Crowds, Political Pulse

Ceylon Today Editorial

The point is in the conclusion of this editorial

If Monday’s May Day crowds is the judge of the political pulse of the people, then former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, currently a UPFA MP from the Kurunegala District and the de facto Leader of the newly formed political party the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), may well be at least the new third force in Sri Lanka politics.

But in the island’s political history since the eve of independence in 1947, a third force never ended up as being the first force in Sri Lanka’s politics.

Nonetheless, some observers even went to the extent to say that the SLPP May Day Rally at Galle Face Green presided over by Rajapaksa, drew a greater crowd than UNP/UNF Leader and Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe’s May Day Rally at Campbell Park, Colombo or UNP/UPFA Leader and President Maithripala Sirisena’s May Day Rally at Getambe, Peradeniya, Kandy.

Cartoon googled and added by TWImage result for Sri Lanka May day crowd cartoons

If one looks at Sri Lanka’s contemporary political history during the last two decades, it was the JVP which rapidly became Sri Lanka’s 3rd force in a matter of eight years after its proscription was lifted by the then President D.B. Wijetunga in 1992, only to fizzle out 10 years later, in 2010.

At the 2000 parliamentary poll, JVP became the third largest political party in Parliament, gaining 10 seats, though far behind the then PA (predecessor of the UPFA) which secured the highest number of seats (107), followed by the UNP (89) in the 225 seat Legislature.

Four years later, at the 2004 Parliamentary poll, the JVP, contesting under the UPFA banner nearly quadrupled their seats in Parliament to 39, with its mother party the UPFA, inclusive of the JVP’s 39 seats, leading the pack with 105 seats, followed by the UNP-led UNF (82) and the Tamil minority party the TNA which has its vote base in the North and to an extent in the East, 22.

But six years after, in 2010, the JVP ate humble pie. At that parliamentary poll, contesting under then General Sarath Fonseka’s Democratic National Alliance (DNA), the DNA/JVP was able to secure only seven parliamentary seats.

The UPFA which was then led by Rajapaksa came first, winning 144 seats, followed by the UNF (UNP-led) 60, while the TNA became the new third force in Parliament, winning 14 seats.

In the current makeup in Parliament, post-2015 parliamentary polls, the UNF/UNP leads the pack securing 106 seats, followed by Sirisena’s UPFA (95), TNA (16) and the JVP (6). TNA Leader R. Sampanthan plays the Opposition Leader’s role in the current Parliament, reenacting the drama which took place 40 years ago, when Appapillai Amirthalingam, the leader of TNA’s then mother party, the TULF, became the Leader of the Opposition.

At that 1977 parliamentary poll, the UNP-led the way by winning 140 seats of the then 168-seat Parliament, followed by the TULF (18), the SLFP (Leader of the current UPFA coalition) 8, while Jabir A. Cader who contested the then multi-member constituency Colombo Central under the ‘eye’ symbol, was also elected to power.

If in 1951, the then Leader of the House and Health Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike left the UNP and formed the SLFP because he felt that he couldn’t be the UNP Leader on the belief that after the death of the then UNP Leader and Premier D.S. Senanayake, the leadership would pass on to his son Dudley, Rajapaksa, unlike the founder of his party Bandaranaike, has not taken such a decision.

Rajapaksa has not said that he’s the Leader of the SLPP. He has neither resigned nor left the SLFP-led UPFA. Instead, the face projected in the new party the SLPP, G.L. Peiris, who goes as its chairman since its founding last year, was promptly sacked from the SLFP, of which he was a member, once he took over the chairmanship of the SLPP.

The problem with Rajapaksa unlike Bandaranaike is his reluctance to lead from the front. Bandaranaike broke away from the UNP in 1951, and five years later, leading a coalition called the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP), swept the polls at the 1956 general elections, winning 54% of the seats offered. The MEP secured 51 of the 95 seats at that poll.

If the crowd at the SLPP’s May Day Rally is a reflection of Rajapaksa’s popularity, it may be interpreted that he still has his 48% vote base, where he polled 5.8 million of the 12.1 million valid votes at the 2015 presidential poll, intact.

Rajapaksa who contested under the UPFA ticket, however, saw this vote base, seven months later, at the August 2015 parliamentary poll, cut down by 1.1 million to 4.7 million, whereas the UNF/UNP garnered the highest number of votes, 5.1 million, a clear 400,000 more votes than the UPFA.

Today, the UNP-led UNF and the SLFP-led UPFA have formed a coalition government. Rajapaksa, unlike his founder Leader Bandaranaike has not resigned from the SLFP and, unlike his colleague Peiris, has not been sacked from the SLFP.

The people may look up to Rajapaksa if he resigns from the SLFP and takes over the SLPP lock stock and barrel, instead of allowing the likes of Peiris to be its legal political face. Otherwise, the crowds at his May Day Rally will not mean a thing, politically.