The Sri Lankan people have clearly spoken at the February 10 local government elections by according a stellar comeback to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, this time representing his new political party, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP).
Formed under the symbol of a flower bud,the SLPP has made history by challenging Rajapaksa’s old party the SLFP, led by President Maithripala Sirisena, which for the past three years since the Presidential election of 8 January 2015, has ruled in a coalition with the United National Party (UNP).
Clearly, the 2018 February local government elections were nothing about potholed roads drains, garbage clearance and streetlights as is the usual when voting for local representatives of local councils takes place. The damning verdict was on a change they brought about on 8th January 2015. A key factor of this election was focused on the poor performance of the government in the past 3 years which included the neglect of development issues, with many MOUs made with foreign countries for development projects languishing neglected.
However the vote pattern continued to run somewhat on ethno-religious lines, with most of the Tamil, Muslim and Christian localities going to the United National Party and the strongly Buddhist majority areas overwhelmingly being won by Rajapaksa’s SLPP.
Though there has been little concrete action on reconciliation and attending to the grievances of war missing persons or the materialization of the promised new constitution aimed at long lasting peace and ethnic unity, the minority Tamils and Muslims of Sri Lanka has seemingly seen no option but to vote for who they had considered the ‘lesser evil,’ i.e. Ranil Wicnkremesinghe.
However, judging by the overall voter pattern, it is also evident that much of the ‘liberal vote’ which went to Maithripala Sirisena on 2015 January 08 had swung towards Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Having taken the SLFP to its worst imaginable defeat in history, the least scrap of saving face for President Maithripala Sirisena was in winning in his electorate of Polonnaruwa where the SLFP polled 9020 votes (5 seats) as opposed to SLPP’s 5530 (3 seats).
The UNP won only 32.31% of the votes (2162 local govt. members) as opposed to SLPP’s 45.14% of votes (3109 members.
Out of the results released around 7 pm February 11, UNP won only 26 local bodies as opposed to SLPP’s 200. But the UNP retained its grip on Colombo strongly, where its Mayoral candidate Rosy Senanayake emerged victorius as the first female Mayor of Colombo.
Reportedly a ‘shell shocked’ President Sirisena who his aides say did not expect to win ‘but not to lose in this abysmal manner’ has had an emergency meeting with his SLFP members and Ministers and agreed to ‘make a string of changes.’
Former General Secretary of the SLFP who is currently an MP in the Unity Alliance regime told the media Sunday that President Sirisena ‘gave a patient hearing’ to all what his SLFPers, humiliated by the defeat had to say.
According to reports there has been unanimous call by the SLFPers for Sirisena to work with the SLPP and appoint Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister.The Minister of Science and Technology in the current government, Susil Premajayantha said that since ‘the UNP and SLFP had lost in an unprecedented manner it was time to act according to the verdict of the people.’ However, he acknowledged that Maithripala Sirisena as President has the constitutional right to make his decision as he sees fit.
Meanwhile, some reports indicated that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is defiant despite his party, the UNP suffering defeat. Wickremesinghe apparently is showing no indication of stepping down for a SLPP member to take his place as Prime Minister.
Wickremesinghe’s argument is that the 2015 mandate by the people stands till 2020, the year when the next Presidential and parliamentary election is due to be held. He has also reportedly indicated that the Unity Alliance government consisting of UNP and the SLFP would continue until 2020.
Wickremesinghe’s view contrasts sharply with the calls by members of Rajapaksa’s SLPP for the government to ‘immediately resign.’
The alliance backing the SLPP, the Joint Opposition (JO) said Sunday that the mandate given to the Government leaders at the previous election had expired with the results of the Local Government elections .The JO leader Dinesh Gunawardena addressing a news briefing held at the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) office in Colombo called upon the government to step down.
Mahinda Rajapaksa did not attend the press conference but in a tweet declared that the ‘country needs a change.’ “Thank you to all who supported the vision of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna at the LG election. Your voices have been heard. It’s clear that our country needs a change,” he said.
The local government election and its immediate aftermath has been overall peaceful so far but with the public support of Rajapaksa and the expectation and calls for him to be PM high, what the fall out of Prime Minister Wickremesinghe staying on will be, is unclear.
The situation is further aggravated by some members of the SLPP demanding a snap poll.
Even if Sirisena and Wickremesinghe hangs on to their pre election declarations of bringing to book the Rajapaksas for their alleged monetary and other excesses during their rule, if the SLFP members defect to the Rajapaksa side, Sirisena will have no option but to call a snap poll.