Those most vocal in their opposition to President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s push for the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution are a group of MPs within the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) who campaigned enthusiastically for the election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa in 2019 but now sit in opposition claiming they are “independent” MPs. Yesterday, soon after the President made a lengthy statement to the House laying out his roadmap for the implementation of 13A, several of these MPs did not take kindly to the President’s push on 13A.
Gevindu Cumaratunga (National List – SLPP) was particularly angry and lashed out at the President saying that he should respect the wishes of the 6.9 million people who voted for Gotabaya Rajapaksa and not try to override it by using his powers to fulfil his presidential dreams. But how valid is it to claim that the 6.9 million mandate still stands when the man who was elected to office on the mandate is no longer in office?
Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected by an overwhelming majority in November 2019 but less than three years into his term, he was forced out of office due to a popular uprising. The party from which he was elected, the SLPP, came close to a two-third majority in the August 2020 general election and with a few crossovers solidified its position in Parliament but today it is a fractured party clinging onto power on the lifeline it got after President Wickremesinghe took office. In the aftermath of Rajapaksa’s exit as President, several SLPP MPs decided to sit in opposition, some clearly uncomfortable being associated with a Wickremesinghe presidency while others sought to disassociate themselves from Rajapaksa as a way to ensure they have a political future untainted by the mess their former leader thrust the country into.
Now it’s over a year since Ranil Wickremesinghe was elected by Parliament as the President with 134 MPs, a majority from the SLPP, voting to have him appointed to the post. During the past year, the new President has won over some in the SLPP while there are many who see him as an interim arrangement before they can bring back a Rajapaksa to power.
MPs Wimal Weerawansa and Ven. Aturaliye Ratana Thera, once staunch supporters of Gotabaya Rajapaksa were among those who chided the President for prioritising national reconciliation without addressing economic issues which they feel should be dealt with first. Their underlying message is that the 6.9 million who voted for Gotabaya Rajapaksa in 2019 are not in favour of full implementation of 13A and that should be respected but how valid is such a claim when the person so elected could last only half his term in office and should the sentiments of these voters continue to be used to stall progress in talks to bring about national reconciliation and address the long standing grievances of the Tamil people?
There is no way of predicting who will be elected the next President of the country or which party will secure a majority in Parliament. All political pundits point to a presidential election in the first half of next year and given the rapidly changing political landscape and the mood swings of Lankan voters, the results could go in favour of any of the major political parties.
Despite the difficulty in predicting an election result, one thing is clear. If an election is held today with Gotabaya Rajapaksa running for President, there is no chance he will get anywhere close to the 6.9 million he polled in 2019. Similarly, the SLPP too would fare badly in a parliamentary election if it were held today with the same set of candidates. While legally the mandates of 2019 and 2020 are valid till the expiration of the five-year terms of office of President and of Parliament, public support for both the former President and the SLPP have lapsed long ago. Hence, it’s a fallacy for the SLPP to claim that such a mandate is valid even today when the public have, by and large, lost faith in them.