The announcement of Presidential Elections will be the signal political parties have been waiting for to take their campaigns to the next level. This natural upping the ante will be played out across many segments of society, but it will also be a chance for the public to take a final look at their candidate, and make the best choice for the country and the future.
Undoubtedly the United National Party (UNP) will now have to put its house in order and decide on their candidate. There is no time left for vacillating. The Working Committee will have to be summoned, and its decision will have to be announced, so that the party rank and file can fall into place and focus on the campaign. But its business in Government is not done.
It is imperative that the UNP’s parliamentarians continue focus on the affairs of the State, and not lose their heads over campaigning alone. Hopefully, the looming Presidential Elections will provide the much needed push for the Government to fast-track pending matters, especially critical legislation before Parliament, and ensure that their final months in office are not wasted. A vast amount of work, including passing new procurement guidelines and the new Monetary Law Act, will still need to be presented and passed by Parliament. These are important to ensure that governance is improved, and at least some part of the Government’s anti-corruption mandate is honoured.
For the public, especially the private sector, there is now light at the end of the tunnel. The political tension that has pockmarked the business environment could well see a decline after the Presidential Elections, and that will provide welcome respite from a prolonged state of uncertainty. This is also good news for the economy, which is expected to end this year with 3.1% growth: decent when considering the challenges that have been placed before it, but not strong enough to meet the aspirations of the people.
It is also a time to consider both the policies and the people that will come with the respective presidential candidates. Sri Lanka has seen an interesting transition where the personalities are coming to the forefront over and above the parties that they represent. This is clearly seen in both the presidential candidates that have been announced so far. Both Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa and National People’s Power (NPP) presidential hopeful Anura Kumara Dissanayake have constructed the campaigns around their personal track records, rather than the achievements of the parties they represent. This is typical of all Presidential Elections but for any president to implement his policies, there have to be proper appointments and this also needs attention in the long term.
Another aspect that the public should be keeping an eye on is how ethically the respective candidates conduct their campaigns. Sri Lanka has a long history of abuse of State resources during campaigning, some of which was seen in 2014, and therefore it is essential that elections laws are respected to ensure that there is a level playing field for all contenders. Sri Lankans have a right to be proud of their democracy, and it is now time to use the franchise sensibly and make the best choice possible.