Consolidating Power After A Presidential Election

In the early weeks of November 2014, it seemed somewhat clear that Mahinda Rajapaksa was set to rule the country for at least another six years. But on 8th January 2015, when he finally went to cast his vote, even Mahinda appeared to have realized what the final verdict was going to be. Never before, during the past decade, had he looked so defeated; especially on the day of an election. For the first time in years, something strange had happened to this man who was perhaps the most accurate political reader of the Sinhala mindset. The Sinhalese had now begun to read him.

Immediately after the defeat, Mahinda did try to suggest that all was not over yet, that he was ready to return, which may have caused some anxiety within the victorious camp. The ease with which he interacted with his ardent supporters at his home-constituency showed that the old ‘people’s politician’ was still in him. Interestingly, in this brief engagement with the people and his return to Colombo (SLFP-headquarters), there were two distinguishing features.

The first was that in hindsight, it now seemed as if Mahinda had absorbed the possibility of his loss even before the election (which explained his body language during the campaign), which in turn made his post-election recovery swifter than expected. The second was that it appeared he had finally acknowledged one of the fundamental reasons for his post-2009 downfall – his family; for in his engagements with the public, Mahinda was by himself, with his sons and brothers absent. It was almost as if the Mahinda of the pre-2005 era was making a slow comeback, which, surely, should have raised serious concerns for the Sirisena/Wickremesinghe camp.

But all this was too sudden; and in the process, Mahinda made the mistake of trying to play the racist card, by telling his supporters that Maithripala Sirisena, the new President, had won due to ‘Eelam’ votes. This simply confirmed the doubt that this Mahinda who sought to re-enter active politics is even worse than the Mahinda who would have returned after winning the Presidential election. Mahinda, then, had made the cardinal mistake of clarifying to the Sirisena/Wickremesinghe camp his intentions and therefore what the counter-strategy should be: hence the intensification of the ‘coup’ allegation; the swift change in the SLFP leadership; the leveling of corruption charges against him and his family; the moves to further denigrate and isolate the Rajapaksas.

In short, the great irony is that Mahinda provoked some politicians (especially of a nationalist bent) to seek ways of preventing his return with the same kind of energy and zeal with which they seek the prevention of the return of another Prabhakaran!

Courtesy: Colombo Telegraph