|Re-alignment of political
forces in the coming weeks
dust has not yet settled on the presidential
election, and controversy rages on, but Sri Lanka
must soon gear itself for yet another poll: The
general election. The six-year tenure of the current
Parliament expires late April, and a new Parliament
has to be convened.
Given the fact that the ruling United Peoples’
Freedom Alliance (UPFA) candidate, President Mahinda
Rajapaksa emerged victorious at the presidential
election, the Alliance will be keen to cash in on
the ‘snow-balling’ effect of that poll. Therefore,
the general election will be announced very shortly.
In many ways however, the general election would
be radically different from the presidential poll.
As it would also determine the composition of the
next Parliament, it will define the Legislature with
which President Rajapaksa would have to work with in
his second term.
The President’s second term itself was fast
becoming a bone of contention in political circles,
with some arguing that it should begin right now,
and others at the opposite end of the political
spectrum contending that it would only begin when he
concludes his first term of office in November 2011.
To his credit, the President adopted a very
statesman-like approach, referring the matter to the
highest court in the land, the Supreme Court. A
seven-judge Bench concluded that it should begin in
November 2010. More importantly, a vexed
Constitutional conundrum had been decided in the
best way possible.
With that decided, battle lines are now being drawn
again between the ruling UPFA and the Opposition,
for the general election. It does appear however,
that the UPFA’s initial plans for this poll would
have to be revised somewhat now.
It will be recalled that President Rajapaksa, in
his final campaign rally, hinted at abolishing the
Proportional Representation (PR) system, saying that
the ‘manaapa kramaya’ will be no more. Indeed,
having the general election under the
First-Past-The-Post system would have been very
advantageous to the UPFA.
But to do so, the UPFA would have had to rush
through a Constitutional amendment that would
require a two-thirds majority (150 seats) in the
current Parliament. There was some attempt to do
this, because the Alliance has some 140 members
already, but it has been shelved now.
Instead, the UPFA is confident that, if general
elections are held soon after the presidential
election, it would result in voter apathy in the
Opposition, and with the domino-effect of the
presidential poll thrown in, a two-thirds majority
in the new Parliament is still a possibility, even
under the PR system.
A significant factor in this calculation is the
mess the Opposition finds itself in. For the
presidential election, the Opposition presented a
united front, glued together by two factors: Their
support for General Sarath Fonseka and their common
goal of abolishing the executive presidency.
In fact, even during the presidential election
campaign, when questions were raised about a future
government under a potentially victorious General
Fonseka, the answer was that the constituent parties
of the Opposition alliance would contest the general
But now, it is crunch time for the Opposition.
General Fonseka did not win the election and, as a
result, the the United National Party (UNP), the
Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), the Sri Lanka
Muslim Congress (SLMC) and the Sri Lanka Freedom
Party (SLFP)- Mahajana wing have to decide where
On the one hand, they have difficulty in agreeing on
key issues. The economic policies of the UNP and the
JVP, for instance, are diametrically opposite. On
the other hand, going their separate ways could
spell disaster for the entire Opposition. That is
the dilemma they have to contend with.
For the moment though, the Opposition alliance is
still intact. What holds them together right now is
the dispute over the presidential election results,
which the Opposition claims has been tampered with.
Wednesday’s joint Opposition rally to protest
against the outcome of the poll was somewhat
It is likely that the Opposition will, however,
distance itself from the Tamil National Alliance
(TNA). It is the perception of many in the UNP and
the JVP, that taking the TNA into its fold at the
presidential election cost them dearly in terms of
votes in the South.
While the SLMC will be keen to contest in the
East and test its political strength in the region,
other Opposition parties are still likely to allow
the TNA to contest by itself in the North and East.
In any event, contesting in these two provinces
would be a logistical nightmare for both the UNP and
But the big question is whether these two parties
will join forces for the general election. There is
pressure from the rank and file of the UNP yet
again, to revert to the revered ‘elephant’ symbol,
and it is highly unlikely that the JVP will be
agreeable to accede to this request.
The UNP hierarchy also knows what it would mean
to accommodate the JVP on its list: The SLFP did so
in 2004 and are still paying for it, because the JVP
nominated only a few candidates for each list,
resulting in more preferences for these candidates.
Consequently, there were 39 JVP MPs in Parliament.
What General Sarath Fonseka would opt to do would
also be interesting. Certainly, after having won 40%
of the popular vote at the presidential poll, he can
easily get elected to Parliament, but whether he can
fashion a political outfit of his own is debatable.
A more likely scenario is for the General to
align himself with one of the major Opposition
parties, the UNP or the JVP. In this context, it
must be noted that, it was the JVP, rather than the
UNP, which first mooted a Fonseka candidacy for the
Tactics, therefore, are being thought afresh and
political strategists are burning the midnight oil
these days. The coming weeks will see a plenty of
moves and counter moves, with the possible
re-alignment of political forces. But then,
elections are a necessary evil, if we claim to be in
a vibrant democracy.