(Text of Editorial Appearing in “The Island” of July 6th 2015)
Nothing is so certain as the unexpected in politics. President Maithripala Sirisena has finally agreed to nominate his bête noire, Mahinda Rajapaksa, to contest the August 17 polls. Both of them have made compromises; the former said he would never field Rajapaksa on the UPFA ticket and the latter spared no pains to be named the UPFA’s prime ministerial candidate. Now, it has been left to the UPFA parliamentary group to decide who should be the Prime Minister in case of an SLFP-led government being formed.
Rajapaksa underestimated Sirisena before the last presidential election and lost the presidency. Thereafter, the latter made the mistake of trying to write off the former and was faced with the prospect of the SLFP losing the next election. Obviously, there is no love lost between the two leaders and they have had to bury the hatchet for their mutual survival. What we have just witnessed is another political marriage of convenience.
President Sirisena has vowed that he won’t allow the post Jan. 08 ‘revolutionary process’ to be reversed under any circumstances. But, this is plain rhetoric. Those who backed him in the presidential race are furious. They feel betrayed. Some of them like the JHU have already broken ranks with the UPFA in protest. The UNP hoped for a cakewalk next month owing to the SLFP’s internal problems which it expected to culminate in a disastrous split. But, now, it has its work cut out. Its consternation is understandable.
It has been Hobson’s choice for President Sirisena. He is in the current predicament because he took over the SLFP leadership. Some political observers argue that he could have avoided this situation if he had remained neutral after winning the presidency as the common candidate. But, unless he had taken control of the SLFP he would have had to dissolve Parliament immediately after the Jan. 08 presidential election or put up with a hostile SLFP-led government without the UNP being able to enjoy the fruits of its labour; he wouldn’t have been able to appoint UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe Prime Minister and implement the 100-day programme.
However, upon taking over the SLFP, the onus fell on President Sirisena to protect its politico-electoral interests. He was faced with the seemingly impossible task of enabling the SLFP which he had been instrumental in defeating last January, to win next month without Rajapaksa, who won most of the electorates in areas other than the North and the East. He knew there would be hell to pay if he denied Rajapaksa nomination thereby causing the party to lose again due to a split; he would even face a revolt within the party in such an eventuality. Rajapaksa, too, realised that it was well nigh impossible to win a general election without an undivided SLFP solidly behind him.
This is not the first time adversity has made strange bedfellows. The TNA and the pro-LTTE groups operating overseas had no qualms about backing former war winning army commander Gen. Sarath Fonseka in the presidential fray in 2010 while accusing him and the army of war crimes. Fonseka famously declared that he wouldn’t hesitate to forge an alliance even with the devil’s grandmother to defeat Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The JVP joined forces with the UNP both in 2010 and 2015 despite the heinous crimes they committed against each other in the late 1980s. The JHU chose to make common cause with the TNA, which it had earlier condemned as Tiger proxies, to defeat Rajapaksa last January. The SLMC representing the Muslims who bore the brunt of the LTTE’s genocidal violence joined, in 2010 and 2015, the same alliance as the TNA against Rajapaksa. During President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s tenure an all-out attempt was made to destroy the then Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe politically through a special presidential commission. And, the latter as the Prime Minister undermined her from 2001 to 2004 and had his government sacked for ruffling her feathers. But, today, they are best of friends!
Expediency takes precedence over principles in politics where there are neither permanent friends nor permanent enemies.
The cobra and the mongoose are considered arch-enemies in the animal kingdom, but, even they, when caught up in swirling floodwaters, cling on to the same log and stay afloat, as someone has said.