Upul Joseph Fernando
Following the UNP defeat at the parliamentary election in 1994, Gamini Dissanayake decided to contest the presidential election a few months later and surprised everyone. Many claimed Gamini was unwise and mad to take such a decision. But Gamini thought he could win the presidential election.
People rallied round Gamini wherever he went. Those supporters belonged to the UNP which ruled for 17 years and lost. They thought Gamini could give victory to the party that was defeated. The pain of the defeat could also have been a reason to follow Gamini. Like Mahinda questions today, Gamini also asked what did the People’s Alliance do other than wasting time to catch rogues and dig graves.
There was a conflict between Gamini and Ranil like the present conflict between Maithri and Mahinda. Ossie Abeygunasekere who pledged support to Ranil during the Gamini-Ranil battle later supported Gamini like the once anti-Mahinda Rajapaksa man Janaka Bandara Tennekoon who later worshipped Mahinda.
Gamini got the elephant back on its feet and Chandrika Kumaratunga expressed fear. Those who rallied round Gamini were only UNP supporters and not the people at large. Gamini incited communal hatred against Chandrika. He placed a Pottu on the forehead of Chandrika in her photographs.
He claimed that there was a secret agreement between Chandrika and Prabhakaran that betrayed the country. After Gamini was assassinated, the UNP tried to imply that the allegation was true. But Chandrika won the presidential poll by 62 per cent. Had Gamini lived that percentage would have been less though Chandrika would have won.
The reason is that the people of this country never think to elect a person of a defeated government or a defeated President within a few months after effecting a change.
In the 1994 general election, Chandrika secured 48.94 per cent votes, but it increased to 62 per cent at the presidential election. The UNP which had State power, State media and a winning psychology secured only 44.04 per cent.
Having lost control of the State it could only secure 35.91 per cent at the presidential election.
A similar change occurred at the 1988 presidential election and the 1989 general election. Premadasa amidst an insurrection in the country obtained 50.43 per cent at the presidential election. Ms. Sirima Bandaranaike secured 44.95 per cent.
The insurrection was at a low level when the 1989 general election was held. Both Ms. Bandaranaike and her son Anura thought they could win the general election. But the SLFP only secured 31.8 per cent at that election. The UNP obtained 50.7 per cent. This is a clear manifestation of the defeatist trend of losing the first to be followed by the next.
2010 general election
The same scenario prevailed in 2010. Mahinda won the 2010 presidential election securing 57.88 per cent. Sarath Fonseka got 40.15 per cent. Ranil assumed that he was most popular leader after Mahinda who could win an election where Mahinda was not in the contest. Alas! The UNP only secured 29.39 per cent at the 2010 general election. The SLFP-led alliance obtained 60.33 per cent. The time difference between that presidential election and the general election was less than three months.
Chandrika having won the presidential election in 1999 decided to postpone the general election. Therefore, she held the general election one year after her victory. The UNP was able to lift its head during that period. By then Elephant Pass had been captured by the LTTE.
Chandrika faced the danger of losing Jaffna to the LTTE. The cost of living went sky high. Chandrika was unable to get through her peace package. Government Parliamentarian Dixon J. Perera crossed over to the Opposition. In face of the defeat suffered by the peace package, Chandrika dissolved Parliament.
The UNP brought massive crowds to Colombo. However, the UNP lost the general election. Public opposition was aimed at the UNP as there was belief that the UNP connived with the LTTE to kill Chandrika as she escaped death at the Town Hall bomb explosion losing an eye.
Ranil was only able to secure 42.71 per cent. However, that percentage at the 2000 general election plummeted to 40.22 per cent. It was because the people did not wish to change the mandate given to Chandrika for a second term.
When the elections pattern in the country is correctly analyzed, it is difficult to think that Mahinda will win again. The people of this country not only installed a new President in Office last January, but also a new government. The ‘Swan’ coalition stated that if Maithri won the election, a government would be formed with Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister.
The people voted for the ‘Swan’ symbol giving authority to establish what was promised. Therefore, it is difficult to assume that the people are in a hurry to change that government. What we could see now is that Mahinda has contracted the same ‘fever’ like Ms. Bandaranaike in 1989, Gamini in 1994 and Ranil in 2010.
These three persons did not contract that ‘fever’ after having being Presidents. People have the brains to judge the interest of Mahinda to return as Prime Minister after having being a Prime Minister for a year and two terms as President.
It was the people who decided against Mahinda trying a third term as President. They told Mahinda that two terms is enough and sent him home.
Now Mahinda without going home is trying to be the next Prime Minister. SLFPers are also demanding his return. According to Sri Lankan election history, no defeated leader or a government had ever returned to office within six months of those defeats.