Mahinda Rajapaksa who was voted out by the people of Sri Lanka barely six months ago is poised to stage a comeback with the support of betrayers in the governing United People&’s Freedom Alliance. The decision to give nomination to Rajapaksa to contest next month&’s parliamentary election was taken at a UPFA meeting presided over by President Maithripala Sirisena on 3 July. Though Sirisena assured Chandrika Kumaratunga two days later that he would renege on the decision to give nomination to Rajapaksa, the former President is determined to try his luck in the coming election.
During the Rajapaksa regime the Chinese had a monopoly of all development project contracts in Sri Lanka and it is said Chinese businessmen are bankrolling his election to Parliament. Only a few days ago Sirisena had said, “If Mahinda Rajapaksa comes back to parliament as Prime Minister, my life is only a bullet away.” Obviously the President is not clear in his mind about the course to follow in the 17 August election to Parliament. By sponsoring Rajapaksa&’s candidature, he hopes to escape the bullet. It was the common opposition led by the United National Party that propelled Sirisena to the office of President.
He now claims if Rajapaksa is not given nomination to contest the election he would split the Sri Lanka Freedom Party to which both belong and pave the way for the return of the UNP to power which neither relish. Though Rajapaksa lost the 8 January presidential election decisively, the vast majority of Sinhala Buddhists want him back at the helm. There is no gainsaying the SLFP was born on the platform of Sinhala-Buddhist hegemony.
The political arena in Sri Lanka has undergone a vast change since January 2015 when a regime change seemed impossible. Men of goodwill wanting to rid the nation of unprecedented corruption, nepotism, abuse of the judiciary, politicisation of the armed forces and see the return of the rule of law and democracy, formed an alliance and fielded Sirisena, who had defected from the Rajapaksa Cabinet just in time, as the common opposition candidate under the leadership of Ranil Wickremesighe of the UNP. Sirisena polled a little over 6.2 million votes against Rajapaksa&’s share of 5.8 million votes.
Unless the gains of the regime change are safeguarded and consolidated, which means strengthening the hands of a wavering Sirisena, return to anarchy and ethnic strife are inevitable. Addressing a gathering of his supporters last week, Rajapaksa said, “I am not ready to reject the appeal you are making. For the sake of this country, for the sake of the motherland, we must contest in the coming parliamentary election.” Sirisena has been tardy in implementing the promises of the 100-day manifesto that included constitutional and electoral reforms and the people are losing faith in his capacity to deliver. As in January last, patriotic forces have got together and formed a new alliance under the name United Good Governance Natural Front to prevent the return of Rajapaksa to power.