Dogs, bones, polls

Island Editorial 

The UNP and the SLFP did their damnedest to avoid an electoral contest because they were wary of taking on each other at the expense of the fragile unity of their yahapalana government. But, today, they are squaring off, having exhausted all their lame excuses for postponing the local government polls. They are aware that their political survival hinges on their unity, but, two dogs at the same bone seldom agree. They have to fight while sharing power and jointly holding the former ruling family at bay. They know their marriage of convenience is doomed and bound to end sooner or later. Patronage-seeking grassroots level members of the two parties are at the end of their tether. The UNP leadership is coming under increasing pressure from the party’s rank and file to form a government of their own and the SLFP is in the unity government for want of a better alternative.

The UNP and the SLFP are in another dilemma. Vying as they do with each other they have had to split the credit for what they flaunt as their joint achievements as it were. They say they have restored democracy, but a voter who may buy into that claim cannot vote for both of them. Which party is he or she to back, the President’s or the Prime Minister’s? There’s the rub. The two parties have, apparently, chosen to highlight each other’s faults instead in the race. The SLFP is using the bond probe commission findings to show the UNP in a bad light and the latter is accusing the former of shielding the rogues of the previous dispensation. Unfortunately for them, by accusing each other, they are making their political enemies, especially the Joint Opposition (JO), happy.

President Maithripala Sirisena, on Saturday, sought to rubbish the UNP’s claim of being a better manager of the economy than the SLFP. He craftily laid the blame for the country’s economic woes at the doorstep of Sirikotha. Pointing out that the UNP had been in charge of the economy for the last three years, he said he would take it over anon. What he left unsaid was that the people had to hold the UNP and not the SLFP accountable for their economic difficulties and he would ameliorate their suffering. Not to be outdone, the UNP has targeted Sirisena’s yahapalana credentials; it has taken up a serious allegation against Uva Chief Minister Chamara Sampath Dassanayake (SLFP) that he forced a female principal to kneel before him. UNP big guns are baying for the beleaguered CM’s blood, and rightly so. They are cranking up pressure on the President to punish him. The UNP lets its backbenchers carry out a vilification campaign against the President himself. They launch into tirades against the SLFP at every turn in a bid to please their irate backers who are not well disposed towards the unity government.

The JO looks happy that the SLFP and the UNP are at each other’s jugular. It seems to have got a breather. It is attacking the SLFP leadership more than the UNP. For, its strategy is to grab the reins of the SLFP from President Sirisena, consolidate its power in the party and then prepare for the next national level election. The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) is only a launching pad or a vehicle for the SLFP dissidents. They have taken a leaf out of President Sirisena’s book. Sirisena used the New Democratic Front to knock President Mahinda Rajapaksa off his perch, in 2015, and wrest control of the SLFP.

Meanwhile, Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, who is also a member of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s kitchen cabinet, showed the UNP’s hand, in Nikaweratiya on Sunday. Addressing a UNP rally with the PM presiding, Kariyawasam stressed the need for the UNP to gain control of the local government institutions and the provincial councils so as to ensure that Wickremesinghe would secure the topmost position in the country next year. He has obviously sought to rekindle hope in frustrated UNP members, boost their flagging morale and infuse some vigour into the party machinery. Interestingly, Minister Vijithamuni Zoysa, speaking at a UPFA rally in Kantale, on the same day, declared that President Sirisena, a farmer, would ‘cultivate for another season’. A smiling President Sirisena was seen on the stage. The yahapalana government has reached a crossroads.