Then they relate the present political developments to 2009 where General Sarath Fonseka was fielded as the common opposition candidate. They say the same fate will befall new common opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena as well. Fonseka was stripped of his medals and later sent to jail following a judicial verdict. Some may agree with them, seeing how things happened in the aftermath of the 2009 presidential election.
Let us keep the fear mongering aside for a while. Really what are the chances for a repetition of such a scenario? We think it’s different this time. This phrase was coined by famous stock market investor Merrill Lynch. Though he wrote this phrase with a negative connotation -- implying that things won’t be different this time or for that matter any time -- we believe that things could really be different this time, as the fundamentals of the game have changed.
The key difference is that in 2009, General Fonseka took a gamble whereas in 2014 Maithripala took a calculated risk. General Fonseka went against a leader who was at the peak of his popularity after the end of the 30-year civil war. Besides he had completed only one term and the people hardly felt the need for change. The customary Sri Lankan gratitude may also have played a part -- like voting for the leader who ended the war. Though Fonseka fought the war, the win was largely credited to President Rajapaksa who stood his ground unwavering amid a lot of internal and external pressure until the annihilation of the LTTE and its leadership. Besides, in 2009 a majority of the people didn’t want a change. The hype created by Fonseka also fizzled out by his hate speeches in the run-up to the election. People more or less realized that it was a personal vendetta that was driving Fonseka and not any policy-driven initiative.
But this time it’s different. People need a change for the better and for that a credible leader has emerged. Although Maithripala has his personal grievances, they weren’t projected as the driving force behind his campaign. He talks of policy matters and pledges to uphold the rule of law, good governance, an independent judiciary, media freedom, a legislature-driven more accountable system, which are essential aspects of a vibrant democracy. He has promised to abolish the executive presidency within 100 days of the election.
When it comes to the executive presidency, it is important to put things into context. We believe that the executive presidency may have come in handy before 2009, that is before the end of the war. Without such powers vested in the President, we wouldn’t have been able to see the end of Prabhakaran. But the post-war Sri Lanka doesn’t want it. Now what the country wants is to have the checks and balances in the right places so that democracy is ensured. But unfortunately incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa failed to realize this or didn’t want to admit it. He started to consolidate his power by gaining the 2/3rd majority in the Parliament, spreading the power of the executive to every branch of governance, even to the judiciary.
Taking all these factors into account, we believe that the 2015 presidential election is fought on policy grounds compared to the presidential election in 2009 that was largely driven by revenge and opportunism. So, will the Common Opposition Candidate stand a chance this time? Only time will tell.