This is my Nation  


Touching the 150-seat mark

Even 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 cabinet office.
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 150-seat mark.
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 well happen.
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 south.
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.