Emergence of Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake as a common candidate for the Presidential Election

Tuesday, 8 October 2019 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake 



By Vimal Fernando

The two major parties, namely the Sri Lanka Podujana Party and the United National Front, have announced Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Sajith Premadasa respectively as their presidential candidates. The third force, the JVP, has announced Anura Kumara Dissanayake as their candidate. In addition there are several other candidates who have come forward either representing various other political parties or as independent candidates including Rohan Pallewatta and Nagananda Kodituwakku.

The former Army Commander Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake is coming forward as the nominee of the National People’s Movement and People’s Forum Organisation with the intention of developing and safeguarding the country which is in turmoil.

He is backed by the former Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe together with former Deputy Director of State Intelligence Service Dr. Ajith Colonne, several other retired Army officers, lecturers, scholars and members of the civil society all of whom are said to be people of honesty with high integrity.

It is worthwhile to ponder the reason for a group of people majority of whom are representing several social service organisations to think of such an alternative. This is the first time it is happening in an organised manner since independence except for a few individuals who have contested the elections as independent candidates.

The common candidate and Yahapalanaya

At the last Presidential Election in 2015 Maithripala Sirisena, the common candidate backed by the UNP, TNA, MC, JHU, JVP, Rajitha Senaratne, Arjuna Ranatunga and a number of people representing the civil society led by the late Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera, became the seventh President of Sri Lanka surpassing the war-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa by a narrow margin.

The large majority of voters were considered to be from the UNP. There would have been a few voters even from the SLFP belonging to the MPs who backed the President. No one ever thought that MR could be ousted as his popularity especially after winning the war was high. 

The new Government which promised a Yahapalanaya and strong action against irregularities and corruption could do only a very little thereby shattering the hopes of majority who voted them to power. The President who came forward as a common candidate ended up being the President of the SLFP with a handful of MPs giving priority to his party affairs over the important national affairs against the aspirations of the majority who expected him to be non-partisan.

The majority of the UPFA voted for MR at the Presidential Election and thereafter at PC Elections in 2018, reducing the number of votes to the President to a meagre 13%.The UNP got embroiled in the infamous bond scandal, thereby heavily losing their credibility. The President was at loggerheads with the Prime Minister of the so-called Unity Government, thereby slowing down the forward march of the Government which is considered a major failure especially by the intelligent, educated people who voted them into power.

Few achievements and more failures

There were few achievements and more failures. The new administration only succeeded in further strengthening democracy and establishing Independent Commissions. Nothing much has been achieved in abolishing the Executive Presidency, finding a permanent solution for the ethnic problem, strengthening the economy, reducing the cost of living and attending to several other promises made to the masses during the elections.

The country was crippled by a string of strikes from time to time thereby jeopardising the peaceful daily existence of the masses who were subjected to severe hardship and misery. It was evident right throughout that the Government was lacking decisiveness and a sense of urgency in finding solutions. They also could not discipline the nation and their own party which is considered  a major drawback.

The Catholics had to make the supreme sacrifice under this regime due to the lethargic attitude of the Yahapalana leaders who lacked originality and vision as regards the religious extremists and their planned attacks on three churches and three hotels, killing around 250 people and maiming a number of others. 

There were two commissions and except for taking action against the former IGP and Secretary to the Ministry of Defence for negligence of their duty, the people who were directly or indirectly responsible for funding and extending their cooperation are yet to be punished.

It appears that too much of democracy is bad for countries such as ours. There is no road discipline. It is not the fault of Police. The government of the day has to introduce stringent laws to curb road indiscipline. It is not only the motorists who have to be disciplined. Even the pedestrians are equally to be blamed.

If the politicians can discipline all road users it augurs well for the country as the children who attend Montessori too will learn the value of discipline from their childhood. Democracy is working beautifully in advanced, disciplined countries where voters are intelligent. They only look at the vision, main policies and the manifestos of the political leaders and their results after the term is over. If they fail to deliver what is promised they are forced to say goodbye to politics. Unfortunately here it is the other way round.

Both major parties share a block vote of over 65%. Hence whether they deliver or not, the leaders and the parties could remain in politics/power forever. This is due to the foolishness of the voters in a country which has a high literacy rate. Hence politicians are not at the mercy of the voters but the voters are at the mercy of the politicians. The public sector is inefficient except for a few institutions as they are heavily politicised. 

Both major parties have offered employment opportunities to their supporters without recruiting the most deserving applicants except for professionals through a proper recruitment program, resulting in unsuitable persons getting into the public service. It is a known fact that they do not offer their best to the institutions when the party of their choice is in the opposition. The result is a poor public service except for a few institutions. This is an important area which requires correction by the future administrators of the country.

It is reported that majority of our legislators are not qualified. They need certain basic qualifications and not necessarily university background. What is needed is an intelligent, honest set of people who truly love the nation and the suffering masses who could enhance their knowledge and skills on governance with on-the-job training and experience. We have had a few Presidents, Prime Ministers and a good number of legislators in the past with average educational backgrounds who were not engaged in financial irregularities. They are still remembered with love and affection for their honesty and service to the nation. We have a good number of present day politicians who are qualified and wearing Western attire with tainted financial records.

Growing need for a third force 

Hence there is a growing need amongst Sri Lankan voters for a third force. The JVP has not been fortunate enough to play this role effectively for unknown reasons although they were in politics for a long time.

It is thought that Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake has come forward at a decisive moment to contest for the presidency and he is said to be mobilising the support of a good number of voters who are disillusioned about the failure of their political leaders/parties.

The political analysts predict a close battle between the two major contenders namely Sajith Premadasa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa. If the JVP and the other independent candidates including Mahesh Senanayake mobilise a substantial number of votes, it is doubtful whether a winner from the main parties could mobilise over 50% of the total votes.

The President is directly elected for a five-year term, through a version of instant-runoff voting in which electors rank up to three candidates, and limited to only two rounds in total. If no candidate wins a majority in the first round of voting, second and third preferences from ballots whose first preference candidate has been eliminated are used to determine the winner.

However, there has never been an instance where a run-off count has been needed since the introduction of directly-elected president in the 1980s, as a candidate reached 50% in the first count in all elections. It may be the beginning of counting the second/third preferences if the results of the 16 November Presidential Election indicate that no one has been able to mobilise over 50% of the total votes polled in the first count.