03 October 2013

Election Wrap-up

Many winners, some losers, call for blood and a verdict

 It’s all done and dusted.  Elections have been held in the Wayamba, Central and Northern Provinces.  We saw posters, wild rhetoric, intra-party skirmishes in the now time-honored ritual called the ‘Manaapa Poraya’ (Fight over preferential votes), abuse of state resources, vote-solicitation via scandalous gifting courtesy mind-boggling wealth gotten from who knows where or how, losers offering explanations and winners doing victory laps.  The season is over, for now, i.e. until the next round of PC elections are announced.  

Multiple Winners
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) claimed that the party had not lost its vote-base.  That’s a victory claim of sorts.  Some United National Party (UNP) spokespersons offered that the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) had been defeated by the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK) in the North, implying that cracks were emerging in the near total control of the political equation by the regime. This reading was shared by anti-UPFA (rather than anti-system) ‘voices’ in the NGO community. That’s convoluted but a victory-claim nevertheless.  Then there’s Sarath Fonseka and the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) did better than the JVP, obtaining 5 seats to the latter’s solitary seat, giving the party third-party bragging rights, outside of the ITAK’s power base at least. 

The UPFA says that holding elections in the North was itself a victory; that’s consolation prize for the Government that spent so much and indeed did so much in the formerly war-ravaged province by way of de-mining, resettlement, infrastructure development and even rehabilitation and reintegration into society of cadres of the world’s most ruthless terrorist organization (a ‘reconciliation’ idea which countries like the USA would not even consider, for example with inmates in Guantanamo).  The Government has duly claimed brownie points from the much-maligned and unfriendly big names in the international community.  India has dished out a bit of praise for holding the election, taking a bit of the bite off Navi Pillay’s by now par-for-course broadsides at the UN Sessions. 

The ITAK win in the North was what stood out, especially since the UPFA’s wins in Wayamba and Central Provinces does not have as much shine, considering the party’s multiple victories over the last 9 years.  The ITAK win was not only the first victory in a major election by an opposition party but one which amounted to an assessment of post-conflict work by the Government and an evaluation of ITAK rhetoric, the former effectively being pooh-poohed and the latter overwhelmingly endorsed, one could argue.  Conversely, the ordinary Tamil voter might say, ‘It is not that we are not appreciating post-conflict achievements, but we are more comfortable with representatives whose politics are based on Tamil identity’.  Where the truth of voter compulsion lies, only voter will know.  The TNA won by a big margin. That much is indisputable. 

So there are many winners.  All of them were made winners by the voters.  Whether the king makers benefit just rewards only time will tell.

Dayasiri’s Day
Elections are about parties but electioneering is mostly about candidates.  This was most pronounced in Wayamba with Minister Johnston Fernando’s son Johan being challenged by Dayasiri Jayasekera who crossed over to the UPFA from the UNP and resigned his parliamentary seat to contest.  It is no secret that Johnston spent lavishly on his son’s campaign.  The ex-Chief Minister’s only hope was a second place finish behind Johan, where the party leadership may have chosen his experience over the latter’s youthfulness.  Dayasiri polled a record 300,000 plus votes, a clear 200,000 over Johan.  It appears that the insanities afflicted by both victory and defeat upon supporters are yet to run their course, many clashes being reported.

In the North, as expected, Ex-Judge C.V. Wigneswaran was the runaway winner, polling close to 50,000 over his closest ITAK rival Anandi Shashidharan.  In the Central Province, strong results for the UPFA’s Pramitha Bandara Tennekoon (son of Janaka Bandara Tennekoon) in Matale and for Jayaratne (Prime Minister’s son) in Kandy, with a second-best return for the outgoing Chief Minister Sarath Ekanayake in Kandy saw a revival in the dynasty discourse. 

The UNP’s post-election ‘usual’
 As has been the case in the aftermath of one electoral debacle after another and another and another, this time too there was a stirring, outside and within Sirikotha.  Predictably calls for a political beheading of Ranil Wickremesinghe were voiced.  There was even a protest at Sirikotha.  Given the draconian nature of the party constitution, however, beheading is not an option. Suicide is.  The plea therefore was for Ranil Wickremesinghe to resign.  ‘Concerned’ seniors in the party are reported to have intimated to the leader that he could pick one of several options.  

The near unanimous demand is to step down of course, but since history has shown that Wickremesinghe won’t consider suicide other scenarios have been talked about.  One suggestion was to hand over the Opposition Leader’s post to one time deputy Karu Jayasuriya (since evicted from even the Working Committee of the party).  Another is for him to remain leader but nominate someone else as Presidential Candidate.  A third suggestion is for him to remain as some kind of elder consultant, handing the party to Karu Jayasuriya.  

Note: it is Karu’s name that has been doing the rounds, not Sajith Premadasa’s.  Karu, who has built a reputation for himself as a leader with little ego and less than average ambition, is seen by many as the ideal unifier, as opposed to Premadasa who enjoys greater support within the party but is also seen as one burdened with a divisive personality. Premadasa has been quite silent, after his usual post-election brag ‘I can lead the UNP to victory’. 

What is different this time according to party insiders is that a significant section of Wickremesinghe loyalists are calling for his resignation in the party’s long term interests. 

Governor-Chief Minister meeting
One of the themes of the ITAK’s campaign for the removal of Northern Province Governor, Major General G.A. Chandrasiri.  The ITAK had accused the former Army Chief of Staff of supporting the UPFA during the run up to the election.  Post-election, however, there appears to be more cordiality, with the ITAK forwarding the party nominee for the Chief Minister post to the Governor and the Governor inviting C.A. Wigneswaran to finalize his appointment.  This follows similar cordiality in the statements issued by the ITAK and the Government following the former’s victory in the Northern Province, both sides pledging to work together in the larger interests of the people of the province. 

SC Verdict on Land Powers
The rise of the ITAK on a communalist platform unabashedly bordering on chauvinism, all the more dangerous because of what an earlier avatar of  Tamil nationalism (TULF and the Vadukoddai Declaration) spawned, has given new life to the debate on devolution, especially with respect to the 13th Amendment.   The issue found expression in a Supreme Court ruling on Thursday (26) where it was determined that the scheme of the constitutional settlement in the 13th Amendment only allowed Provincial councils to have legislative competence to make statutes to administer, control and utilize state land if such state land is made available to the provincial councils by the Government for a provincial council subject.  Chief Justice Mohan Pieris and Justices K. Sripavan and Eva Wanasundera delivered a unanimous decision offering separate analyses.  

The Chief Justice pointed out that if and when a National Land Commission was in place, the guidelines formulated by such a commission would govern the power of the provincial councils over the subject matter. The Supreme Court was delivering judgment on an appeal challenging a determination of the Court of Appeal which held that the Provincial High Court had jurisdiction to hear cases where dispossession or encroachment of alienation of state lands were in issue.  It was held that the Court of Appeal had erred in law in holding that the Provincial High Court of Kandy had the jurisdiction to issue a writ of certiorari in respect of a quit notice issued under the State Lands Act.  

The political repercussions of this decision, given the fixation on land and police powers apparent in many Tamil politicians and parties, are yet to unfold.