Emboldened by its spectacular victory in Uva, the government seems to have taken the Southern Provincial Council polls for granted it is already readying for a snap presidential election to be held in December or early next year followed by parliamentary polls in quick succession.
The government could not have thought of a better strategy! It is President Mahinda Rajapaksa who has been winning elections for the UPFA and there is hardly any need for him to launch a separate presidential election campaign. He has already conducted an unofficial presidential election campaign in the NC, NW, Central, Sabaragamuwa, Western, Uva and Eastern Provinces and after the Southern PC polls, he will be in a position to seek a second term straightaway.
The JVP says President Rajapaksa has no moral right to go for a presidential election, as in 2005 he promised to abolish the executive presidency. Yes, he undertook to do so and the JVP is right in questioning his moral right to seek a second term. But, sadly, such promises are not legally binding and in politics expedience takes precedence over moral values and obligations and there is no way the JVP could stop the next presidential election which it will have to face in four months or so.
A presidential election will aggravate the UNP`s woes as never before. It is unlikely that UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe will enter the fray as his enemies within the party are looking for an opportunity to oust him and another defeat at a presidential election will strengthen their hands.
Interestingly, the UNP-led Opposition claims that the ruling UPFA has won PC polls by staggering them and vows to topple the government at a national election to be held countrywide on a single day. Therefore, at the next presidential election which the first national election under President Rajapaksa`s tenure, the UNP will have to field its best man as the candidate and try to carry out its pledge. If UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe does not come forward, his message to the party and the country will be that he does not consider himself good enough to vie for the presidency or he is wary of entering the fray for fear of losing. And the substitute candidate will be considered a better leader, even in defeat, as by contesting the presidential election against tremendous odds, he will have proved that he is not a shirker but a person capable of taking risks and facing challenges for the sake of the party during a crisis. To contest or not to contest will be Ranil`s problem.
President Rajapaksa is aiming at two birds with one stone. Memories of military victories will not last forever. People forget. He is therefore trying to strike while the iron is hot. He would have held a presidential election by now but for the constitutional provision that the incumbent president cannot seek a second term until he or she completes four years in office.
Secondly, President Rajapaksa is in an unenviable position where his parliamentary majority is concerned. He has had to engineer many defections from the UNP and the JVP and make almost each and every ruling party MP a minister to keep his government going. He must be as sick as the public of his jumbo cabinet, which does not serve any purpose either for him or the country. He keeps a dog and barks himself! In spite of having so many ministers around, he finds himself attending to even trivial matters like conducting school term tests! If polls results under President Rajapaksa`s tenure are any indication, he can hope for a comfortable majority in the next Parliament. Only a president with a stable government can assert himself without being swayed by his parliamentarians and name-board coalition partners.
President Rajapaksa may not want to try his hand at downsizing his Cabinet before securing a second term as such action is fraught with the danger of some ambitious MPs who fail to realise their ministerial dreams breaking ranks or not going the whole hog to ensure the President`s victory. At a presidential election preceding parliamentary polls, all MPs and those who aspire to get UPFA nominations will have no alternative but to curry favour with the President by working themselves into the ground to ensure his victory.
President Rajapaksa`s worry will be the TNA, which is likely to field a presidential candidate in a bid to consolidate its position in the North and the East. But, the government has a few more months to get its act together in the North and woo northerners in a bigger way with the help of its foothold in Jaffna and Vavuniya, if it cares to, and the TNA`s entry into the presidential race or its support for an Opposition candidate will trigger a countervailing force in the South, the benefits of which will accrue to President Rajapaksa.
The incumbent President will get a head-start in the presidential race, whether one likes it or not, and how other contenders are planning to beat him remains to be seen. Regrettably are still busy settling some intraparty scores or trying to wish away the looming electoral battle. When will they be ready?