A political system sometimes behaves like a share market it reacts to speculation disproportionately. Now that the time has come for the announcement of a national election, presidential or parliamentary, various stories are being floated. One is that former Army Commander and present Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Sarath Fonseka might enter the presidential fray. He has not said anything to that effect.
The JVP is reported to have already pledged support for Gen. Fonseka in case he comes forward as a presidential candidate. It cannot back President Mahinda Rajapaksa for obvious reasons. The JVP will never be able to justify a campaign to help UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe at the next presidential election, having helped engineer his defeat at the last one. So, it has been looking for a third person to back at the next presidential polls. That the JVP expected former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva to come forward as a common presidential candidate is only too well known but he was too wise to lend himself as a cat`s paw to a sinking political outfit. Therefore, the JVP has now turned to Gen. Fonseka for a piggyback ride.
The JVP`s support may stand a presidential candidate fielded by a major party in good stead but it is only wishful thinking that a candidate could win on the JVP`s backing alone. Even Rohana Wijeweera had a pratfall in the 1982 presidential race. JVP presidential candidate Nandana Gunathilaka cut a pathetic figure in 1999. So, the JVP will have to secure the UNP`s support for a common presidential candidate in its bid to defeat the incumbent president. There`s the rub!
Even if the UNP were to join forces with the JVP, it would still have to muster the Tamil political parties. For, the UNP has been banking on Tamil votes to win elections. The reason it gave for losing the last presidential election was that an LTTE-instigated polls boycott deprived its candidate Wickremesinghe of Tamil votes in the North and the East.
Leader of the Democratic People`s Front Mano Ganeshan has dropped a bomb shell. He says his party will not support Gen. Fonseka as a presidential candidate. It is doubtful that the TNA`s position would be any different from Ganeshan`s.
Thus, a JVP-UNP combine would have to forego many Tamil votes in case of fielding Gen. Fonseka at a presidential election. Worse, this time around the UNP would be without the crucial CWC vote which almost KO`d Mahinda Rajapaksa in the last presidential contest. The government will benefit from the CWC s block vote at a future presidential election.
If the UNP were to back an outsider as the common presidential candidate, what would happen to its own leader Wickremesinghe? Would he opt out of the contest and help someone else to emerge as the UNP`s de facto leader at a time he is under pressure to step down. He would not! Remember UNP chief ministerial candidate in the NCP, Maj. Gen. Janaka Perera`s poster with a catchy slogan, `Rajaratata Rajek` or a `King for Rajarata`, irked the party leadership because it was thought that he was promoting himself as an alternative leader. That slogan was banned!
On the other hand, the UNP has always looked down upon Gen. Fonseka and scoffed at military victories. When the army captured Thoppigala, the UNP leader pooh-poohed that achievement and claimed that the area the army had cleared with much effort was only a jungle patch without any strategic importance. UNP spokesman Lakshman Kiriella declared once that any idiot could wage war one gonekuta yuddha karana puluwan. SLFP (M) leader Mangala Samaraweera, who has thrown in his lot with the UNP, said Gen. Fonseka was not fit to lead even the Salvation Army! UNP stalwart Ravi Karunanayake told Parliament, while the army was fighting hard to capture Kilinochchi, that the army was heading for Medwachchi thinking it was Kilinochchi and it was moving in the direction of Pamankada thinking it was Alimankada (Elephant Pass). How would the UNP, which claimed Gen. Fonseka was not fit to lead the army, be able to tell the public that he is fit to lead the whole country as President and Commander-in-chief of armed forces?
Gen. Fonseka is among the military and political leaders whom some western countries are all out to press war crime charges against. Whether the UNP, which is considered the darling of the West, wants to antagonise western governments by supporting Gen. Fonseka is the question.
If Gen. Fonseka ever decided to contest the next presidential election, he would have to do so as a third candidate backed by the JVP, which wants to spoil their b te noire, President Rajapaksa`s chances of re-election by causing a split in the nationalist camp. However, it is doubtful that those who have been voting for the UPFA because of President Rajapaksa will not see through the JVP`s strategy. At a presidential election, people prefer to vote for the candidates of the two main parties and it is very unlikely that they would take a third candidate seriously, however impressive his credentials may be. They are aware that no one could rule this country, even if elected President, unless he or she has a clear majority in Parliament, something that only the SLFP or the UNP is capable of achieving. From 2001 to 2004, the country was in chaos as President Chandrika Kumaratunga did not have control over Parliament.
Therefore, small political parties may field any number of candidates, or ambitious individuals with big egos may come forward on their own, at the next presidential election but the voting public will turn that crucial electoral contest into a two-horse race between the SLFP and the UNP, as has always been the case in 1982, 1988, 1994, 1999 and 2005. Of other `horses` it will be said: They also ran!