Dilith et al; on a mission to capture the votes of SLPP

Friday, 7 June 2024 00:00 –      – 25

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Last week, Dilith Jayaweera’s Mawbima Janatha Party (MJP) entered into an agreement with several nationalistic political parties to form a new political alliance called Sarva Jana Balaya. The coalition is composed of political refugees like Wimal Weerawansa and Udaya Gammanpila and well-known hardliners like Gevindu Kumaratunga. The formation of the coalition has already resulted in the resignation of Sarath Amunugama – who served as Chairman of the MJP.

The former Cabinet Minister had expressed his strong objection to Dilith’s move to join hands with extremists like Weerawansa and Gammanpila who have a track record of whipping up communal sentiments to achieve political gains.

Early April, this column described the businessman-turned political enthusiast’s potential to fill the void which has arisen in spearheading nationalistic politics of the country with the elimination of Rajapaksas and the SLPP from the forefront of national politics. The intention of the media mogul to capture the votes of disillusioned SLPP supporters was revealed when he declared himself as the most suitable person to contest from the SLPP for the top post few months ago. The celebrity entrepreneur also claimed that it was him who designed the symbol of the SLPP – lotus bud – to gain acceptance among SLPP voters. The party/movement which obtains the lion share of 6.9 million votes, which the SLPP obtained at the last Presidential Election, would undoubtedly emerge victorious at the next national election cycle.

The Presidential aspirant last week highlighted the concept of Modern Nationalism as a key focus of the newly formed alliance. The SLPP was able to attract a considerable number of voters to its fold in 2019 by making use of the nationalistic fervour of its campaign platform. Considering the nationalistic inclinations of Rajapaksa sympathisers, deploying nationalism could be viewed as a sound strategy to woo the disenchanted SLPP supporters. However, the appeal of nationalism has lost its allure within the current political context as economy has become the defining issue.

Interestingly, among the attendees occupying a seat at the front row during the launch of the new political alliance was the infamous former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva, whose tenure saw the judiciary in Sri Lanka reaching its nadir in terms of credibility and trust. The presence of such an individual does not inspire progressive-minded individuals to join Dilith’s alliance at a time when there are widespread calls to clean up the rotten system of governance in the country.

Dilith has played influential roles behind the scene to support various political parties in the past. It was he who led the publicity/advertising campaign of former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa four years ago. The lawyer-cum advertising maestro also had a close association with NPP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake and he looked after the PR activities of the failed initiative to renovate 10,000 ancient tanks throughout the country when the latter was Minister of Agriculture in 2004.

Unfortunately, Dilith’s close association with Gotabaya, whom he promoted with gay abundance, would adversely affect his presidential hopes. His association with extremist politicians like Udaya Gammanpila and Dr. Channa Jayasumana would also make him unpopular among religious and ethnic minorities. The question also arises about his credentials for the top job in the country as he has never held public office before. Would the voters be willing to entrust the responsibility of leading the nation to a person with very limited public administration experience given the ordeal they underwent under Gotabaya who was a political amateur?

An aspect which has not been discussed is the conflict of interest which arises with a business magnate becoming Head of the State. Dilith owns a considerable number of business entities that deal with the Government and other State regulatory agencies. In the event of becoming President, would he be willing to withdraw his ownership stakes from his business enterprises? He needs to disclose how he intends to address such valid concerns.