Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe`s no show at the Election Secretariat where Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse was declared elected Sri Lanka`s fifth Executive President did him no good among friends and foes alike. The common perception of this failure is that he is a bad loser, who having lost a contest he was desperately anxious to win lacked the character to do what winners and losers alike must do when the result is finally out. Wickremesinghe`s failure to turn up at the Rajagiriya election office, reminiscent of a similar failure by Hector Kobbekaduwa when he lost to J.R. Jayewardene in 1982, was a clear demonstration of both a lack of sportsmanship that is a requirement in politics as in other playing fields and a let down of the people who voted for him and, more importantly, party workers who laboured night and day to secure his election.
On Friday, national television and other stations offered the best possible platform for the candidates to address the nation. Rajapakse, as all winners have done before him since television came to Sri Lanka, made a balanced and dignified speech where he did not forget to thank his opponent among others. Perhaps the most significant speech that was made on that occasion was that of Mr. Siritunga Jayasuriya who finished third, overhauling the Siddhalepa man, Mr. Victor Hettigoda who was widely expected to be the main also ran. He made an excellent speech where he pointedly reminded the winner of the `bag of promises` he had made to the electorate. Smiling and by no means abrasive, trade unionist Jayasuriya from a small socialist party told Rajapakse that the working class will hold him to his promises. He also made the further valid point that the people of the north had no interest ? many will contend that the LTTE ensured that they were not permitted to show any interest ? in this election and that is a grave national problem. Wickremesinghe did thank his voters and supporters and all those who made this election, certainly in the south, better than any we have known in the recent past at a UNP press conference later in the evening. What happened in the northeast is of course another matter and it is obvious that the LTTE, as paradoxical as it might sound, secured the Rajapakse victory.
Now that the election is over we repeat what we said last week: that Mahinda Rajapakse must from today act as the President of Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, as this nation is formally titled, and be the president of all its people rather than only those who supported him or voted for him. Rajapakse`s chief attribute is that he has an ability to get on with everybody and this should serve him well as he takes on the formidable challenges that confront him. His victory speech set the right tone with his assertion that he will now be not only the leader of the country and but also the servant and friend of its people. He cobbled together a formidable coalition of some 27 parties to win a hard- fought election. While we maintain that he took on some unnecessary baggage in the shape of the JVP and JHU into his coalition on their terms rather than his, it is clear that the JVP`s support clearly stood him in good stead at this election where the Marxist party provided him the foot soldiers for his campaign. Also, having the JVP with him rather than against him must benefit his presidency.
If Ranil Wickremesinghe did himself no credit by not showing up at the elections office on Friday, Anura Bandaranaike, anointed by the SLFP as prime minister-designate in the event of a Rajapakse presidency, did infinitely worse. His petulance, his obvious hostility to his party`s candidate and general attitude would not endear him to either his party people or the country at large. He himself is on record saying that he is the last of the Bandaranaike dynasty. Whether Chandrika`s children, by the yardstick of male lineage, may not qualify for membership of that institution we do not know but we know from their mother`s public utterances that neither her son nor daughter have any political bent or ambition. While all things are impermanent in this world, Kumaratunga who was both prime minister and president of this country is not yet a spent force and no analyst should discount the possibility that she may have some further political life, whatever it is, before her. She remains leader of the SLFP which together with the UNP are the most formidable political forces certainly in the south of this country. Whether she can under a Rajapakse presidency retain that position, as Dudley Senanayake did as UNP leader when he bestowed, we repeat bestowed, the leadership of the opposition on J.R. Jayewardene, we do not know. Time will tell.
This election, of course, can be Sri Lanka`s great opportunity if the two principal candidates from the major parties who fought the good fight can demonstrate the vision the country so desperately needs. Wickremesinghe was clearly on record saying right along that he would work with the SLFP if he ascended the presidency. He obviously had an understanding with Kumaratunga whatever that be. Today, Mahinda Rajapakse can make the grand gesture by offering Ranil Wickremesinghe the prime ministry to ensure that the two great political forces of the land can talk with one voice to the LTTE and resolve forever the ethnic conflict that has for many decades prevented Sri Lanka from realizing her true potential and its people, many of whom lives below the poverty line, from enjoying their minimum needs of at least food and shelter. We do not know whether what we advocate could have happened if the boot was on the other foot ? that is if Wickremnesinghe won the election. Only the LTTE would not see the wisdom in such an obvious strategy.
Will the Gods at last smile down on Sri Lanka? Will our rulers live up to the last of the four lines in the pirith potha ? raja bhavatu dhammiko (May the rulers be just)?