With just 2 weeks left to polling day, there are obvious signs of severe strain in the UNP camp. Cynicism and lies seem to be their only weapons.
Since my last analysis (available here), the UNP campaign has been unable to gain mainstream traction. Hence, their strategy has shifted, taking on a more desperate bent. Importantly, the campaign has lost its united approach. Ranil heads the campaign nationally, but the UNP workers, MPs, and ministers are all saying and doing different things in different places. “Kandaheliyak” seems to be the best description.
Ranil appears to have dropped his pet project, the infamous “pokuru gammana,” for unknown reasons. After the TNA’s demands for federalism, he has also stopped talking about forming a “national government,” instead insisting against all evidence that the UNP will secure a majority on their own. Also vanishing are the combined portraits of SWRD and DS Senanayake first seen at the UNP’s inaugural rally. No sign is visible either of the much-hailed “UNFGG,” which appears to have been dropped in favor of the more recognizable “UNP” title. It is also rare to hear the infamous “yahapalanaya” catchphrase.
Probably realizing that he is making no headway against Mahinda with the Sinhala Buddhist demographic, he is taking his usual pandering of the minority vote to an extreme — most recently promising both compensation and a state pension to former LTTE terrorists and to their families. He will not however promise compensation and a pension for the Sinhalese victims of the LTTE’s terrorism.
After months of ignoring the elephant in the room — the treasury fraud involving his good friend Arjuna Mahendran and the subsequent coverup by Sirisena and Ranil — he has finally started to make some murmurings about this. The official line now coming out of Sirikotha via “gona“-in-chief Kiriella is that Mahendran has been cleared already (by a panel of three more of Ranil’s good friends) and that after the election an investigation will be launched against Mahendran’s son-in-law’s Singapore-based financial firm. That more of Ranil’s friends will make up this committee also is not in doubt.
Ranil has re-branded as well. Realizing how effective Mahinda’s slogan of “Let’s give strength to the nation; Let’s start anew” has been, Ranil has adapted the “100 days” time-span from the presidential election and stolen the word “new”: “60 months to make a new country.” We saw what 6 months of UNP rule did to this country, so this is unlikely to be effective, and it seems likely that the new country is Eelam!
He has also shifted onto Mahinda’s turf, talking now about infrastructure projects. He is due to unveil a foundation stone of the Central Expressway — Mahinda’s Northern Expressway simply renamed — this week. The Central expressway as proposed by Ranil will be 1/3 smaller, but will cost Rs. 30 billion more. Apparently the infrastructure will be funded by the same Chinese banks which the UNP condemned as creating a “culture of corruption” during Mahinda’s presidency. However, we have no official announcement and no confirmation from the Chinese side, and Rajiva Wijesinha has exposed how this is probably another blatant lie.
Some of the phraseology has also changed. Ranil now refers to “tharuna tharuniyan,” a direct copy from Mahinda’s speech style. Copying Mahinda further, Ranil has also started promising more and more handouts to these “tharuna tharuniyan,” such as providing technical colleges for them. In the video below, we can also see the addition of Ranil’s wife to the stage, in an attempt to put forward a “family man” image.
The character assassination against Mahinda does, as expected, continue. Even though the above-mentioned bond scandal is a major thorn in his side, and despite 7 months of relentless persecution still unable to provide any evidence of wrong-doing against the Rajapaksas, Ranil continues to label Mahinda as a corrupt crook. It is unlikely that people will fall for this nonsense this time around.
Ranil has also been using the “Sirisena-card” telling people it was futile to vote for Mahinda as he would not be appointed PM. Of course this is a load of rubbish, as everyone has finally had to admit that if he can hold onto a majority of seats, Mahinda must be made the prime minister. By the end of the week Ranil had reduced the emphasis on this part of the Sirisena-card. Another hammer blow came with news breaking from the Presidential Media Unit itself that his co-conspirators (Rajitha, Hirunika et al.,) for the January 8th poll had been removed from the SLFP by Sirisena.
However Ranil does persist in talking about Sirisena in that he says a Mahinda-Sirisena tie up would cause troubles as the two would be fighting each other. Can the president of a democratic country really obstruct the will of the people like this? And is it decent, or correct, that Ranil’s own puppet can be used to hold a nation hostage, refusing to work with Mahinda? Can any serious democrat who is contender for prime ministership tell people not to vote for his opponent for such a ridiculous and cynical reason?
Finally, let’s look at Ranil himself. Over the last week his appearance has gotten increasingly shabby. He probably hasn’t washed his hair in over 2 weeks, and he seems to have developed multiple bald patches. Ranil goes to every event in the same worn shirt. He constantly pulls up his sagging trousers, which are pushed down by his humungous belly. He waves his stick arms around and frequently displays his bent fingers. His lower jaw appears slack, and he exerts most of his energy in lifting this up while pronouncing words with great difficulty using his protruding tongue. Worst of all, he speaks in his droning tone, which has become even more nasal and whiny of late.
In fact, here are some clips of him, and below is a clip of Emperor Palapatine from Star Wars. The fictional character, an evil figure who channels dark forces and who rose to power over the galaxy through a campaign of lies, appears to be based directly on Ranil.
UNP more generally
The shooting incident between two underworld gangs was seized upon by a desperate Ravi Karunanayake (who doesn’t exactly look or sound like a paragon of virtue) to try and tarnish Mahinda. He literally said Mahinda and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa are terrorists, and that the shooting was an act of political terrorism by Mahinda. The police investigation has corroborated what all other sane observers thought, finding that this was a gang-fight. Embarrassingly, it was none other than Sujeeva Senasinghe, from Ravi’s own party, who said that there was no connection with Mahinda and that the election must have caused mental problems in certain people, of course meaning Ravi K.
Rosy Senanayake, craving for attention as always, had been the one producing the ugliest of slanders against Mahinda for quite some time. (Ravi kind of stole her thunder after the “shooting” incident.) The UPFA response to Rosy was, correctly, to just ignore the old tart. During the Matale rally one of the SLFP candidates, a war veteran, did mention her name and respond to her accusations. Sadly the sound cut out just as he was getting to the punch-line of a joke.
People criticized Mahinda for not addressing some of the cost of living issues during his presidency. And so there were many hand-outs in the UPFA manifesto for the parliamentary election. Harsha de Silva was evidently so shocked at this rapid correction of past flaws, that all he could do was start laughing like a madman.
Nimal Siripal de Silva was believed to be a possible alternate candidate for prime ministership if the UPFA obtains a majority. However, his loyalty to Mahinda was shown by his attendence and rousing speech at the inaugural SLFP rally. More recently, he said “It was our mistake that our leader Mahinda was replaced with a puppet by foreign powers”:
Obviously stung, UNP loudmouth Harin Fernando attacked him. The way he attacked was rather strange though. He basically copied word for word a highly effective sartorial jibe used by Wimal Weerawansa against Sajith Premadasa. Wimal said Sajith should get over to Colombo and get himself a new suit tailored, because on August 18th he would need one to be the leader of the Opposition. So Harin Fernando, as if this was his own idea, calls on Nimal Siripal de Silva to get himself a new suit, to be leader of the Opposition.
The majority of Sri Lankan media is anti-national. For this reason they will support the UNP today, but as required, would support anyone that would represent the interests of the former colonial nations. The UPFA has no media institution of its own, and there are no truly unbiased independent media. The media, in all forms, must therefore also be included as part of the UNP’s campaign strategy.
The Island newspaper gained some credibility during the war period for being staunchly anti-LTTE. However, in its most recent Sunday edition, the paper ridicules the UPFA’s promises of handouts and relief to the people. In the same breath, it says that they won’t make any comment on the UNP’s own hand-outs because it hasn’t read the UNP manifesto. And over the last few months, the editorial had little to say about the bond scandal, and did not ask many questions about how Ravi’s koththamalli budget would be paid for. It says that “we mustn’t return to the bad old days” under Rajapaksa, but seems very happy with the “good old days” of police state, thuggery, and corruption of the last 7 months. All very telling.
Furthermore, Mahinda’s securing of the UPFA nomination also did not warrant any comment from the editors. Around April-May, The Island did note Mahinda had been able to “bounce back” faster than expected, but this was when it was believed he would never be given the UPFA nomination, so the editors were probably just mocking Mahinda.
The Island kind of gave away their devious game when on the first day after the presidential election, they demanded no parliamentary election be held any time soon, even though there was an explicit promise of new polls after the first “100 days”.
Over on Colombo Telegraph website the anti-national hacks are producing articles thick and fast. The infamous Tisaranee Gunasekara — the woman with no face, no picture, and no known educational history — has made multiple forays into her familiar turf of Mahinda-bashing. Other writers have written about various aspects of Mahinda and the UPFA campaign.
All of them are dissecting Mahinda’s chances. But they all preface each article, and conclude each article, with the same assurance that a UPFA victory is impossible. The question that arises is why then waste so much ink to go into great details about why and how Mahinda will “lose”?
The answer of course is obvious. There is a sense that there is a groundswell of support for Mahinda, and there is a very high chance of Mahinda being prime minister on August 18th.
Most people will have made up their minds already. They have seen a refreshed Mahinda, speaking and acting as he did back in 2005 and 2010. If they like it, they will be willing to vote for him again and bring him back to power. They have also seen 6 months of an illegal, unconstitutional UNP regime which has destroyed the economy, robbed the central bank, brought lawlessness, re-awoken Eelamism, and created a police state. They have seen and heard the same old Ranil with his same old lies. If they want more of this, they will vote for Ranil.
All signs are that the UNP is heading into a tailspin. Ranil is exasperated, the UNP campaign is all over the place without any direction and with a confused message. On the contrary, the UPFA campaign is getting stronger by the day. Their message is consistent and the manifesto appears to have been accepted well. Even suspected “alternate prime minister candidates” are now singing hosannas for Mahinda, former defectors are kneeling at Mahinda’s feet, and with each passing day, the brazen condemnations of Sirisena only become bolder and more vitriolic.
In any straight contest between Ranil and Mahinda, Ranil has lost. This is why Ranil hid behind Fonseka in 2010 and Sirisena in 2015. Ranil challenged Mahinda to a contest this time, declaring, shamelessly, that “we haven’t been able to directly compete since 2005.” Does he think we have forgotten why this was? Anyway, Ranil basically dared Mahinda to contest, if he could get himself a nomination. After that, once Mahinda became the UPFA candidate, Ranil changed his tune and started questioning: Why is he here, Why is he contesting, Why from Kurunegala, etc.
I think the UNP has resorted to these gutter politics in a desperate attempt to boost the confidence and ensure the turnout of their own party’s main votebank (the “I bleed green” crowd) who would have become severely crestfallen on seeing that not only was Mahinda back, but that he commanded the entire SLFP/UPFA political juggernaut, even after his defeat on January 9th. How these fanatic UNPers will handle a Mahinda victory on August 18th will be quite the spectacle.
Clearly, Mahinda represents hope. While Ranil represents cynicism.
The next week will prove pivotal for the campaign. This week will be important to bring in the swing-voters. The final week of the campaign will be too late to change minds.
August 18th will be a historic day. Check back here for more analysis and commentary.
Relevant: Summary of UNP's earlier strategy. Relevant: Ranil's assault on the villages. Relevant: Ranil's need for TNA-federalist backing.