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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

The Dilemma of the UNP and the SLPP

M.S.M. Auyb.

The solitary member of the United National Party (UNP) in Parliament, Vajira Abeywardena seems to be clever in grabbing and holding media attention but sometimes in wrong ways – in most occasions damaging his own image.

In recent months, he had made statements – all in respect of the next Presidential Election – for which the media had given wide coverage. In April this year, he said, since possible rival candidates of President Ranil Wickremesinghe could not even think of how to resuscitate the economy and make Sri Lanka a country to be reckoned with in the global context, Wickremesinghe should be elected uncontested for another term.

Meanwhile, Abeywardena suggested at a district conclave of the UNP in the south on June 14, to conduct a referendum in place of the next Presidential Election requesting the people’s approval for his leader to run the country for 12 more years. To justify his suggestion, he reminded that Sri Lanka’s first and only referendum in 1982 was also held in order to postpone a national level election.

Again, on October 24, the UNP Chairman stated that the estimated cost of a Presidential Election, which amounts to Rs. 13 billion could be directed towards reducing electricity tariffs and providing much needed relief to the people, if a national consensus is reached to name President Wickremesinghe as the sole candidate for the position. Abeywardena suggested that individuals who plan to run for the Presidential Election should abstain from submitting their candidacy applications (nominations) as they lack the ability to lead the country’s rebuilding efforts.

However, the Sri Lanka Opinion Poll Survey predicts Anura Kumara Dissanayake of the NPP and Sajith Premadasa of the SJB to obtain 51 percent and 30 percent of votes, respectively. The UNP leader could secure only 13 percent of votes

 

All these suggestions on being elected uncontested, holding referendums and withdrawing nominations were aimed at avoiding the Presidential Election, apparently for fear of defeat. And this is sometimes not his own line of thinking, as his leader has been using him to test the public response to these ideas. However, he boasted last Monday that President Wickremesinghe will win the next Presidential Election with 100 lakhs (10 Million) votes. “I am saying this because we are confident of the place this country will be in April with the economic policies of President Wickremesinghe.” He further said, the people should give Mr. Wickremesinghe to govern the nation for 12 more years from 2024, predicting that Sri Lanka would become a powerful country if he is allowed to do so.

Has the UNP which obtained less than 300,000 votes island wide and failed to win a single seat at district level at the General Election three years ago become so popular for its leader to obtain 10 million votes at the next Presidential Election, as Abeywardena observes? The party’s continued hesitation to hold the Local Government Election which had been scheduled to be held on March 9 indicates the opposite.

 We are confident of the place this country will be by April with the economic policies of President Wickremesinghe. – UNP MP, Vajira Abeywardena

 

Besides, in a survey – “Sri Lanka Opinion Poll Survey” – conducted in October by the Institute of Health Policy (IHP), the UNP leader could secure only 13 percent of votes, while Anura Kumara Dissanayake of the National People’s Power (NPP) and Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) leader Sajith Premadasa were predicted to obtain 51 percent and 30 percent of votes, respectively. The outcome of the survey might not be realistic numerically, but it seems to be not so far from the situation on the ground, given the sufferings the ordinary people undergo and the social media trends.

The leaders of the UNP and the SLPP attempt to convince the people that the country that was engulfed in the worst economic crisis in its history is now out of the woods, and the people endorse the government’s current policies and activities.

Needless to say, with fresh loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and strict import control rules under a programme sponsored by the IMF, the government has been able to ease some of the harshest effects of the recent economic crisis such as miles-long and days-long queues for fuel and cooking gas. However, to portray that situation as economic recovery or progress is unrealistic and self-deceptive, since people still suffer from the effects of the crisis.

To put the gravity of the situation in simple terms, the income of the majority of people has halved while the expenses have gone threefold up compared to the early period of the COVID 19 pandemic. Ruined lives and shattered dreams have not been restored. The statistics of the Central Bank or any other state institution do not matter for the people who gauge the situation from what they encounter. And the crisis has unprecedentedly severed people’s traditional political affiliations which had thus far ridiculously undermined their own sufferings. They now look for remedies from the government, and especially from the President in power failing which they turn to others. Thus the JVP/NPP is capitalizing on the situation, as shown by the above survey.

In about a week, the recently adopted Value Added Tax – VAT (Amendment) Act will come into force impacting every aspect of life, and people might respond to it politically at elections, as protests are being crushed.  People are not seen divided along party lines on economic issues such as the new VAT amendments, as the case had been during the pre-crisis period.

Against this backdrop, it would be very difficult for the UNP to win an election unless it forms a coalition with strong contenders.

Along with these drawbacks, the visible physical weakness of aging SLPP leader Mahinda Rajapaksa seems to have contributed to such a leadership crisis in that party

Teaming up with seeming powerhouses, the NPP and the SJB is out of the question, as they have rejected the idea, but the UNP and the SLPP are two parties that are on the same wavelength on economy, governance and human rights.  And there are several SLPP ministers who have become very close to the President. Yet, SLPP, according to the recent opinion polls is far behind even the UNP. Besides, the general perception that the SLPP is highly corrupt and responsible for the destruction of the economy has further been validated in the minds of the people by the recent Supreme Court ruling on the economic crisis.

Along with these drawbacks, the visible physical weakness of aging SLPP leader Mahinda Rajapaksa seems to have contributed to such a leadership crisis in that party. Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam announced this week that they were considering four names to be their Presidential candidate, including renowned Business tycoon, Dammika Perera. Does this indicate that the SLPP is not prepared to consider Wickremesinghe as their candidate? They might not be happy with him as he did not budge despite their continued heavy pressure to offer ministerial portfolios to some of their district leaders. They failed to keep him under their control, in spite of them being his political strength in the government. It is justifiable if they fear that the SLPP would ultimately be swallowed by the UNP if the government is under him with their support, for another five years.

Now, Mahinda Rajapaksa is attempting to hold the so-called Yahapalana Government responsible for the economic crisis, forgetting that they made Wickremesinghe the President claiming that only he can save the country from the current economic mess. Also, this week, he had criticized Wickremesinghe’s tax policy, including the VAT (Amendment) Act, amusingly after he and his party having adopted the VAT (Amendment) Bill in Parliament, days ago.

It is against this backdrop the country is going to face a national level election – Presidential or Parliamentary. Since the country is still reeling from the economic crisis and the resultant political uncertainties it is difficult to read all undercurrents yet.

Courtesy Daily Mirror

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