I went to see the candidate Maithripala Sirisena at a business forum but I got was a whole lot of Ranil. Sirisena is not comfortable in English, which is part of the problem, but Ranil talked most of the time. It honestly made me uncomfortable.
The problem a lot of people have with Maithripala is that they don’t trust the people behind him (ie, Ranil and Chandrika). Ranil, as the dictator of the UNP, and Chandrika as the old guard of the SLFP are part of Sri Lanka’s frustrating pre-war politics. They’re both smart and way less corrupt than the Rajapaksas, but they’re also both pretty unsuccessful leaders. A lot of people don’t want to go back to that. I understand that.
I’ve known that Ranil is behind most of Maithripala’s policies and the UNP is the biggest vote base behind him, but at this particular event, it didn’t really feel like Maithripala was the Presidential candidate. Ranil talked most of the time and he wasn’t especially deferential to Maithripala. The takeaway was more ‘trust Ranil he’s smart’ than an introduction to the actual candidate.
And Ranil is smart, but still. Honestly, I wish that Ranil had stepped down as UNP leader after losing in 2005 and that we had evolved a new leader with his own voter base by now. Instead disaffected people keep falling off Mahinda’s team (Sarath Fonseka from the military and now Sirisena from the SLFP) and they have one month to become national politicians. And it messes up their lives. Meanwhile Ranil gets to keep his job no matter what. He’ll still be leader of the UNP, win or lose.
As voters we end up voting for a curtain with a motley coalition behind it. For me I can think about it and make that decision, but it’s not a clear situation where you’re voting for a guy and that’s what you get. I guess it’s like a Sri Lankan marriage in that it comes with a whole family attached. If you vote for Mahinda you get his brothers and sons and 800 hangers on. They’ll probably be abusive and mortgage your house and pawn your jewelry to build random shit in Hambantota. If you vote for Maithripala you get CBK and Ranil who’ll be all awkward and annoying and can’t even talk to people at holiday parties.
Sigh. That’s what we’re left with. Maithripala seems like a genuinely nice guy who understands the concerns of the common people so neglected by Mahinda. He is, however, not very charismatic and doesn’t have a national power base of his own. He would be highly dependent on other people for foreign and economic policy. What you’re voting for is essentially a caretaker President beholden to a new Parliament run by Ranil. They’re talking about a National Government and Ranil is the one with the ideas.
And he does have a lot of good ideas. But it still doesn’t feel like a vote for something as much as a vote against Mahinda. And I don’t know if that’s enough.
This is just me thinking out loud here. Me personally, I would much rather have a caretaker government even including a lamer like Ranil than the wasteful and lawless mafia elite that’s emerging under Mahinda. I mean, genuinely thanks for all he’s done, but two terms is enough for me. For me it’s the best of a bad choice. I do think that a weaker executive and stronger institutions in better for the country. But this still isn’t the ideal situation. Not by a long shot.
I’m voting for Maithripala but I’m not that happy about getting Ranil.