“If Gotabaya Rajapaksa wins the presidency, he and his family will have two priorities: secure the premiership for Mahinda Rajapaksa and obtain a two-thirds majority in the next parliament for the SLPP. Reaching the first goal would be a necessary condition for reaching the second. If the SLPP can go for the next election under a SLPP president and a SLPP premier, a landslide victory would be possible…”
The 2019 presidential election, rather predictably is shaping up politically, very similar to its precedent in 2015. On that occasion, the then ruling Rajapakses’ sought an unprecedented third term and was rebuffed at the polls. In 2019, the Rajapakses’ are essentially seeking a third term, with the personalities changed. The message though from the Rajapakse camp has not changed, only increased in intensity. The message that the Sinhala people are under threat both from within and without and require an authoritarian saviour.
Opposing this narrative, rather late in the day and through through no fault of his own, is Sajith Premadasa, the charismatic relatively young deputy leader of the UNP, whose political task and challenge is to recreate the politics of 2015 in 2019, with himself as a new standard-bearer and with a fresh political vision and message.
In the wake of a heightening contest for presidential candidacy within the ruling United National Party (UNP), deputy leader and Minister Sajith Premadasa on Tuesday said the party must hold a “secret ballot” to choose the most-preferred contender.
“A half year after Maithripala Sirisena’s stunning defeat of President Mahinda Rajapaksa raised hopes for democratic renaissance, the complexities of partisan politics, and Rajapaksa himself, have returned to centre stage. Sirisena’s initial months with a minority government led by the United National Party (UNP) have opened important political space: robust debate and criticism have replaced the fear under Rajapaksa, and important governance reforms have been made, but much remains undone. By initial steps on reconciliation, the government set a more accommodating tone on the legacy of the civil war and the ethnic conflict that drove it. But divisions within government and Sirisena’s failure to take control of his Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) prevented deeper reform and allowed Rajapaksa and his supporters to mount a comeback. With Sirisena opposing Rajapaksa’s return, the 17 August parliamentary elections will test the continued appeal of the ex-president’s hardline Sinhala nationalism and give a chance for the fresh start that lasting solutions to the country’s social divisions require.”
The phrase ‘regime-change’ is often used to describe the dramatic result of the presidential election on 8th January 2015, both in the sense of a democratic change of government, as well as at a deeper level, to denote the electorate’s expression of a choice between two competing conceptions of the Sri Lankan state. The country rejected the Rajapaksa model and endorsed the common opposition’s promise of a radically different vision of Sri Lanka. With the main part of the common opposition’s promised reforms enacted in the form of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution in April, the electorate will be asked to endorse those changes and the promise of more, or to reject both, in the parliamentary elections in two weeks’ time.