If Sajith wishes to win


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Presidential elections are about the candidate. The party is incidental to the process. That explains the curious, yet, familiar phenomenon of candidates creating or structuring parties in their own image during presidential elections.   

The final contest depends on how the countrywide constituency perceives the ideology, promise and the measure of the candidate.  

It is the candidate who can make or unmake the winning coalition. The ‘persona’ looms larger than the hurriedly patched up package of ideology.   

In a presidential contest, the party turns to the candidate for its survival and success. The ‘person’ towers above the ideology of the party.  

The party may or may not provide the skeletal structure and the voter base that goes with it.  The movement that gradually takes shape around it acquires its dynamics through the ability and appeal of the chosen leader.  

UNP’s mass mobilization on Thursday at Galle face and the mass desertion on Friday, it suffered at Elpitiya constitute the point of departure for this brief essay.  

That is what Sajith Premadasa demonstrated at the Galle face rally.  This is the bitter practical truth the UNP learnt the day after at the Pradeshiya Sabah election at Alpitiya.  

At Galle Face we witnessed an amazing orchestra performing a prodigious symphony in praise of candidate Sajith Premadasa at the historic locale for public spectacle.   

What took place on Thursday at the Galle face Maidan was a masterly managed mass mobilization behind presidential hopeful Sajith Premadasa.    

What happened at Alpitiya on Friday is far more important. The UNP under Ranil Wickremesinghe has remained petrified in a state of political palsy since the year 2005, when he ran for the presidency.  

The immediate purpose was to prove to the vast electorate that those who defied Ranil Wickremesinghe’s grabbing appetite for power were right.   

When Ajith Perera announced that Ranil will remain prime minister for the foreseeable future he infused apprehension to hope.  

Sajith Premadasa must unambiguously proclaim that the torch has moved from privilege and elitism to self-ruling politics of the people.  

 It was an amazing orchestration of crowd symphony performed at the historic venue famous for political spectacle.   

Politics of memory is the subjective experience of a substantial social group that has a sustained and sustainable relationship with power.  

The multitude that greeted the son and political heir of Ranasinghe Premadasa were motivated by politics of memory that was collective and public.  Ranasinghe Premadasa carved his niche in the politics of the poor people.  

Ranasinghe Premadasa understood poverty.  

Ranasinghe Premadasa was a leader who understood the politics of poor people. The inner-city poor provided his political base. On assuming the Presidency, he discovered the rural poor. He also discovered a bewildered peasantry settled by a well-meaning government in starry-eyed pastoral pockets in the dry zone.   

He succeeded J.R. Jayewardene who, with Ronnie De Mel introduced unvarnished free-market economics.   

Premadasa deflected from that straight narrow path of pursuing creating wealth through market economics.  He instinctively knew that pure market economics left some people behind.  

The government had to intervene and assist the poor. By the time he succeeded to the presidency, he realized that the very success of creating wealth through free competition could seriously threaten people trapped in poverty.  

He created ‘Janasaviya’ that successive governments have continued under different labels. He knew that free-market wealth creation had to be taken to the hinterland.  He launched the 200 garment factories project.  

Thursday’s euphoria of solidarity should spur the UNP led coalition to make an accurate reading of the ground situation; what Lenin called the ‘balance of forces.  

Securing the gains of democratic progression after 2015 and arresting a regression towards the kakistocracy that we dismantled is the categorical imperative of our time.  

That calls for an overarching consensus among the profusion of parties and players now navigating towards the ideal of democratic accountability. 

They are sailing in different vessels, using different charts. Ironically one candidate with a substantial base that rejects both mainstream parties has opted for the compass as the election symbol.  

But if they proceed directionlessly, they face obliteration by the one merciless storm that is quietly gathering countercurrents!   

All credible candidates have good reason to be where they are. In the case of the JVP led alliance the ideological chasm is too deep to be ignored altogether. In the case of the highly articulate and fastidiously competent Mahesh Senanayake, the civil society candidate of the National Peoples Party, it is plain revulsion for the duplicitous politics and charlatanry of successive governments.   

The messianic modernizing autocrat has an extreme rightwing nationalist agenda. His action plan seeks to advance predatory oligarchic capitalism fueled with xenophobic tribalism.     

His policy promises and short-circuits the common good. It mocks the social contract that we have maintained from the days of colonial rule. His is a toxic mixture of ethnic superiority, ultra-nationalism, militarism, and plain stifling of dissent.   

His propagandists are not outright liars. They are only insincere when they announce the news. They have mastered habits of thought that justify their elite privileges.  Their sole purpose is to present their leader – the super predator as the single answer to the demand of the people for a tough guy.  

For four and half years, we have meandered in the cozy comfort of democratic disorder. We have arrived at a critical point.  

Politics should focus on what works and what is best in the larger interest of society. That requires compromise. Political parties and formations will champion differing ideologies and will disagree with each other. Yet on the issue of democratic freedom, human rights and the rule of law, they must not hesitate to seek middle ground.  If, instead, they seek temporary refuge in their respective fringes, the dictator will have a quiet walk to occupy centerstage.   

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