The government gave all kinds of signals for the past several months that it would go for a premature presidential election early next year before the parliamentary polls. Grand preparations were made for an announcement to be made by President Mahinda Rajapaksa of his decision at the recent SLFP convention in Colombo. But, he only consulted the convention as to which election should be held first, presidential or parliamentary. All the delegates wanted a presidential election. The President then promised to refer their decision to the party`s Central Committee, saying there was ample time.
We haven`t heard anything from the government about the next election ever since. The ruling party top guns are prevaricating on the issue. On Thursday, Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa said the President had two more years to go!
The JVP, which was earlier urging the President to complete the remaining two years of his tenure and scrap the executive presidency without holding another presidential election, went on the offensive after the SLFP convention, perhaps emboldened by the non-announcement of an election, demanding a presidential election forthwith. The President, the JVP said, had got cold feet because former Army Commander Gen. Sarath Fonseka was tipped to enter the fray.
Now, we hear gobbledygook from the JVP. Yesterday, JVP Propaganda Secretary Vijitha Herath told the media that his party would initiate a dialogue with Fonseka with a view to having him as the Opposition`s common candidate. Asked whether the JVP was forming a new party for fielding Fonseka, Herath answered in the negative. He quipped that the JVP was a recognised political party and therefore had no need for registering another one! But, when it was pointed out that JVP MP Lakshman Nipunaarachchi and another parliamentary colleague of his had applied for the registration of a new political party, Herath curtly said anyone had a right to do so. Curiouser! Curiouser!
The question is whether the JVP has been boasting all these days that Fonseka will be the Opposition`s common presidential candidate and demanding a presidential election without obtaining his consent. Who is trying to fool whom?
UNF leaders pretend to be cock-a-hoop. Mangala Samaraweera had been telling the media until a few days ago that Fonseka would contest the presidential election. But, on Thursday, he chose to hum a different tune. He said the Opposition had a list of about eight common candidates and it would select one of them after a presidential election was announced.
The UNP is also blowing hot and cold on the Fonseka issue. Its leader Wickremesinghe has issued Ten Commandments to Fonseka and given all indications that Fonseka will come forward as the Opposition`s presidential candidate but the UNP has not yet endorsed his candidature.
It is believed that there is resistance within the UNP to Fonseka`s candidature. Unless the UNP`s decision to field him is unanimous, a disgruntled faction is likely to react the same way as Sirimavo Bandaranaike`s cabal did at the 1982 presidential election. Hector Kobbekaduwa was the SLFP candidate but the party leadership treacherously ensured his defeat, fearing that if he won, some other faction would consolidate power in the party. The Sirimavo faction gave Kobbekaduwa the kiss of death it designed a poster, which they pasted in all parts of the country on the eve of the election projecting Kobbekaduwa as a mere puppet in the contest. Its slogan read, Methinita rata bhara denna, Kobbekaduwata chande denna (Vote for Kobbekaduwa to hand over the country to Methini or Sirimavo). Kobbekaduwa lost.
The Wickremesinghe faction of the UNP acted in a similar manner, when Gamini Dissanayake entered the presidential fray in 1994, though there were no such posters. The SLFP leadership or the Chandrika faction did likewise in 2005 it tried to ruin SLFP presidential candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa`s chances of winning but in vain.
If Fonseka agrees to meet President Rajapaksa in the presidential contest, will history repeat itself with a poster appearing all over the country overnight with the slogan, Ranilta rata bhara denna, Fonsekata chande denna (Vote for Fonseka to hand over the country to Ranil)?
What is most confusing and intriguing is the silence of plain-spoken Gen. Fonseka. After the war resumed in 2006, he said he would finish it off before his retirement. And he did! But, upon his retirement, asked whether he would enter politics, he said he would make his decision known to one and all within 48 hours of leaving the uniform. But, he had not done so until this edition went to press. On an earlier occasion, in answer to a question at a media briefing whether he had political ambitions, Gen. Fonseka, in uniform at that time, minced no words when he declared that he did not want to sully his good name by taking to politics! Are we to gather that he has already become a politician, as he has begun to renege on promises after retirement?