Just when we thought it was safe to get back to 'normalcy' after all the hullabaloo that followed the presidential election — coups, conspiracies, midnight arrests and computer 'jilmart' etc. —- they are assailing us with another election and surprise, surprise the campaigning has begun in earnest. Oh, what a vibrant democracy we are, despite the withdrawal of the GSP Plus, the IMF's reluctance to release the third tranche and former Army chief's languishing in jail.
In a sense, this is the real battle. At the presidential election, they were doing it for their 'lokka'. Now they are in it for themselves. We need not say which takes precedence. And that is exactly why the prelude to the poll was interesting, both in the opposition camp and among the government ranks.
The opposition had the bigger headache. The General was behind bars. The UNP wanted its elephant. The JVP, no matter what, didn't want to contest under the 'elephant' symbol. That is a bit difficult to fathom because the red shirts had already swapped symbols with the betel leaf and the swan. Why they couldn't do so with the elephant is a trifle puzzling — but then, they didn't want us to eat Bombay onions either!
|UPFA stalwarts are seen together before the manaape war begins
You probably don't want to know the gory details but the gist of it is that the UNP wanted the General and the JVP wanted the General but the General wanted both the UNP and the JVP and for him to be the leader of both those camps.
Maybe it is difficult to blame the man. All his life he has been used to people standing at attention and doing as they are told when he says 'seeruwen sitin'. In a forty day campaign, he got four million votes. He still believes he is the 'peoples' President'. So why on earth doesn't the UNP and the JVP just shut up and do what he says?
Well, there are reasons, at least as far as the UNP is concerned. As we have pointed out already, this battle was for themselves, certainly not for their 'lokka'. So, they didn't want JVPers running away with their seats in Parliament by fielding one or two candidates per district, like they did to the SLFP six years ago.
Then, there is also the question as to how many votes the JVP commands, anyway. If it was substantial, would the General have polled seven hundred thousand votes less than Ranil Wickremesinghe did in 2005 when the JVP vote went to Mahinda Rajapaksa? Even if you aren't a genius at numbers, you can figure that out.
So naturally, UNPers were fighting shy of fighting the election with the sahodarayas. That left General Fonseka with a hard choice, green or red, with no amber to blink in between. He opted for the latter and as if to prove a point he is standing from Colombo from where Ranil Wickremesinghe will also contest.
Of course one doesn't look for sound reasoning in politics but the decision of the General to opt for the JVP instead of the UNP is confusing, especially if he believed that the JVP had a better political future than the Grand Old Party. It would have been like deciding, at the height of battle, that capturing Pottu Amman was more important than killing Prabhakaran.
But then, his comrade in arms is Arjuna Ranatunga who took on the 'invincible' Aussies in the World Cup and won, just as much as the General took on the 'invincible' Tigers and won. But the General would do well to note that Ranatunga, after his victory over the Aussies, went from hero to zero in a very short time!
Needless to say, there will be some 'sympathy votes' for the General in Colombo, where he won many electorates at the presidential election. And that would mean that Ranil Wickremesinghe will have a slice taken off his preference votes -- and we can just picture Wimal Panchayudha Weerawansa smiling to himself at the prospect of bettering Wickremesinghe's vote count!
Now Wickremesinghe, or 'nayakathuma' to anyone wearing a green shirt these days has also let the cat out of the bag as only he can. He is telling you and me that we shouldn't grant a two-thirds majority to anyone. Makes sense, yes, but isn't he also saying at the same time that he is really, really scared about the possibility of someone getting a two-thirds majority and that this someone is not him or his party?
But even Wickremesinghe's troubles as party leader must pale into insignificance when one considers what the UPFA is going through. They had to sort out the million requests that came their way from sportsmen, postmen, actors, benefactors, singers and hangers-on who were seeking nomination.
President Mahinda took the easy way out. He said anyone who was a sitting MP automatically gets nomination. He also said that anyone could campaign anywhere in the district in which they were contesting. But still, the signs are ominous.
Consider the Colombo district, for instance. There are nineteen seats on offer of which the UPFA can get a maximum of eleven. Then consider the people in the fray: Fowzie, Premajayantha, The Gunwardenas (Dinesh and Bandula), Jeewan Kumaratunge, Gamini Lokuge, Milinda Moragoda, Rohitha Bogollagama, Mervyn Silva, Wimal Weerawansa, Thilanga Sumathipala and Duminda Silva.
If you counted, that's a dozen there and that can only mean that one of the above will not be in the next Parliament -- and you can be pretty sure that it will not be one of the last two names. If I can work this out, I am sure the above mentioned would have worked it out already and that there will be a no-holds-barred scramble for the 'manaape'.
But the real fun will be when the 'manaapes' are counted which invariably results in a lot of 'amanaape'. That is when even all the executive powers at the disposal of Mahinda Rajapaksa will not be enough to appease the unelected.
Maybe the President can appoint the 'losing' candidates as Corporation Chairmen. R.V. L. D. ('rata venuven lowama dinu') Bogollagama could be appointed Chairman of the Leather Corporation, judging by the ornate chair he sits on when he holds his press conferences at his ministry. He even deserves a seat on the Board of Directors of Sri Lankan airlines — he and his kith and kin are among the main reasons why SriLankan is still operational today and he has probably earned enough frequent-flyer-miles to go to the moon by now. But he shouldn't be appointed Chairman of the Urban Development Authority — he still hasn't figured out what could be done with Lakshman Kadirgamar's statue!
If Mervyn Silva loses, the next Parliament will be poorer in its entertainment value and vocabulary but the President can easily make use of him. Since the good man has a doctorate, maybe he can be a chancellor of a University or Chairman of the University Grants Commission, where we are sure he will deal with student unrest in his own inimitable style although the demand for 'kukul saayam' is also likely to increase.
Ah, the possibilities are endless and space only permits limited discussion. But we will be neglecting our duty if we don't make an 'honourable' mention of Dayananda Dissanayake. If nothing else, history will record with gratitude that his most enduring contribution to this country was to make the word 'aathathiya' famous.
Right now though, Dissanayake must be the man with the least worries. Having got away with January 26, he must know that nothing can hurt him now — not even a one hundred and ten percent turnout which could well become a possibility if the UPFA really works hard towards achieving that two-thirds majority, that they are talking of now!