunder was
to pledge the Prime Minister’s post to Ranil
Wickremesinghe. Unnecessary. Distracting.
In essence, Maithripala was saying
something like this: ‘Ranil can’t beat
Mahinda. I have a better shot. I will win,
step down and hand over executive power to
Ranil’. Now if this was a project to promote
Ranil, then the question is, ‘Why on earth
is Ranil not contesting?’ Maithripala seeks
to win a mandate to rule from the people.
It is not a transferable asset. If democracy
underlines this project (as he claims), then it
would go against the basic tenets of the idea.
The UNP, let us not forget, is a party that
couldn’t come up with a credible candidate.
Not in 2010 and not in 2014/15. Rewarding the
leader of such a party is
or acting like a domestic aide who does
someone’sbidding) touseaSinhala termthat
has a lot of political currency. It is as though
j,õfõ yduq
(Lord of the Manor) is
getting a village boy to pluck some coconuts
which he, the Lord, will then sell and deposit
the money in a bank.
He could have elaborated on the notion
of an interim arrangement or a ‘national
reform and thereafter seek fresh mandate
through a General Election. Instead, he
reduced what is essentially a regime-
changing exercise into an individual’s
political project. He dwarfed himself. And
his dwarfing got worse when Chandrika had
her say. Hers was an unqualified lament of
the worst kind. There was no
There was
(hatred) and clear revenge-
intent. Hardly the stuff that could bowl the
electorate over.
Now contrast this with an alternative
head table composition where the candidate
is flanked by Anura Kumara Dissanayake
(JVP), either Champika Ranawaka or Ven
Athureliye Rathana Thera (JHU), Ranil
and/or Karu Jayasuriya. That’s formidable.
In contrast, what was ‘on show’ on Friday
was pathetic. Such a panel would indicate
the forces arrayed against Mahinda
Rajapaksa. What was on show was a bunch
of disgruntled incompetents.
Maithripala has to look and sound
presidential and he doesn’t have too much
time to do so. He has to re-articulate the
project in clear democratic terms where
individuals and their petty political
objectives are completely left out of the
story. He has to drop his liabilities. It is clear
that Chandrika Kumaratunga, motivated
by whatever, played a crucial role in this
maneuver which some people already call ‘a
coup’ (a bit early for that). That’s it. Her role
is over. At least in the public eye. Someone
commented on
, ‘each time she
speaks Maithri loses 10,000 votes’. That’s
exaggeration and not a substantiated claim,
but that sentiment does have currency. Yes,
she can address a particular voter segment.
The problem is that when she addresses
them, there are others listening.
Widespread disappointment
Early days. He can still re-constitute his
head-table, so to speak. Maithripala likened
Ven Athureliye Rathana Thera to
, acknowledging the key role
the thera played in the political upheavals
that culminated in him being nominated
as the ‘common candidate’. Now if you
Kudapola Hamuduruwo
you, it would be plain stupid not to get the
onstage.Similarly,if hethinks
an appeal to the SLFP and UNP voter in the
form of clinging on to Chandrika’s
sari pota
and promising Ranil the premiership would
do the trick, he’s sadly mistaken. Voice-cut
politics won’t deliver anything.
There’s a campaign to be carried out
on the ground and the likes of Harsha De
Silva, Eran Wickramaratne and Rosie
Senanayake will not do it. Maithripala
needs active JVP support (meaning, not the
lukewarm hurrahs that party gave Sarath
Fonseka). You can have 50 MPs crossing
over, but unless they become campaign foot
soldiers, that’s just 50 votes you are assured
of. A general sway on the ground will not
necessarily follow these political defections.
Hard, tough, persistent campaigning at the
grassroots is non-negotiable. And here the
JVP will be a significant factor. Remember,
also, that it would be wrong to ‘use’ the
JVP. They must have a central role in the
campaign and they must have prominence
in the post-election phase in the event that
Maithripala wins. You can’t promise Ranil
the premiership, Chandrika her pound of
flesh and toss some crumbs the JVP way.
Maithripala Sirisena has a case. There
is widespread disappointment and even
objection to the regime. It’s not about
Mahinda Rajapaksa alone. He is liked.
Widely. Despite his faults. It is not about the
Rajapaksas alone. Gotabaya and Basil may
be resented by senior members of the SLFP,
less for wrongdoing than for what they
effectively deny. Few would deny that they
work really hard. It is the
(let’s say ‘the Rajapaksa hangers-on’) that
are mostly resented. ‘Intensely’ would be
the correct word. There are not necessarily
blood relatives. It’s the Mervins, Sajins,
Dumindas, Rohitha and the countless
thugs and thieves in Parliament, Provincial
that are insufferable.
‘What is the President’s greatest strength
and what is his biggest weakness?’ is a
question to which a retired soldier who now
works as a driver and who even today says
he will give his life to Mahinda Rajapaksa
responded as follows: ‘
lu fydreálla
jglr f.k bka
k tl
’ (his affability or
warmth and the fact that he has surrounded
himself with rogues). On Friday night,
one of these worthies shot at a political
opponent. That’s not a ‘first’. It is just one of
countless examples of thuggery towhich the
President has for whatever reason turned a
blind eye and thereby creating, reinforcing
and perpetuating a culture of impunity.
That said, incumbency, gratitude for
defeating terrorism (which Maithripala
himself acknowledged) and sheer personal
charm, not to mention all the usual tweak-
n-abuse we see at election time, makes
Mahinda a tough candidate to defeat.
Maithripala cannot afford to dwarf himself
(vis-à-vis Ranil and Chandrika). He has to
understand that the President has almost
full control of the state and private media.
In fact, Maithripala has to see himself
as the Mahinda Rajapaksa of 2005 and,
of course, see his opponent as the Ranil
Wickremesinghe of that same election.
Mahinda won. Barely. He did so because
all the money that Ranil could pour into
his campaign was effectively countered by
the one asset that Maithri can secure: the
people. Mahinda could do this because of
the JVP. Numbers. Active. Spirit. He could
do that because he had in the JHU someone
who could write his manifesto (Champika
Ranawaka). Mahinda had Wimal, but that
was a different Wimal.
‘Early days’, true. They can fast turn
into ‘too late’. If that happens, Maithripala
would be another Sarath Fonseka. Ranil
would remain Leader of the UNP. A winner
all the way.
Maithripala Sirisena flanked by Chandrika
Kumaratunga and Rajitha Senaratne at the
press conference
Pic Ravindra Dharmathilake
Ranil the early winner
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