BY DHANUKA DICKWELLA
“Sri Lanka has just elected a new president. Despite the support by many parties Dullas Alahapperuma could not succeed. This is an analysis to see whether his defeat is a reflection of the existing political culture or sheer bad luck. “
As predicted Ranil Wickramnasinghe made a solid victory in the presidential election – the first of the kind in Sri Lanka’s recent history. The greater majority of votes over his rivals helped him consolidate the grip on power & effectively wipe out any sentiments of dissent. The ballot was a secret one but the loyalties were no secret to the public. The absolute majority was from the ruling SLPP & there were allegedly few from the SJB & minority parties.
The last minute tactical withdrawal of the opposition leader Sajith Premadas’s candidacy was supposed to have a knock on effect on the whole election largely propping up the chances of Dullas Alahapperuma. But it couldn’t make a dent & Ranil secured almost close to 140 votes as he himself predicted (134 in actual). It is an intriguing question why Dullas Alahapperuma lost despite having a number of political parties backing him.
Politics from then to now has evolved around few fundamentals. There are political elites, the business community & the citizens. The relationship between the Political elites & the business community works similar to that of an umbilical code. One feeds herself & that makes the other one live. If the life in the womb becomes unhealthy the life of the bearer could be in danger. So is politics. The rationale is that the elites rule while the stability they create helps the business community thrive. The business community bankrolls the ruling elites. The relationship will work perfectly & in unison as long as each one’s interest is preserved & no one stands on the others path. It doesn’t matter who comes to the helm of political rule as long as the system prevails & life continues in a business as usual manner. As for citizens they are given the breadcrumbs to feed on. The system of various political parties do exist to make sure that everyone has a place for their aspirations & voice. So there won’t be a need for a revolution. Irrespective of being a leftist or rightwing , center right the political parties will always work in harmony with the above fundamental.
The above will explain the defeat of Dullas Alahapperuma. Although he was a seasoned politician & had a long career in politics , he was an outsider. He was never a part of the ruling elites. He could have introduced a few drastic changes that would undermine the interest of the influential figures. Radical changes to the way of Sri Lankan society is the common man’s demand that has been amplified as a strong voice by the Aragalaya or the popular anti government movement. Dulles would have heeded to such demands as a way to pacify the aragalaya. Changes are welcome for the ruling elites & their patrons as long as the changes are moderate in nature & does not undermine their way of life. But why take a risk. They could not trust an outsider. As history has proven, outsiders have always been bad for business.
Every time an outsider tries to make it to this exclusive ruling club only a miracle could help them in achieving so. The cases of W Dahanayake , D B Wijayathunga were all thanks to the assassination of their predecessors. An exceptional moment exists though. The election victory of Ranasinghe Premadasa is the only such. Coming from the gutter , R Premadasa made astounding changes to Sri Lankan society. His policies gave birth to a new business class in the country & many underprivileged were given a voice. But he was not a friend of the elites & the elites made sure his rule was undermined one way or another.
Sri Lanka’s political culture is riddled with deal making. Everyone makes deals with everyone. They make sure to look out for each other’s well being & do everything possible when in power. Ranil Wickramasinghe represents the interest of that culture & was the most trusted man for the job. He will surely bring about a lot of changes & create space for economic growth but he will stick to the traditional power structure. In other words the club will prevail & thrive.
Dulles Alahapperuma’s defeat could be well explained through a historical as well as an international parallel . After the assassination of S W R D Bandaranayake the leadership of the SLFP went to a non elite people’s man who was also from a none elite cast & a none elite class. Known as the god of Minneriya , CP De Silva was the new head of the party. He was facing an election where he had an edge over the opposing UNP & could have steered the party to a victory & become the Prime minister in the 1960 government. But it is a known fact that Mrs Bandaranayake & her close associates did everything possible to see that CP loses the elections. He was later elbowed out by the party’s leadership too. The next such example is from a capital that is 16,596 kms away from Colombo. In Mexico. In 2006 Andrés Manuel López Obrador made a presidential bid. He lost the election by an unbelievable 0.56 percentage. But it was a known fact that the election commission was in bed with Felipe Calderón & did everything to make sure that Obrador does not succeed. Why ? Because he promised a total overhauling of the system & an end to corruption. Mexican political elites, narcotic industry bosses & many high powered business magnates did not want a socialist reformist to destroy their way of life. He wouldn’t have toed the line of them & could have crippled the business interest.
It is a fact that Dullas has lost this time & the club stands tall. Andrés Manuel López Obrado made it to the Mexican presidential palace as a Socialist leader in 2018, twelve years after his first forced defeat. History awaits for Dullas Alahapperuma & only time will tell how thick his skin is.