Colombo Telegraph

August Elections: A Display Of Electoral Maturity?

By C. Narayanasuwami

C. Narayanasuwami

Some of the distinguishing features of the recently concluded parliamentary elections are worthy of review. We have witnessed a democratic revolution wherein the Sri Lankan citizens have exercised their right to vote in a cautious but optimistic and mature manner as never seen before. Both in the South and in the North people have overwhelmingly supported democratic reforms and good governance. However, the level of support obtained by UPFA signals that it is not a spent force and that it will survive to ‘fight’ another day. It is here that the new government, both in form and structure, will have to prove its capabilities to deliver development, peace, tranquillity and above all reconciliation and good governance.

An analysis of election results shows that there was more than ordinary interest in voting, judging by the large turnout estimated at over 70%-something that has happened sparingly in electoral history. Substantial increase in the vote base for UNP suggests that a larger turnout was in its favour while UPFA retained its vote base of over 4.8 million (2010) with only a marginal reduction of around 100,000 votes in 2015. A significant increase in the UNP vote base from 2.3 million in 2010 to 5.1 million, more than double that of 2010, signifies that the younger generation opted for change and that there was interest among the rich and the poor to create a stable government that would offer durable peace and economic development.

UPFA’s retention of its vote base, particularly in the southern and north central electoral districts, suggests that a key section of the Sri Lankan population continue to support pseudo nationalistic and divisive policies. There is a danger that this may be used as a rallying point to stir up discontent and communal disharmony at the slightest efforts towards devolution, reconciliation and development. Some statements made after election victory by elected representatives suggest that a watchful eye would be kept to portray benign attempts to devolve as separatist endeavours. There is therefore a need to watch out for breakdown of law and order and legislate against hate mongering and racism. There should be adequate recognition that Sri Lanka is wedded to pluralistic democracy respecting the sovereign rights of all communities. Using the communal bandwagon for achieving success in elections would most likely disappear in the future if the right policies and legislative measures are adopted to ensure that fair play, justice and equality in treatment remain as essential ingredients for nation building.

Notwithstanding the above reservations, an interesting feature of the August 2015 elections, besides the high turnout, is the beating taken in several constituencies by ultra-nationalistic, racist and divisive elements in both the South and the North. The maturity displayed by many electorates in this regard is a silver lining in the cloud.

The elections of January 8 and August 17 of this year have clearly proven two things, first, Sri Lanka’s indivisibility is a foregone conclusion, and second, minority support is a crucial element for the success and sustainability of democratic processes and good governance. The lesson here is that people have begun to realise the fundamentals of the Sri Lankan pluralistic society and have accepted that there should be peace and harmony among communities for rule of law, good governance and economic development to prevail.

Another significant achievement of the August 17 election is that for the first time in decades an election free of violence, fear and anxiety was conducted within the existing framework of democratic institutions which took the lead in providing voters a safe, peaceful and secure environment – the army was not anywhere in the picture as in the past. It is to the credit of the President and the Prime Minister that the principles of good governance were implemented in good faith to the satisfaction of both the victors and the vanquished. The commendable performance of the Elections Commissioner in this regard has been unprecedented and deserves special mention.

The people have spoken. What is next is in the minds of all citizens! The results of the election provide an opportunity for the formation of a national government which would, among others, forge unity, establish common development goals that would ensure the systematic development of all areas in the country, irrespective of race or geographic location, and push through a program of action that meets the priority needs of the population in terms of economic development, employment generation, education, health and infrastructure expansion. Sri Lanka is in the threshold of a new beginning where new political alliances, dynamic shifts in socio-economic policies and enlightened foreign policy alignments would play a crucial role in determining its future development options.

*The writer-Member of the Former Ceylon Civil Service and retired Asian Development Bank Senior Professional

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