Demoralised voters to choose ‘lesser evil’
by Melani Manel Perera

Sri Lankans go to the polls tomorrow to elect a new president. After the two frontrunners – Ranasinghe Premadasa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa – a third candidate stands out, Anura Kumara Dissanayaka. The Sirisena administration betrayed all its “electoral promises”. Corruption and debts are up; the economy and poverty are worse; a new civil war is feared; and the country has become the “playground” of world powers.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Sri Lankans go to the polls tomorrow to choose a new president without much hope, forced to choose the lesser evil. Forecasting the outcome is also difficult, this according to some experts who spoke to AsiaNews

Some 35 candidates are running for president, including two Buddhist monks and one woman, but experts expect the race to be between two men: Sajith Premadasa, 52, son of assassinated President Ranasinghe Premadasa, and Gotabaya Rajapaksa, 70, brother of former President and strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Most Sri Lankans are not overly enthusiastic about either one, tired of too many unkept promises. Tomorrow, around 15.5 million of them will vote in a country still reeling from the heart-breaking Easter Sunday attacks in which 263 people were killed.

When asked Who will win, some people refuse to answer. When asked what change they expect, the reaction is not very positive.

Prof Sumanasiri Liyanage, a senior economist, expects that, based on Prof Vijeysandaran’s forecast, Gotabaya Rajapaksa should win.

In 2015 Maithripala Sirisena won with a margin of 400,000 votes. Anura Kumara Dissanayaka, who is running for the People's Liberation Front (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, a Communist Party], “could get 400,000 and 700,000 votes.”

“From all counts,” the Sirisena administration (2015-2019), “has been a failure. It has failed to address any issues. Moreover, the level of corruption has increased.” Most “Tamils and Muslims should vote for Premadasa. Thus, no significant change will happen.”

For Br Rehan Derrick Fernando, a Jesuit who is doing his doctorate in Texas, “Anura Kumara should win. This is the first time a left-wing party has emerged in Sri Lankan politics.”

“However, it is difficult to make predictions because there is no real support among voters in the northeast, even if the Tamils ​​are familiar with leftist politics. By contrast, the Sinhalese in the West support the corrupt dominant parties and expect favours from corrupt politicians.”

According to the Jesuit, "if one of the major parties wins, there is no doubt that a civil war will follow. I have worked in many areas in the north-east devastated by the conflict and I am convinced of what I say.

“If, on the other hand, Anura Kumara wins, regular people might have a better future. I do not say that the country would become a paradise, but at least corruption would disappear.”

Kumudu Kusum Kumara is less sanguine. "Nothing will change,” says the retired professor at the University of Colombo. “The only thing we achieved in the past in the name of change was just more chaos.

"We have not been able to find a lasting solution to our greatest national problem, namely the conflict between the State and ethnic communities, Tamils ​​and Muslims, and between the latter and the nationalist elements in the Sinhalese Buddhist majority."

From an economic point of view, "we have come to rely on the policies of neoliberalism, which have worsened the economy even more. The so-called development centred on mega-projects with large-scale foreign loans did not benefit the poor, but overwhelmed us with debts that people must repay through higher taxes.

“Wage disparities have deepened. Malnutrition has increased in the weaker sections of society. From a geopolitical point of view, the country has become a playground for foreign powers.”

Democracy, "understood as equality of citizens and popular sovereignty, has come to an end. A corrupt political class has taken over the government, subordinating ideals to their own interest.

“Academics whose role is to present a critical outlook to society have abandoned their obligation and become appendages of political parties.

“People fear they will lose the freedom they won with great difficulty on January 8th 2015,” he adds. “In the North and the East people are worried about their basic security.” In the end, “most people will vote for the lesser evil, not the best programme.”