Nominations end today. From this week onwards political parties will campaign at full steam in what promises to be an interesting poll that will have a strong impact on the future direction of Sri Lanka.
Parliamentary elections, slated for 17 August, will see the emergence of two principal contenders in most districts — the United People’s Freedom Alliance UPFA) and the United National Party (UNP). The latter will be contesting as the United National Front for Good Governance, rather a mouthful for the voter but one that is likely to unite the main forces that campaigned to oust President Mahinda Rajapaksa in January.
That it would be a one-on-one battle became clear as the two sides concluded their nomination lists over the weekend. Much speculation will be laid to rest today as both sides hand over their final nominations. The UNF is likely to see some last minute crossovers that could complicate its nominations list. Crucial will be the candidates they pick to face Rajapaksa and his loyalists.
In a last minute development, UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe announced at the party’s annual convention on Saturday that a broader United National Front for Good Governance was in the making. It was together with those earlier in the UPFA.
However, they too will contest under the elephant symbol. Among those coming forward are Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) frontliner Patali Champika Ranawaka and onetime UNPer and former UPFA Minister Rajitha Senaratne. A memorandum of understanding enunciating the principles of “good governance” was also signed at Temple Trees, setting in motion Phase II of the battle which began with the presidential election.
One ploy considered by the UNF is to use coalition candidates to break Rajapaksa votes in Kurunegala where it is all but certain he will gain a significant majority. Denting Rajapaksa’s war-winning credentials, former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka might contest from the same region, effectively on the same platform. Such a move could also reduce playing on nationalist sentiments that are sure to be a key part of the Rajapaksa campaign.
A stab at discrediting the second part of Rajapaksa’s platform, namely his claim to have developed the country, was made by the UNP last week when they received Cabinet approval to rebase the calculation year from 2002 to 2010 reducing GDP growth figures from 7.4% in 2014 to just 4.5%. But the numbers game can hit both ways as the UNP now faces a challenge in meeting the 7% growth initially predicted by the Central Bank and Finance Ministry.
Splintering the vote of Rajapaksa loyalists and the UPFA at large will also be the focus of the JHU, which will look to balance out the efforts of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), which will also be heading to the polls independent of the two main parties.
However, the latter are likely to select a side once the new parliament forms and they are ideologically too far away from the UNF to be comfortable bedfellows.
Another set of parties that will receive attention are the minority politicians. The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) has returned to their comfort fold with the UNP but the CWC has decided to stay with the UPFA. The TNA has also chosen to remain aloof. Already some 48 political parties and 111 independent groups have handed in their nominations, promising a fiery campaign.