the stalwarts of the ruling United Peoples’ Freedom
Alliance (UPFA) would have been pleasantly surprised
at the outcome of Thursday’s general election: the
party scored a more than convincing win, sweeping
all the districts in the South and most electoral
divisions as well.
As there will be a re-poll in
Trincomalee and Nawalapitya because of election
malpractices in those two electoral divisions, the
exact tally the UPFA obtained is as yet uncertain
but it is likely to be between 140 and 144 seats - a
few seats tantalisingly short of the two-thirds
majority that the UPFA asked for.
The main opposition party, the
United National Party (UNP) is likely to obtain
around 60 seats-or just less than that. While the
Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) will obtain about
seven seats, the Illankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK)
will obtain about 15 seats.
By any standards, obtaining a near
two-thirds majority under a proportional
representation system is a tremendous achievement.
That it was done under a popular President and just
after defeating terrorism no doubt helped, but that
should not undermine the magnitude of the mandate.
For President Mahinda Rajapaksa and
his new government, the question is what next? The
UPFA campaigned for a two-thirds majority which it
may not achieve. Thus, there will no doubt be
overtures made to opposition Parliamentarians to
support them, probably in return for the perks of
Critics will of course argue that this is unethical
and that crossovers are not tenable when you have
been elected on the strength of the votes obtained
by another party, but the President has demonstrated
that he is a master at this game and Thursday’s
results will make him determined to touch the
There is a rider, though. The President publicly
promised that the next cabinet would be no more than
thirty five ministers. If he were to accommodate
half a dozen or so ‘cross-over’ MPs in the cabinet,
that would prune his numbers to about thirty
ministers from his own party.
This will no doubt be a bitter pill
to swallow for the dozens who enjoyed cabinet
privileges before. But with President Rajapaksa now
firmly in control it is unthinkable that those who
are deprived of portfolios will dare defy him.
Much more than the ruling party, we wish to focus on
the plight of the opposition, particularly the UNP
and the JVP. The UNP publicly stated it expected at
least seventy five seats; they would be about
fifteen seats short of that target.
Moreover, it is the worst showing by
an opposition party under the proportional
representation (PR) system. That it comes after the
ruling party was in power for all but three years of
the past sixteen years is an indication that the UNP
has failed to grasp the popular political philosophy
of the masses.
We noted in these pages last week that the UNP was
in danger of being relegated to just one seat in the
districts of Matale, Polonnaruwa and Moneragala.
That is precisely what happened. To add insult to
injury, the solitary candidate elected from
Moneragala is Ranjith Madduma Bandara.
Madduma Bandara, it will be
recalled, was embroiled in a controversy over
submitting an altered nomination list. Subsequently,
UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe took the
unprecedented step of publicly requesting the voters
of Moneragala not to vote for him and they have
ignored his advice.
In addition, several staunch Wickremesinghe
loyalists were defeated at the poll, the most
notable among them being Vajira Abeywardena in
Galle. Also out are Sagala Ratnayake (Matara) and
Renuka Herath (Nuwara Eliya). Wickremesinghe will be
weaker as a result as the knives no doubt will be
out for him.
A defeat of this magnitude can only
demoralise the UNP further. There will probably be a
further haemorrhage of a few elected stalwarts to
the ruling UPFA in the next few days. Therefore, the
UNP now more than ever desperately needs to not only
re-organise but to refocus as well.
It does seem as if the UNP expected to be re-elected
by default because this government had been in
office long enough and that did not happen. And, it
is worthwhile to remember that it will not
automatically happen in 2016 as well!
From the JVP perspective, their poor
showing was widely expected. Their nearly 40-seat
representation in the 2004 Parliament was an
exaggeration of their vote base and largely because
of an agreement they had with the UPFA. Now they
have been reduced to less than ten seats and that is
a cause for concern.
The JVP is known to resort to confrontational
politics in the pursuit of power. It fathered two
insurrections in 1971 and 1989. Over the last twenty
years, it has re-entered the democratic mainstream
and stayed put, not straying from the straight and
narrow path of parliament to win its demands.
Now that its strength has dwindled,
perhaps it ought to consider an ideological shift if
it wishes to pursue its goal of being the genuine
‘third party’ in Lankan politics. The entry of
General Sarath Fonseka into its ranks could well be
a catalyst for such a change, without which it risks
political oblivion in the long term.
In the North, the ITAK - the Tamil National Alliance
(TNA) by another name - also needs to be wary. It
has retained its position as the dominant political
force in the region but the ruling UPFA and not the
UNP has made inroads into its vote.
Over the next six years, the UPFA
Government will be keen to pour in funds to the
region for the development of infrastructure that
was ravaged during the war and at the end of that
period, the ruling party would expect a return on
that investment in terms of votes and that could
If the UPFA is able to combine such development
efforts with a political solution to the grievances
of those in the North and East, it will be a hard
sell that the Northern and Eastern voter will find
difficult to resist and that is when the TNA could
be marginalised in the same manner as the JVP in the
These are interesting projections for the immediate
future of the Sri Lankan political landscape. But
for the moment, the focus will be on concluding the
election with the re-poll in the affected areas and
then announcing the who’s-who in the new government,
a much anticipated event anyway.