If not for COVID-19, opposition would have been trounced this weekend – Wijeyadasa

Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe

Former Justice Minister, Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, yesterday, (23), alleged that those opposed to the Election Commission (EC) fixing parliamentary polls, on June 20, feared to face the electorate in the wake of the drubbing they suffered at the last presidential election, comfortably won by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in Nov 2019.

Three-member EC, on Monday (20), declared parliamentary election, delayed due to disruption caused by COVID-19, would be held on June 20.

Rajapakse said that if not for the crisis caused by COVID-19, the parliamentary election would have been held tomorrow (25).

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Colombo District candidate Rajapakse pointed out that the outcome of the third post-war general election was a foregone conclusion.

Responding to another query, the one-time President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) alleged that the unprecedented health emergency saved Opposition political parties from heavy defeat. If not for COVID-19, all of them would have been demolished over the coming weekend, the ex-Colombo District MP told The Island.

The President’s Counsel emphasized that the sharply divided UNP posed no threat to the SLPP, though the UNP, and its breakaway faction, Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB), acted as if they were formidable opponents. Asserting that the split had caused quite a debilitating setback to the UNP, Rajapakse said that both factions pushed for reconvening of parliament, to divert public attention.

The public realized that reconvening of parliament, dissolved on March 02, wouldn’t serve any purpose, under the present circumstances, the former lawmaker said, urging the UNP, and its offshoot, to stop playing politics with the worst ever health emergency faced by the country.

Dr. Rajapakse successfully contested the 2010 April and 2015 August parliamentary elections, on the UNP ticket, having represented the SLFP-led People’s Alliance previously in parliament.

The ex-MP said that both the UNP and the SJB quite conveniently had forgotten how the previous UNP-SLFP administration (2015-2019) brought about its own downfall by pursuing strategies inimical to the government and the State.

The undeniable truth was thatCOVID-19 delayed their certain defeat by a couple of weeks, or months, the former minister said. PC Rajapakse acknowledged that really the SLPP suffered a sort of setback due to the failure, on the part of the EC, to conduct the general election, on April 25th, as originally scheduled.

“We are confident the public realized how President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s administration responded to the COVID-19 challenge,” former MP Rajapakse said. Opposition lawmakers themselves privately appreciated tangible measures taken by the government to tackle the deadly health emergency.

Asked whether the SLPP believed the COVID-19 fallout could derail its political project, PC Rajapakse emphasized that the coalition was confident of a comfortable victory, at the poll, though the current crisis surely delayed its implementation. The former minister admitted that in a way the UNP benefitted due to the diversion of public attention from the first anniversary of the horrific Easter Sunday carnage, perpetrated by extremist elements.

The Easter Sunday slaughter of nearly 270 people and injuries to over 400 could have been easily averted if the UNP-led government acted on intelligence, provided by India, on the planned multiple attacks, the PC said. The former MP, who held the justice portfolio, at the onset of the UNP-led administration, recalled how he warned, in parliament, of extremists even receiving training in Syria. Those who had been at the helm ignored such warnings, the former minister said. “For nearly three weeks, the government did not act on specific intelligence provided by India,” the former MP said. Referring to serious disagreements between then President Maithripala Sirisena and Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe leading to the worst single security lapse, Colombo District SLPP contestant alleged the country would have been in a far worse predicament if the UNP-backed candidate won the last presidential election.

UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa lost by approximately 1.3 million votes. The former minister said that all members of the coalition that backed Sajith Premadasa were pushing for reconvening of the dissolved parliament. The UNP candidate, who contested on the New Democratic Front (NDF) ticket, received the backing of the SLMC, ACMC, TNA and another Tamil grouping, which included Mano Ganesan.

In addition to them, the JVP, too, pushed for the same, the former minister said, asserting that the JVP was irrelevant in today’s politics. The JVP had six MPs, including two on its National List, in the last parliament, Dr. Rajapakse said. Pointing out that JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake managed to secure only about 3 per cent of the total vote at the last presidential poll, the former UNPer said that all Opposition political parties were in disarray. The JVP would find it difficult at least to secure six seats at the forthcoming election, too, PC Rajapakse said.

Rajapaksa asked whether anyone could ever want to vote for UNP factions, knowing how they battled each other in the run-up to the presidential election, and thereafter.

Responding to another query, the ex-lawmaker said that the SJB had the upper hand as the majority of the former UNP parliamentary group sided with Sajith Premadasa. Of the 11 UNP lawmakers, elected from Colombo, in the last parliament, only two, namely Ranil Wickremesinghe and Ravi Karunanayake contested on the UNP ticket, PC Rajapakse said.

Of the remaining nine, Rajapakse switched allegiance to the SLPP and is in the fray from Colombo at the forthcoming election. The dissident UNP group, contesting on the SJB ticket, comprised Patali Champika Ranawaka, Mano Ganesan, Sujeewa Senasinghe, S.M. Marrikar, Mujibur Rahman and Hirunika Premachandra.

Eran Wickremaratne, elected from the Colombo District, on the UNP ticket, at the last general election, had got himself included in the SJB National List, former MP Rajapakse said. Former MP Rajapakse said that Sajith Premadasa giving leadership to SJB Colombo district, too, was a significant political development.

He pointed out that in some districts, including Matara, the UNP couldn’t find a former MP to lead the districts. The UNP had been severely depleted in all districts, the former minister said, warning his former party that COVID-19 wouldn’t shield them from defeat.

Declaring that the SLPP would easily emerge victorious, the former minister said that the UNP was likely to obtain very much lesser number of seats than the SJB.

At the last election, the UNP won 106 seats. One person elected on the SLMC sat with the UNP group.

The UPFA obtained 95, the TNA 16, the JVP 06 and EPDP 01.

The former minister said that the UNP and the SLFP never recovered from the massive drubbing they received at the last Local Government polls, in early Feb 2018.

(Source: The Island – By Shamindra Ferdinando)