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Candidate selections

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As elections draw nearer, discussions within and between political parties to select the candidate that has the best chance to win are set to get more heated. The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) will have discussions with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) tomorrow on getting support for their Presidential candidate, who is expected to be announced at the SLPP’s first national convention on 11 August. 

At the convention, Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has maintained his membership with the SLFP, is expected to officially become a member of the SLPP. The SLPP has already announced that it will be Rajapaksa, as the de facto leader, that will decide on who the SLPP will select as the Presidential candidate. However, it interesting that the SLPP is also having separate discussions with President Sirisena’s party to encourage them to back an SLPP candidate. The overtures come after SLFP General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekera directed some strong words at the SLPP, insisting that the SLFP would not tolerate being left out of the Presidential candidate selection process, and if they are not given a say, will contest the election on their own. 

Such a situation would clearly be unfavourable to the SLPP, which will see its vote base split in the event of a three-way battle. The Presidential Elections are clearly shaping up to be a close run, which necessitates a consolidation of vote bases, especially since the Rajapaksa faction has done little to appeal to minority or moderate voters. It is clear that the SLPP, while reluctant to delegate any decision making power to the SLFP, nonetheless feel that having them on their side will be important in an upcoming election. 

Whether they will be able to find middle ground and agree on one candidate will be crucial to the way the election battle will evolve. Despite the impatience of the public, there has been no clear indication from the SLPP on former Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa being a Presidential candidate. Any movement on this front will be closely watched by everyone, but is unlikely to be definitively resolved any time soon. 

On the opposite side of the fray is the United National Party (UNP). On Monday, at a meeting with the UNP parliamentary group, UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa was supported to be the next presidential candidate. According to reports Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had heard out the statements, and agreed to continue discussions on the issue. Clearly part of the UNP, as well as a component of its core vote base, feel that a new face will stand them a better chance at the elections. Whether the party leadership will concur remains to be seen. 

What is evident from these manoeuvres is that there may be a need to have a more democratic approach to selecting candidates. Small groups of people or one powerful individual should not have the sole power to decide on a candidate. Having a broader, more democratic and diverse selection process will give a better chance for a person who genuinely reflects the aspirations of the people, and understands the importance of his duty towards the country. It will also be beneficial as their policies, attributes, and actions can be evaluated by the people in a more direct manner, rather than the public being limited by the candidates chosen for them. 

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