Rajapakse: Saviour of the ruling party?

Rejected every step of the way until he won the presidential poll last November, Mahinda Rajapakse may be the Freedom Party’s (SLFP) answer to becoming a standalone party. Last week’s thumping victory by SLFP with a little help from friends like the Ceylon Workers Congress in plantation areas at local government polls could pave the way for the party to go it alone at a future parliamentary poll if it can keep its winning streak intact.

While the logical thing to do is for Rajapakse to call a snap poll and for the SLFP to run as a single entity and gain control of parliament, senior party officials rejected speculation of early elections, as SLFP is comfortable with its allies — the JVP and the JHU.

Currently the ruling party together with its allies has a majority in parliament. The JVP, the Marxist party that was said to be strong at the grassroots level and seen securing several councils at the polls, was a poor loser — winning one small council. The JHU, the party of Buddhist monks, was nowhere near in sight and wiped out.

The opposition United National Party (UNP) won a mere 30 councils against the ruling alliance’s 220-plus victory and once again triggered calls for urgent reforms in the group. However, even before party members would call for his blood, UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe sacked vociferous UNP parliamentarian Mahinda Wijesekera on Sunday for apparently violating party rules.

Ever since Wickremesin-ghe’s defeat at the presidential poll, the party has been struggling with many crises. Unable to stop the flow of party members moving out, the UNP was virtually plea-ding with the government not to take in its members — dangling the ‘peace’ carrot as an incentive.

The pro-UNP media is promoting an alliance between the government and the UNP based on the peace process, suggesting that the JVP setback at local council polls provides a good chance for the two mainstream parties to get together for the sake of peace. But the JVP is defending its defeat saying it still polled more votes than the last local council elections.

What does all this mean to Rajapakse? Kumaratunga wanted her brother, Anura, to contest as president and when Rajapakse was picked as the candidate, she turned against him. Not only did she abandon the campaign, she also chose to strike a new ‘peace’ alliance with Wickremesinghe, the opposition candidate. Unable to marshal the party to help him in his campaign, Rajapakse turned to the JVP and smaller parties.

Rajapakse’s winning smile, ability to listen to all groups of people and his simple, down-to-earth demeanour has won him many plaudits and now, another election. However, it must be also noted that generally a party that wins an election is bound to win the next set of local councils as the practice has been in this country. But if one counts the manner in which Rajapakse won this poll, then it’s an admirable victory.

Also, with the government and rebels preparing for talks in mid-April, Rajapakse would have his hands full in trying to stave off opposition to the Muslim battalion plan and still persuade the LTTE to come to the second round of talks.

Samath, a freelancer, wri-tes for THT from Colombo