Colombo Telegraph

National Government; A Golden Opportunity To Resolve The National Question

By Veluppillai Thangavelu

Veluppillai Thangavelu

The inaugural sessions of the 8th parliament took place on September 01, 2015. After the election of speaker, the deputy speaker and the deputy chairman of parliament committees, newly elected members of parliament took oaths before the speaker. There were 60 new faces, almost a third, compared to the last parliament.

For the first time in history the LSSP failed to secure even a single seat in parliament. Sri Lanka Communist Party did not fare better. It had a solitary member from Matara electorate. One reason for the obliteration of these parties is the failure to get appointments through the National List. The names of Tissa Vitarana and D.E.W. Gunasekara were removed from the original national list following the election results. Even the great survivor G.L. Peiris who batted for Mahinda Rajapaksa was left out to fend for himself.

The swearing in of the cabinet took place on the 3rd of September. Though, the 20th Amendment to the constitution restricts the number of cabinet ministers to 30, the number has been increased to 48 by the parliament. The motion was carried by 143 voting in favour, 63 abstentions and all 16 members of the TNA voting against it. The cabinet slots are shared between the UNFGG and the SLFP in the ratio of 31:11. The newly elected Leader of the Opposition R. Sampanthan has criticised the jumbo cabinet as too bloated compared to other countries, notably neighbouring India. India has only 65 cabinets Minister for a population of 1.25 billion, that is 60 times the size of Sri Lanka. To the number of cabinet posts must be added 48 Deputy Ministers! That means more than half the MPs are ministers.

Earlier the Sessions of the eighth parliament of Sri Lanka was officially declared open by the Head of State President Maithripala Sirisena. Addressing the parliament President Maithripala Sirisena said that the two main political parties will bring about a consensual alliance based on the National Government concept. He added that the main aim of the National Government is to promote reconciliation and economic growth. The president also said his government will continue to crackdown on corruption, fraud and waste and strengthen the institutional structure and will punish those who exploit national resources no matter who they are, and will not hesitate to take them before court.

There was no specific mention about enacting a new constitution to resolve the festering ethnic conflict, but the Prime Minister in his speech did refer to the enactment of a new constitution to forge reconciliation.

Although, polls indicated the results will be close, there was still scepticism whether UNFGG will make it to the winning post. Ranil Wickremesinghe as leader of the UNP has lost a total of 13 elections. It was this factor that compelled the opposition parties to look for someone else with charisma to contest the presidential election. Mahinda Rajapaksa who was popular with the Sinhalese masses was considered unbeatable unless a strong candidate is fielded against him.

Even President Maithripala Sirisena thought that Mahinda Rajapaksa may stage a comeback judging from the enthusiastic crowds that participated in rallies calling for his come back. Hence, President Sirisena’s missive to Rajapaksa that he will not appoint him as Prime Minister even if he wins the elections. President Sirisena gave a list of seven names of senior members of the UPFA and told Mahinda Rajapaksa he will appoint any one of them as Prime Minister.

President Sirisena dissuaded Mahinda Rajapaksa from contesting the elections and opts for an honourable retirement. But Mahinda Rajapaksa was adamant to face the polls and stage a comeback for no other reason he and his extended family faced numerous charges of corruption, misappropriation, human rights violations and even committing murders.

The results of the elections spelt disaster for Mahinda Rajapaksa. It was his second defeat within 8 months a contrast to his winning 2010 presidential elections on January 26th with a majority of 1,842,749 ( 17.13%) followed up with a land-slide victory at the parliamentary elections held on 8th April, 2010. In 2010 the UPFA won 144 seats just 6 short of a two-third majority. The following Table 1 shows the results of the elections held on August 17, 2015.

During the presidential election in January, 2015 the UPFA candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa polled 5,768,090 (47.58). It is evident the UPFA share of votes in the parliamentary election declined by 1,035,436 votes. Unlike during the presidential elections, Mahinda Rajapaksa faced the parliamentary elections minus the state resources he liberally commandeered earlier. Also, like last time Mahinda Rajapaksa playing the communal card failed to secure him any additional votes.

So Mahinda Rajapaksa’s dream of crowning himself as the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka did not materialise. And his grip on the SLFP/UPFA has slipped away. All those who won the election on the UPFA platform have joined the SLFP faction led by Maithripala Sirisena. The SLFP is now come under the firm control of President Sirisena and Chandrika Kumaratunga.

Had the results gone in favour of Mahinda Rajapaksa he would easily become the Prime Minister despite President Sirisena’s opposition. That means an eternal tug a war between Prime Minister Rajapaksa and President Sirisena.

Furthermore, forming a national government consisting both the UNFGG and UPFA would have been well nigh impossible. Now the government led by President Sirisena has the necessary 2/3 majority in the parliament to effect constitutional changes or even enacting a new constitution.

As far the 5 electoral districts in the North and East are concerned the TNA swept Jaffna, Vanni and Batticaloa. The number of votes polled almost tripled and the number seats increased by 2 despite the total seats in Jaffna reduced to 7 from 9. The TNA also lost one seat in Jaffna by just 6 votes. The spoiler was the TNPF/ACTC placed 5th in Jaffna and lost deposits in the remaining 4 districts.

It is interesting to observe that TNPF/ACTC was supported fully both in terms of intense propaganda and liberal funding by the TGTE/GTF/ICET/Voice for Change/Tamils for Obama. What it means is the attempt by Thamils in Diaspora to influence the outcome of the results in Thamil dominated electoral districts ended in complete fiasco.

The following Table 2 gives how the TNA and other parties performed in the 5 electoral districts in the Northeast.

The TNA has performed better than 2010 in all 5 districts. The 2010 elections were held within a year of the war coming to an end. Many IDPs in the North who were confined to refugee camps couldn’t vote. Further, the democratic space was restricted because of the menacing presence of more than 150, 000 armed forces in the North. With the defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa in January, the UPFA was deprived of government funds, media publicity and other influence. At the just concluded parliamentary elections there is relatively more freedom for the people to exercise their franchise.

This is reflected in the Jaffna electoral district where the UPFA /EPDP reduced to just one seat compared to 3 seats in 2010. Even the total votes declined marginally from 47, 622 (32.07%) in 2010 to 47,561, including votes polled (30,252) by EPDP candidate. The UNP also did not fare anything better. It polled 12, 624 votes in 2010 and in 2015 20,025 (6.67%) votes. Had it polled 6 votes less it would have lost the seat to TNA. The TNA’s share of vote increased from 65,119 (43.85%) in 2010 to 207,577 (69.12%) in 2015. In 2010 TNA secured 5 seats out of 9, but in 2015 it secured 5 out of 7 seats. There were many prophets of doom, both in and outside Sri Lanka, who predicted a dent in the voter base of the TNA were proved wrong.

A solution to the National Question has defied successive governments since independence. Therefore, we have to tread cautiously so that we don’t disturb the apple cart by acting rashly.

The formation of a national government consisting of both the SLFP and UNP provide a golden opportunity to resolve the National Question to the satisfaction of all the three communities. It is now or never.

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