Time is running out for the beleaguered opposition in Sri Lanka as it readies for the April 8 general election. For all their promises of bringing in good governance, better economics and stamping out corruption, opposition parties now are now preparing to fight each other then putting up an united stand against the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA).
The opposition parties were an ideologically assorted but politically keen group as they rallied behind former army chief Sarath Fonseka – or rallied against incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa – in the run-up to the Presidential election; less than a month later, they are all split up and no where to go.
The fissures are showing between the liberal and pro-west United National Party (UNP), the ultra-nationalist-Marxist, anti-India, Janatha Vimukti Peramuna (JVP), and the Tamil National Alliance, a succession battle tearing it apart in a post-LTTE era.
As of Tuesday, the UNP – the principal opposition party which seems to have realised the futility of aligning with lesser parties -- will fight the election on its own. Fonseka is aligned with the JVP and sacked and sulking TNA members have either switched to UPFA or are floating new entities.
The resounding defeat in the Presidential poll is one obvious reason for the coalition to have lost wind. (A petition alleging electoral malpractice has been filed in the Supreme Court to cancel the Presidential poll result). First the defeat and then its wide margin were not expected by the opposition and left them floundering for answers.
Another reason could be that after Fonseka’s arrest – arguably a case of a winner carrying out political vendetta – the protests failed to take off. Rallies were held, crowds clashed with the police, editorials were written -- ingredients for a street campaign were all there but the recipe for a country-wide opposition campaign remained incomplete. It almost gained wider acceptance when a section of the powerful clergy called for a convention in support. It was however postponed.
Six weeks are left before the election; for the opposition it could either be six weeks of opportunity or an eternity of neglect.