After you’re President you usually stop. There’s no higher job in your country, and you can’t be President of another country. You give some paid speeches, serve on some boards and basically chill.
Not in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka has an ex-President who is now serving as a lowly MP. He can’t really move forward, but dozens of MPs are still following him, effectively clogging up his own party.
Mahinda isn’t dumb, so why is he doing this? Well, there is one path back to power for him, though it is a winding one.
Mahinda can’t constitutionally be President again, but he can become Prime Minister. Mahinda used to give that job to the most prolific napper in Parliament, but it’s quite powerful now. He could go even further and make it the most powerful job in the land, by abolishing the Presidency (an idea that has popular support). Then he’d be back.
It’s not impossible. It’s just not likely.
As in most political systems, you need the support of a political party to do anything, and Mahinda doesn’t have that. The current President Maithripala Sirisena controls the SLFP. Well, most of it.
Maithripala was in the SLFP before, but he rebelled because Mahinda was blocking everything up by changing the Constitution and running for a third term as President. He was teeing up his muscle-bound son to follow him, so it looked like there was no hope in the SLFP.
Maithri became My3 and crossed over. He ran as the de facto Presidential candidate of the other party (the UNP), and won.
After he re-imposed term limits and took control of the SLFP, leaving Mahinda as just a civilian.
This is the point where a normal person would give up, but no.
Mahinda couldn’t believe he lost anymore than Donald Trump could believe that he won. He wanted it back — the houses, the cars, the money, the power, the respect.
So, Mahinda ran for Parliament and was seated as a lowly MP. He also broke the SLFP basically in half — 46 MPs for him, 49 MPs for Sirisena.
This split the SLFP as a political force and allowed the UNP to run a minority government, calling it a coalition.
And that’s where we’re at now.
The Local Government Elections
Mahinda is out for at least a few years, but he’s testing out his powers in the upcoming local government elections.
Given the shitty economy, higher taxes, and corruption scandals, the UNP should probably lose, but they may not. This election, Mahinda has formally split the SLFP, forming the unfortunately acronymed SLPP, running under the lotus bud symbol.
Despite their inability to file papers correctly, they’re still running across the country and will likely take votes from the SLFP. Maybe not enough to let the UNP win, but who knows.
Sri Lanka is not a country know for politicians that move on. JR Jayawadena famously hung around till he got ultimate power, and his nephew Ranil long overstayed his welcome to become a powerful PM.
Nothing Mahinda is doing is unusual and it may even succeed. It’s just sad to see a party and consequently a country constipated because of one man’s desire for power. The SLFP could renew itself and form an actual opposition, but not while fighting an ex-President.
These local government elections, at least, put Mahinda’s popular appeal to the test. People can either back his SLPP or embarass it. Hopefully he’ll take it as a sign. Mahinda should either shit or get off the pot.