People have asked me if I regret voting for this government given all their cock-ups, missteps and backwards assignations. Well, no. That annoying noise you hear is democracy.
Under Mahinda things were dreadful quiet, mafia quiet. This is better. That said, man, these guys are messing up. The difference is that our complaints actually make a difference, which is great. And, of course, if they don’t respond you can just vote them out in a few months.
As it’s going, Ranil may be the shortest serving Prime Minister since Dudley Senanayake in 1960. He managed to squeeze his way into the job because the UPFA is so used to doing whatever the President says, but Ranil won’t have the President behind him in a general election. He’ll have to win an election, something he hasn’t done in 14 years.
Right now the UNP has 60 seats in Parliament compared to the UPFA’s 144, at least according to Wikipedia. I’ve heard that the current governing coalition actually has 96 with the recent cross-overs, but it’s doubtful that those guys will actually run with the UNP. With this Parliament, Ranil is somewhat empowered to carry out President Sirisena’s mandate, but not much else.
If Ranil wants to win the General he has to either A) get roughly 43 UPFA MPs to cross-over or B) unseat roughly 43 UPFA MPs. This will be hard. While he has just brought 26 SLFPers (the UPFA is their alliance) in as Ministers, they haven’t joined the UNP and have no real reason to.
Ranil’s only hope is Mahinda Rajapaksa coming in and splintering the SLFP, but it doesn’t seem like that’s happening. If Mahinda does run it seems like it will be from some random party and not the SLFP (these days, however, anything can happen). If the SLFP doesn’t completely fracture, they simply start from a better position in a General Election.
In a general Ranil can’t count on minority votes either. The minorities vote for the least bad candidate in Presidential elections because there’s only one seat. In general elections there are many seats, so they also vote for their own parties. Therefore, it doesn’t matter how many accommodations Ranil makes for minority concerns, they still won’t bloc vote for the UNP in a General. While being minority friendly is good national policy, it probably loses Sinhala votes for the UNP.
If you look at just the basic party and population lines in Sri Lanka, a general election doesn’t look favorable to the UNP. Even if you took the same votes from the Presidential, in a split-up General the SLFP would get more seats.
But let’s suppose people look at the candidates and decide. How does Ranil and the UNP look? Honestly, on a good day Ranil is not an alpha male, but he is really popular around Colombo and still has a reputation for intelligence. Under him, the UNPs main constituencies are urban areas, the business community and minorities.
In urban areas the UNP will probably still do well. Colombo was the last hold-out in Ranil’s darkest days and that should hold. Up-country is also more reliably green, but the opposition leader Nirmal Siripala De Silva is from Badulla and may eat into that.
The business community is, however, is kinda pissed at the UNP now. Or at least they should be. The UNP’s interim budget was populist to the point of being irrational and they’ve been sending mixed signals to the market. Hostile signals even, as they’ve retroactively taxed big companies, randomly targeted Dialog and telecom and basically told the private sector to ‘watch out’. Economics is usually the UNPs strength, but they’re actually not doing a good job of it this time around.
Then the minorities. As mentioned, the minorities will probably split their vote between ethnic parties like the TNA and SLMC and the UNP.
So, looking that the field and voters overall, it’s hard to see a clear line to victory for the UNP. Sirisena could give Ranil the Prime Ministership for a this short period, but if he wants to hold it, Ranil has to win an election. Something he’s not very good at. It’s hard to see what he could have really done in just a few months, but he seems to have spent it pissing off business, talking to foreign press, and dealing with structural legislation, none of which is directly helpful. Beyond lower prices of fuel and stuff, Ranil doesn’t have too much to show voters, and he doesn’t have big bad Mahinda to run against. However, Ranil is a wily fox and he broke into the henhouse once before. Let’s see if he can stay there.