The hunt is very much on. It is to find the best leader for Sri Lanka. Well that may well be a cliché without peer but that is clearly the wish of the people. The people are mostly fed up with the lot that has delivered almost nothing. The people of Sri Lanka were not gullible when they voted in a largely unknown figure to the Presidency when they voted out the almost larger than life figure, Mahinda Rajapaksa. Problem is they had grown weary of his constant ranting almost a mantra of ‘we won the war ‘. Sure they ended the hostilities and the terrorism on the island.
Unfortunately for the Rajapakasa’s they knew only too well that for all the public spending on infrastructure that was carried out, the returns simply did not flow in record time in order that they could deliver economic salvation to the people. They delivered mental salvation and cleared the peoples’ mindset in terms of the fear psychosis that enveloped our land from the threat of terrorism but quite ordinary folk truly expected that with the end to hostilities the cost of living would actually come down. Of course it did not. And not entirely because of over-spend in Sri Lanka but because of global events too.Be that as it may, the people of Sri Lanka are on the search for true political leadership. The choices they have are rather thin on the ground.
For starters, there’s the ever favourite Rajapaksa family. However there are some limitations. Mahinda is precluded from running for the presidency thanks to the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. It is said that Basil Rajapaksa is still very much an American citizen too – which if true would preclude him as a candidate. Then there is the case of Gothabya Rajapaksa, who is receiving serious consideration, mainly with the belief that he is accepted as a ‘can deliver’ personality. The former Defence Secretary certainly appears to be far removed from the claims of corruption and abuse of power, although he does have a matter before the courts in Colombo in which it is claimed that he overstepped his mark as Secretary. That aside Secretary Rajapaksa does appear to have the support of quite a number of people according to straw polls conducted.
Mr Rajapaksa’s popularity may well be driven ironically enough, by the fact that a vast number of UNP members themselves (as opposed to the wider voting public) are expressing disgust that a leader they considered way above the rest has failed miserably to address corruption and adherence to due process when it came to national procurement. Mr Wickremesinghe has also failed to convince the public that Sri Lanka is as safe as it was in January 2015 – over four and one half years ago – when the Rajapaksa team left Colombo for Medamulana. His off the cuff pick-up of a figure of 98% have been captured is way off the remarks made by the Army Commander at the Parliamentary Select Committee who says there is still a threat and he cannot give a guarantee if it would be six months or six years before they can eradicate the latest threat.
Unfortunatekly for Mr Wickremesinghe, his usual pool of supporters which would ordinatily include vast swathes of the Tamil voter including from the Northern parts and the Muslim voter base have also shown reluctance in believing the new Ranil Wickremesinghe. There is opinion to be had in the former conflict zone that Mr Wickremesinghe has merely paid lip service to the problems they continue to face. As for the Muslims they don’t feel safer under the stewardship of Ranil than they did under the Rajapaksas. The only saving grace is that the majority of the Muslims are from trading families and backgrounds who will value commercial prowess better than fancy words like ‘a level playing field’ and ‘opportunity for all’ which the UNP members are fond of extolling.
Sajith Premadasa it appears to us is waiting for the ball which is still in the air to miraculously fall into his lap. In the past there were greats like Gamini Dissanayake who made an active play for the leadership. Mr Premadasa is yet to ever challenge Wickremesinghe for the position of leader even considering that now may well be the ripe time. Mr Premadassa is either hanging on to some astrological predictions or has deployed a strategy of which the finer points are known to him and perhaps his good lady. The rest of those who yearn for a Premadasa to make a play are to say the least boiling in a vat of frustration at Sajith’s apparent inaction. That has led to claims that he does not have whatever mysterious ingredient there is, to tackle leadership.
So who does the country have? Maithripala Sirisena must not be written off. If one examines his performance sheet there are a number of items he can point to. This includes the fight against drugs, the imposition of the death penalty, the call to hold persons involved in various scams and hoaxes to be broufght to book and he certainly appears to have rejuvenated the Attorney General who has without a shadow of doubt performed extraordinarily well in recent months. Sirisena also readily been party to trimming down the Presidential powers although that itself has brought into play the vexed question of the operational benefit of the 19th Amendment which persons like Jayampathy Wickramaratne now admit has been put into play replete with flaws. We have observed various others who have made indirect plays at the Presidency including Pellawatta, Nagananda and the businessman Dhammika Perera. Mr Kodithuwakku has a narrow agenda and much of that is to do with the Customs and accountability issues. Mr Pellwatta does not appear to have a wide angled manifesto.
Mr Perera is alleged to have met with the UNP leadership to discuss being the so-called common candidate. From public pronouncements and appearances on various programmes Mr perera has shown a vast knowledge of business. There is nothing to suggest however that Mr Perera has been accepted into the so-called commercial-elite club even if he does control several listed entities. Politics and commerce has not been a mix that has appealed to the public at large. It is highly unlikely that the established political machinery complete with their own misdeeds and botched record book will want to encourage a private sector non-political entrant although several have undoubtedly expressed their frustration at economic progress by looking over the fence into the political landscape.As Sri Lanka continues its hunt perhaps the people will also consider the former Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe to be worthy of their vote at least in terms of the Presidency. His track record on the primary issue of all issues, corruption is beyond reproach and comes highly commended. Perhaps it is Gamini Wijesinghe who can come up trumps for Sri Lanka.