A tremendous achievement under PR

The people have spoken. And the message seems loud and clear. They want to hand over a strong and stable government to President Mahinda Rajapaksa to govern this country for the next six years.
Despite the quite unsavoury - and equally unnecessary - incidents in Trincomalee and Nawalapitiya voters at last Thursday’s general election have granted an overwhelming mandate to the ruling United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA).

Critics may argue that the government did not obtain the two-thirds majority in Parliament that they asked for. The voter turnout was also a record low. These arguments, although with some merit, cannot take away the gloss of the ruling party’s convincing win.

That it came under a Proportional Representation (PR) system that was designed to prevent such steam-rolling majorities is remarkable. By the same token it must be viewed as a serious indictment on the collective opposition; obviously, the majority of the people and the opposition are on different wavelengths.
In the run up to the poll, there was some apprehension in the ruling party. It was an open secret that the party’s parliamentarians were not as popular as their President. It was thought that the mandate the President obtained at his re-election may be diluted by a marginal majority in Parliament.

That the people went ahead and granted an absolute majority to the UPFA is an indication of the faith they have placed in the ruling party in as much as their lack of confidence in the main opposition parties, the United National Party (UNP) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP).
From a national perspective, perhaps a key trend that emerged from the election is the ruling party’s surprising showing in the North and East, where they consistently emerged second only to the regional Illankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) pushing the UNP to the third slot.

It must be noted that the UNP has been traditionally seen as the more minority-friendly party among the two major parties in the South. This view was endorsed at the January presidential poll when General Sarath Fonseka, the UNP-backed candidate won all the districts in the North and East.
Now, that seems to have changed. It may be premature to read too much into Thursday’s results in the North and East just yet, but this could well be an indication that the voters in those regions have become pragmatic, acknowledging that they could probably get a better deal backing a ruling party.
There will of course be the usual post-poll scenarios: the obituaries of the politically dead, the euphoria among those entering Parliament for the first time and the jostling for plum portfolios - and of course the premiership - in the new government.

There will also most probably be some backroom brokering with opposition MPs because the ruling party would just fall short of a two-thirds majority by about a half a dozen or so seats, but we have now come to accept that as part and parcel of Sri Lankan politics.
Nevertheless, what the newly elected government must comprehend is that, just because it was re-elected with a rousing mandate, this would not amount to an endorsement of all that they were responsible for in the past six years.

The President has clearly spelt out his vision. Now that the war is over, the time has come to rebuild the nation. For this, he wished to have a stable government. That is what he has been given. Now, the new government has to perform and deliver the goods.
The government-elect will do well to dwell on the respective campaigns of the two major opposition parties: the UNP campaigned on a platform of better economic management and the JVP clamoured for good governance.
While it is true that the people have, by and large rejected the UNP and the JVP, it does not necessarily mean that the thrust of their campaigns are ideals not worth striving for. A better economy will benefit all. Good governance will raise Sri Lanka’s stock in the eyes of the international community.

Perhaps even more than these twin issues, we also need to look towards the North and East and redress the grievances of the people in those regions. The rationale for them to be considered as equal citizens should not cease just because the war was won and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were defeated.
If constitutional reforms are needed to do so, we are almost certain they could be enacted, now that the government has a convincing majority in Parliament. A two-thirds working majority is surely possible under a President who demonstrated over the past five years that politics is indeed the art of the possible.

We wish the new government well. But it must also remember that it has miles to go and many promises to keep. Just as much as the mandate it received on Thursday was overwhelming, so is its responsibility to now do justice to the faith the people have reposed in them.