New political alliances and formations are common occurrence when the national elections are around the corner. The presidential elections are scheduled to be conducted at the end of next year. Now, the country’s political air is pregnant with preparations for such happenings. The latest is a move to forge an electoral pact between President Maithripala Sirisena and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
In terms of the Constitution, the President, upon completion of four years in office during his first term, can call for a presidential election. That is to seek a mandate for him to run for another term. The President will complete four years in office in January, next year. If he wishes to be the candidate, he can declare elections at any time afterwards.
Against the backdrop of such legal interpretations on the laws governing the Presidential Elections, it is learned that Dissanayake, backed by a few other members of the Joint Opposition or the Mahinda Rajapaksa faction of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), has undertaken a political project to forge unity between the two leaders. The proposal is to nominate President Sirisena as the next candidate to contest the polls. The agreement, if struck, will provide for premiership to be offered to someone from the Rajapaksa camp.
As far as the Joint Opposition is concerned, MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara is openly supportive of such a political arrangement in view of the next presidential elections. Besides, it is learned that a few others in that political camp also favour the idea to nominate the President. But, they are not openly vocal about it.
Be that as it may, widespread support is unlikely from the Joint Opposition for President Sirisena to be made the candidate. As things stand at the moment, anti-President sentiments run high among the rank and file of the Joint Opposition. In fact, the overtures made by the President’s representatives to the Joint Opposition to strike an electoral agreement with regard to the February 10 Local Government Polls were thrown out of the window.
At that time, one proposal was to field a common list of candidates by Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and the President’s UPFA under a common symbol. The other one was to share the local bodies between the two sides to contest. Had the agreement been struck, the SLPP would have contested some local bodies and the President’s party the others in cooperation with each other. Such overtures were rebuffed even at that time. It all shows that any proposal that aims at giving the upper hand to the President is looked at with disdain by most in the other side.
As such, it is difficult to expect the Joint Opposition, which includes the SLPP as the dominant political force, to agree to any electoral pact with the President that gives him the pride of place.
Let alone, according to sources close to the Joint Opposition, any understanding between the President and the Joint opposition cannot be totally ruled out, though. The President’s participation in the funeral of Mr. Rajapaksa’s brother Chandra Rajapaksa gives rise to speculation about such a possible patch-up. If such a thing is to happen, it will be according to the terms and conditions stipulated by the Joint Opposition.
Come what may, the Presidential Elections can be called prematurely only if the President intends to contest. One cannot expect the President to be the candidate without the support of the UNP or the Rajapakasa camp under the current political circumstances. Accordingly, a snap presidential election can be expected only in the event of such an electoral deal. Otherwise, the presidential elections will take place according to schedule at the end of the year.
Though it is not openly articulated, the UNP is also bracing for the Presidential Elections according to party sources. In fact, the party has prioritised political work over everything else.
The UNP believes the rifts within the Joint Opposition on its prospective presidential candidate will widen and snowball into a full-blown crisis ahead of the election. Accordingly, the UNP believes such a crisis within the opposition will eventually be politically beneficial to it.
“There is a simmering crisis in the Joint Opposition. It is like a volcano that can erupt any time,” Minister Sajith Premadasa once remarked at a party discussion that took place before Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe left for Vietnam.
As such, he said Mahinda Rajapaksa was trying to exploit lacunas in the law to see whether he could become the candidate or not.
The Prime Minister remarked at this point that Mahinda Rajapaksa was trying to break the law of the country.
Higher Education Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe said that there was no lacuna in the law that would enable Mahinda to become the presidential candidate.
Minister Daya Gamage opined that the 19th Amendment or any other law could not be enforced retrospectively.
Minister Rajapakshe replied that though the law did not have any retrospective effect, past actions of any individual could be covered under it.