Mahinda Rajapaksa won 49% of the vote in 2015 and lost. His new party got even less votes (45%) in the 2018 midterms… and won. What happened? The short answer is divide and conquer.
In 2015, Maithiripala divided the SLFP as the Common Candidate and won. In 2018, Mahinda divided the ruling coalition and he won. There are still more anti-MR voters than pro-MR voters in Sri Lanka, but whatever side remains united can win.
The Coalition Is Falling Apart
This election was characterized by the coalition parties campaigning against each other. Both seemed to think that they could go it on their own, but in hindsight, they can’t.
The UNP has been dogged by a corruption scandal and on its own deserved to lose. However, Ranil gamble that Mahinda and Maithripala would SLFP vote and he’d somehow emerge unscathed. I don’t know what Maithri was thinking, perhaps he was honestly pissed at Ranil for the bond scam.
Either way, the coalition was divided and Mahinda came out ahead.
The lesson for the coalition should be that they either hang together or hang separately, but they don’t seem to have learned anything. They’re still fighting each other right now.
The Trouble With Sri Lankan Parties
In a more stable party system, the two parties swap power back and forth but each remains more or less intact. Internally, they have their own governance and change leadership when it’s not working. It’s not like that in Sri Lanka.
In Sri Lanka, politicians wait for years to become party leader and then they never ever let go. Even if you can somehow get them out of the party, they’ll go and form another one.
Both major parties are stuck with ‘leaders’ that won’t leave when they become ineffective, so the parties are just breaking underneath them.
Ranil Won’t Leave The UNP
Ranil Wickremesinghe has been leading the UNP for 23 years but has never been able to form a government on his own. He has only been able to govern in weird co-dependent relationships with the SLFP.
The UNP still controls at least 30% of the vote base no matter how hopeless they are, but Ranil can’t get the above 50. As party leader, Ranil has been neither shitting nor getting off the pot.
Mahinda Won’t Leave The SLFP
If Mahinda had just left politics in 2015, Maithripala could have consolidated control of the SLFP, and eventually formed his own government. It would have sucked for Mahinda but good for the party. But who cares about the party.
Instead, he created a new party and broke the SLFP. He can’t take all of it, however, so he’s in a position where he can’t win a majority either.
So, it’s kinda a stalemate.
We Can’t Leave These Guys
Ranil and Mahinda have been running against each other for my entire adult life. It is honestly boring and I wish they would both leave.
They are old and neither of them has any particularly new ideas. Ranil’s less racist, which is important, but they’ve both presided over different levels of corruption and incompetence.
What the country really needs is a new generation of post-war leaders, and some better governance within the parties, but who are we kidding lol. I have no idea what will happen, and Sri Lanka is nothing if not unpredictable.
Roughly what has happened is that the ruling coalition fell apart and Mahinda benefitted. Whether the government can hold its shit together and hold off another election is yet to be seen.