Maithripala Sirisena is now a Presidential Prop and Pin Up Boy.


Malinda Seneviratne

We don’t know if everyone who voted for Maithripala actually believed that Parliament would be dissolved in late April, i.e. when the much talked of and now hardly ever mentioned ‘100 Days’ came to an end. We don’t know if everyone who voted for Maithripala thought that he was capable of or interested in seeing electoral reform through (and, the Right to Information Act, Code of Conduct for MPs and other things that would have actually meant ‘real change’). We do know now that politicians of all hue knew that there would be elections, even if Parliament was not dissolved on the schedule printed in Maithripala’s manifesto.

This is why we’ve seen many worthies who ridiculed Mahinda Rajapaksa for his in-your-face, laughing-at-us cut-outs shedding all embarrassment to emulate that poster boy. Nominations have not closed. The parties haven’t picked candidates. But it looks like many have picked themselves as worthy of nomination and election.

Walls, poster-free for a long time, are tasting paapppa once again. And once again we have faces laughing at us at every turn. Some are known names. Some have been in Parliament or have been elected to lesser office. Some haven’t been elected but have contested often enough to enjoy some name-face recognition. Some are known in other circles. Some are unknown.

But known or unknown they’ll soon be fighting each other for every square inch of city space. We are in for a lot of in-your-face stuff folks. We can be assured that from all these walls and from hoardings that look down at us there will be smiling faces, laughing at us, and even though they are stuck in the inevitable silence of two-dimensional depiction, if we look hard enough and listen carefully, we will hear them whisper, all of them whisper, ‘suckers!’

All this, par for the course in electoral policies. The maithreepaalanaya hasn’t succeeded in changing such things. We are used to it. We live with it.

What’s interesting (and funny!) is the fate of the President. Perhaps it is to be expected for parliamentary hopefuls to piggy back on big names. During the previous regime even politicians contesting local government bodies piggybacked on Mahinda Rajapaksa. But what we have today is different. It is one thing to piggyback on a man who secured some 6.2 million votes, but quite another to play on his identity-confusion.

Maithripala Sirisena, obviously, was not the darling of the SLFP towards the end of 2014. He was the UNP’s darling. Indeed, he himself would acknowledge that he owes the UNP much and that while he owes the party for the success of much of his long political journey, he can say with conviction that owes it nothing for the tail-end victory.

The problem is that post-January 8, 2015 he returned to the SLFP, was made leader and therefore is responsible for the political future of that party, regardless of his gratitude to Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP. He is a blue-man now, even if he was multi-colored then. This is why it is funny that Maithripala Sirisena is appearing in what are clearly election-targeted hoardings put up by UNP candidates or rather candidate wannabes. There’s a mugshot of the man, one of Ranil Wickremesinghe and there’s Maithripala Sirisena. All laid out upon a UNP-green backdrop.

Yes, he is now prop. A presidential prop, if you will. A pin-up boy. And his political future and place in history will be marked by whether or not he can step out of hoarding and color, refuse to be prop and pin-up, for reasons other than refusing to be in-your-face-and-laughing the way Mahinda was.