28 July 2014

The 'common candidate' drama

Pic by Chandana Wijesinghe, with permission from 'The Nation'

People have short memories, some politicians like to think.  But politicians themselves are people and the claim is eminently applicable to that category as well.  Forgive-forget after all is par for the course in a profession about which it is said that there are no permanent enemies or friends.  Indeed, politicians can remember-forget anything and everything, including ‘truths’ ferociously defended and enemies fought with no quarter given or asked for.  And this, ladies and gentlemen, is which coalition politics is fascinating, unpredictable and chaotic.

Last week there was a gathering of key political figures all clamoring for the abolition of the Executive Presidency.  There was a former president who enjoyed two full terms of constitutionally conferred dictatorial powers raising her hand to scrap that office.  Lost in all the camaraderie was the fact that the lady came to power promising to abolish the Executive Presidency.  No one seems to have remembered, also, that the JVP (well represented at the meeting) went around defending their support of her candidacy claiming ‘we knew she would not do it and thought this was a good way to prove she is a liar!’

Moreover, she found common ground with a man who called her Chaura Regina (Thieving Queen).  There was the LTTE’s ‘democratic’ mouthpiece chit-chatting with a man who claims he and he alone was responsible for the defeat of the LTTE.  In the audience there were also allies of the Government who have dismissed most of the above-mentioned entities as ‘traitors’.  

It has come to a point where the term ‘strange bedfellows’ sounds odd since bedding with strangers has become the norm, both in the ruling coalition and in the various tie-ups that the opposition dreams up from time to time.  

Over the past several decades ‘Abolish the Executive Presidency’ has been a regular theme in opposition rhetoric.  Indeed one has come to expect as inevitable for that flag to be waved come election time, especially considering the opposition (courtesy the JRJ Constitution) tends to be fragmented and weak.  In general again the people seem reluctant to be passionate about the issue either way.  If coalition glue is what it is considered to be by the opposition it’s good enough of course.  

One thing that needs to be understood here is that big names usually come with big egos; the prominent believe they are not only the most qualified but have the best chance.  They won’t support a ‘common candidate’ if they felt that they could pull it off.  If they feel that the election cannot be won then it is logical for them to back a loser for the simple reason that they won’t have to be the fall guy.  Someone else’s political career will be over; that’s consolation enough in reduced circumstances, obviously.   That’s a convenient galavijjava which both the UNP and JVP made use of in 2010.  

In this context a presidential election could be interesting if one of two people emerge as ‘common candidate’, Karu Jayasuriya or Ranil Wickremesinghe.  If either of them contests it would indicate some degree of confidence.  If not, it would be another Sarath Fonseka fiasco.  Entertaining it may be, but in the final instance made for a foregone conclusion.

It would be even more interesting if the key players in the Opposition focus on a ‘common program’ and tell the Goverment, ‘call the match and I will name the captain’.  As things stand it’s ‘We are in the process of picking the captain’ without a match on the cards.  That’s sad.

Ven Maduluwawe Sobitha probably got it right when he said that this was a campaign that even President Rajapaksa can join.  Now that’s being politically astute. 
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