Sri Lankan Presidential Elections: The Heat Is On

On November 23, 2009 the incumbent President of Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapaksa announced that the next presidential election in Sri Lanka will be held on January 26, 2010. According to analysts he is seeking a fresh mandate prior to the expiration of his first term in 2011 riding on his immense popularity after defeating the Tamil Tigers in 2009. To counter Rajapaksa's favorable position, the main opposition party in Sri Lanka (UNP) has formed an alliance (United National Front) to contest at the presidential elections and nominated ex chief of Army General Sarath Fonseka as their candidate. Fonseka is revered for spearheading the total annihilation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE) and the Tamil liberation struggle. Although there are 23 candidates competing in the election, the battle between Mahinda Rajapaksa and Sarath Fonseka is the prime focus.

As the date of election approaches, the campaigns have grown intense and the heat can be felt also in the Sri Lankan blogosphere. Many bloggers are rallying behind their candidates and are engaging in strong debates with analysis and points-counterpoints.

Mawbima Sri Lanka writes about Mahinda Rajapaksa's manifesto:

President Mahinda Rajapaksa unveiled a 14-point programme titled, ‘A brighter future’ with a promise to bring Sri Lanka to a prominent position in Asia and the world and work towards a political solution to the ethnic problem.

Groundviews tried to visualize the promises by Sarath Fonseka detailed in his manifesto which seems to call upon voters to look forward and build a better future together. Kusal Perera at Groundviews analyzes Sarath Fonseka's manifesto:

With no commitment given to the Tamil people, Gen (rtd) Fonseka’s manifesto could only turn to the Sinhala South, with promises. [..]

We thus end up having an alternative candidate backed by political parties that have no programme for development, no programme for democracy and no programme for reconciliation and are also into corruption, both while in government and as political parties.

We therefore end up at this presidential election having no alternative to choose from and not wanting to know we would be voting for the same mess, may be dressed and packaged better, but wanting others to believe its a change.

We have also seen some intense reactions from bloggers. Lanka Rising asserts that the theme of Sarath Fonseka’s election campaign is nothing but ‘lying’. On the other hand, Lanka Polity accuses Mahinda Rajapkasa of blatant misuse of public property and tax money in his campaigns. Mahinda was criticized for sending unsolicited sms messages to all mobile phone subscribers, across all networks in Sri Lanka. Sanjana Hattotuwa at Groundviews questions Mahinda's ad campaign on international media websites and writes an open letter to the president asking:

Why is it that your official campaign website has no information on campaign financing? How can I be assured as a voter that the money being lavishly spent by you and your campaign for re-election is not public finances?

Going Global looks at the campaign trail:

Propaganda is usually illegal and mostly sponsored through dubious means. In the case of Mahinda, he is dictating the terms here. He controls the state and arguably the legal system. He is setting the rules in a game that Fonseka is not equipped to play in. When it comes to campaigning its a jungle out there and the fittest survive. And given the conditions of play it is no surprise who is gaining the upper hand.

Sri Lanka's liberal democrat blogger Lefroy says:

So who’s ad campaign is better? hmm. Hard to say. Mahinda’s probably slightly ahead. But Sarath has done quite well with far less money and no state power.

Dayapala Thiranagama at Groundviews discusses which of the candidates has got the edge:

It appears that the election is reshaping the political forces that existed before the war. It is also bringing to the fore the old political problems. This election finds Sri Lanka standing at a crossroad. It is an indictment of our political parties that following the defeat of the Tigers and the opportunity to win the peace, all that is on offer to the voter is a choice between the anti democratic histories and repressive nature of the competing  parties. At stake is nothing less than the future of our fragile democracy.

Lanka Polity says that the Tamils are in dilemma and may have to choose between the lesser of the evils.

The Abyss asserts that irrespective of the prevailing conditions the vote matters:

So what if both candidates have downsides, it doesn’t mean it would be wrong for you to decide between them. Regardless of what you do or don’t do, you do make a difference, more than you know. You’re acting by not acting, you’re choosing without making a choice, you’re voting someone in by not voting.

Jude Fernando at Groundviews sees some hope in this election:

Whether or not Fonseka can win, if we work to increase the number of votes he receives, we can hope for a stronger opposition in the future, and we can successfully expand the space for democracy. We can make it more likely that one day we will be able to hold the ruling party accountable, and we can exert pressure to make the next general election much more just and fair. This is the way I suggest that we approach this election. By struggling to build the opposition, even behind a less than optimal candidate, we can avoid the trap of cynicism and the mire of hopelessness.

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