3 October, 2023


On Your Marks, Get Set – For The Weakest Parliament To Face The Gravest Crises

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

The country has been on its marks for nearly five months for Wednesday’s election. There have been false starts given the long wait. Now it is time to ‘get set’, in track and field terminology. Get set for what? “When the gun go off, the race be over,” the disgraced Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson predicted before his scandalously record shattering 100 meter dash at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. The race seems to be over in this week’s election even before the people have fired their voting guns. 

Victory is seemingly assured for the SLPP. The question is whether the Rajapaksa Party will set a new ground record with a two-thirds majority in a proportional representation election. There are other mini bets going on among political bookies. Who will come second: Ranil’s almost-dead UNP, or Sajith’s struggling-to-be born SJB? How well or badly will the JVP do? Will there be a new challenger to the TNA in the shrinking Tamil universe? How divided will be the Muslim vote? And will the Thondaman scion be able to deliver upcountry Tamil votes to the SLPP the way his forefathers delivered them to the UNP?  

Whichever way these questions get answered as the votes get counted the day after the election, there is not going to be much of a difference in the new parliament. For, as I wrote last week, a majority of the 188 sitting MPs who are running again are likely to get re-elected in spite of the deep revulsions that most people have against almost all of them. The really bad apples are equally distributed between the SLPP/SLFP and the UNP/SJB. 

The only way to prevent at least the worst among them from returning to parliament, is to elect new MPs from outside the four (SLPP/SLFP and UNP/SJB) Parties. And this can only happen in the South where it matters, if at least a dozen or more new  JVP/NPP MPs get elected on Wednesday. Whether the country can muster sufficient electoral wisdom to accomplish this, we will know on Thursday. 

The JVP’s Vijitha Herath has told Chandani Kirinde of the Daily Financial Times (Friday, August 31) that his Party “would not allow the repeal of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution and would join forces with any Party in the next Parliament to block any such moves.” This is courageous and encouraging, something to which Ranil Wickremesinghe and Sajith Premadasa have not committed themselves so far. Resistance is not part of their political DNA. 

Already, there are worries among civil society activists who worked hard for the enactment of 19A that even if the government does not get a two-thirds majority in the election, it will find a way to buy out enough MPs from the UNP and the SJB to get it after the election. That will be their path of least resistance if there is no JVP in parliament strong enough to mobilize resistance to repealing 19A. A good dozen of them (JVP) can make a world of difference in parliament. They can save what is being set up to be the weakest parliament in Sri Lankan history from becoming its worst as well. 

During the last five years, it was often said and heard that Ranil Wickremesinghe plays the long game in politics. That is, he keeps a distant focus, is not ruffled by all the setbacks around him, and keeps moving slowly in the right direction. Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ranil Wickremesinghe started early in politics and have lived with it for 50 and 43 years, respectively. Mahinda Rajapaksa has seen and achieved everything a Sri Lankan politician can possibly accomplish. Ranil Wickremesinghe too, except the coveted presidency. 

We can only say that Mr. Wickremesinghe has played too long a game in politics, over too long a period, and it is now time for him to settle down over a card game of Patience or Solitaire. They are not long games, but they can be played endlessly to turn them into a long game to no end. If it is game over for Ranil Wickremesinghe, what is in the game for Mahinda Rajapaksa? President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is at a different point in his political game. He started late in politics, but he became President without wasting any time in parliament, unlike his older brother. What will he do with his presidency? That is the question. 

1960 parallels

Although the circumstances are drastically different, there are similarities between the aftermaths of the July 1960 election and August 2020 election. The hallmarks of the 1960-64 SLFP government were overall incompetence, economic mismanagement, and the total repudiation of the efforts of SWRD Bandaranaike to settle the Tamil question. Between July 1960 and June 1964, there were four finance ministers, and the fifth one, Dr. NM Perera, lasted six months from June to December 1964, when the first coalition government fell. There was Satyagraha in Jaffna, a failed military coup, and the prolonged detention of all MPs of the Federal Party. The economy began its downward slide, with unemployment and the balance of payments becoming chronic scourges. 

The SLFP government lost the elections in 1965, and when it returned to power in 1970, it was the two Left Parties (the LSSP and the CP) that were left to do all the heavy lifting: on the economy, the constitution and the plantations, and transport and housing. Philip Gunawardena and William de Silva had played a similar role in the first SLFP/MEP government under SWRD Bandaranaike. The objective outcomes of coalition politics were undoubtedly the weakening of the left movement and the disenchantment of the youth, but the main SLFP purpose in coalition politics was not to forestall a social revolution but to compensate for SLFP incompetence by aligning with the Left and its “golden brains.” Even the electoral no-contest pacts were a secondary purpose. How are these relevant today?

The SLPP incompetence and its cabinet material today are far worse than those of the SLFP in 1960-64. Even if you compare head to head the four SLFP Finance Ministers, whom Mrs. Bandaranaike tried before turning to NM for rescue, with the SLPP ministers today (the election is not going to make a difference), you would see that each one of the old SLFPers being heads and shoulders above their SLPP counterparts today. Felix Dias, though he was too clever for his own good, would wipe the floor of parliament with any SLPPer of today. CP de Silva, Permanent Secretary and later Minister, was in a lofty league of his own, that nobody now can even touch. PBG Kalugalla and TB Ilangaratne were not intimidating intellectuals, but they had strong political constituencies and loads of political experience. They were party stalwarts and not family placeholders.   

There is no Left, like there was in the 1960s, to which the President can turn, like Mrs. Bandaranaike did in 1964, for assistance in competence. Instead, he is turning to the military for reinforcement. It was different in 1962, when Sirima Bandaranaike and her  government had to put down a military coup that was being prepared to take over the country because the government was incompetent in the minds of the military. Now there is creeping takeover of the country not by any military coup but by military task forces, because the civilian administration is incompetent in the mind of an elected civilian President.  

Most of all, the challenges facing the country today are far more severe and intractable than those in 1960, or any time in Sri Lanka’s modern history. The mismatch between government competence and the severity of challenges has never been so unmanageable. Can the executive presidency, which nobody could even imagine in 1960, make a difference? Apparently not. The President wants a two-thirds majority in parliament before he can make any difference. He wants more power in parliament to increase his own powers and reduce the cabinet of ministers and the parliament itself to being rubber stamps of the executive. 

In other words, Gotabaya Rajapaksa wants a two-thirds powerful parliament to make it even more powerless than it was under JR Jayewardene or Mahinda Rajapaksa. The irony is that a former president and the older brother of the current president is set up to reap the effects of a newly emaciated parliament. Unless a sizeable section of the electorate and the JVP’s political stars come together to upset an otherwise foregone outcome.   

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Latest comments

  • 16

    In the govt of MR – upto 2015, they enjoyed even more than 2/3 mandate in the parliaement. Entire world was against them to that point in time. Only Swaziland, Angola or few other idiotic states were the allies of Mahinda BP Rajapkshe. They themselves louded, that MR would be brought before Hague for alleged war crimes, and sending such fearing message,s they wanted to get reelected. This time. …. having done nothing during last 9 months, now again, trying to manipulate the easy mindsets who are majority and ruin their future.
    In MR s administration, the current president was the defence secretaray and his brother Basil the most known 10% and other brother Chamal were the powerful ministers and the speaker of that parliament respectively. MRs sons were given absolute powers also to destroy the freedom of colombo dewellers allwoing those bastard sons to go on night car races.: All these were dictorial acts of Mahinda Rajapakshe.. They even destroyed the vicinity of TOOTH RELIC TEMPLE by allowing bastard sons to hold night car races. All these were seen as acts of a dictator.

    • 4

      Do not get fooled.
      As d-day gets closer and closer by the second the entire Rajapuka mongrel gang is are desperately trying to boost their deflated Kota Uda mental mind to fool the voting public that they are almost there close to obtaining the dream of a 2/3rd majority they are seeking to play havoc with the constitution especially the 19th amendment which had put a stop to their boru hora ambitious greedy plans.
      I implore the esteemed voters please do not get fooled by this big-time ball talk.
      Think twice before you mark the x on the voting paper.
      It is now the right time of an opportunity to give these criminal money power greedy ganankarraya gangsters a real kick onto their backsides from which they will be got rid of forever and ever.

      • 1

        Yes. Rajafucksas and their slave media are spreading out a false sense of confidence that they will win 2/3.

        No chance! Not even 130 seats.

        People must use their vote to save democracy and the lives. Vote SJB or JVP. Your vote counts. By 2024 you will be glad you didn’t vote for bloodshed, racism, economic disaster and national collapse.

  • 11

    I don’t know the ground situation. But I don’t know whether any one knows the ground situation. Media is under the full control of Rajapakse’s. Monks are under the Rajapakse’s. So, only the voice we heard from Rajapakse machinery. UNP is divided and it looks like one of the faction is working for Rajapakses. As the writer pointed out 188 out of 196 are coming back again to fill the chairs. It is now easy to buy MPs from these 188, probably cheaper or in some cases without any deals. However, this time none of them will get ministerial posts because this is the last time for the so called parliament. Even though Mahinda become prime minister again. It looks like weerawanse and Gammanwila may wear yellow cloths.

    • 8

      If some of the 188 returnees get elected the power can be swayed with new
      “Files” now that the Police can be commanded to do so, for the 2/3rd – which Basil may
      have manipulated by now.

      The Student voters must ensure a change, with the support of their family members in
      selecting new and young faces and work against any 2/3rd formation – if they believe
      that future Democracy is very important to Sri Lankan citizens.

  • 2

    The outcome is predictable. Our politicians are cheap, have no principles, willing to betray their party, and will jump to snatch the bait the Rajapaksa’s will dangle in front of them, which will be in the millions of Rupees. The Rajapaksa’s know it, and must have already made secretive deals. The days of decent politicians who stand up for party, their dignity, and principals, are long past.

  • 1

    Thanks to the power crazy present Kalla kallathoni of war criminal master bully of a so-called ponna incompetent impotent president, his obnoxious family and the hora mas boruma mangy mongrel morons in the SLPP this poll is a pus wedilla of a damp squib
    Whilst diligently following the sordid happenings from a distance I am able to find out that there is not much enthusiasm or junthu or the mental and physical strength among the punters to elect a make it or break it government for the next 5 years.
    Along with the shock of the corvid-19 which has put the economically taking a bad hit especially after the fateful poll of 16th November, the suffering voters will not make the long trek to the polling booths in their respective electorates.
    Come what may be those who decide to cast their sacred most holy piece of voting paper must make sure that the UNP/SJB/TNA/JVP/SLMC and the other political or independent contenders make mincemeat out of them the rampaging SLPP mongrels who have to be converted into also-ran runners .+.

  • 9

    Good piece. As usual RP hits the nail, many nails, on the head.

  • 6

    Most probably SLPP will not get a 2/3 majority.

    Thanks to the dynamics of proportional representation system as practiced in Sri Lanka.

    But there is a possibility that 2/3 could be realized through horse trading after the election..

    This immoral, unethical majority is illegal, resisted and prevented at all costs.

    Only reasonable is the 2/3 obtained through all party consensuses as happened in the case of 17A and 19A.

  • 4

    “Between July 1960 and June 1964, there were four finance ministers, and the fifth one, Dr. NM Perera, lasted six months from June to December 1964, when the first coalition government fell. There was Satyagraha in Jaffna, a failed military coup, and the prolonged detention of all MPs of the Federal Party. The economy began its downward slide, with unemployment and the balance of payments becoming chronic scourges.”
    The writer forgets important pages of history.
    Did the coalition government fall or was brought down by a conspiracy involving the buying over of key SLFP MPs as well as the thoughtlessness of two LSSP(R) MPs, who were otherwise more honourable than LSSP’s leadership.
    What was the coup about? Do we claim that it had nothing to do with the nationalization of oil companies?
    I wonder why the coup is located between the Satyagraha and the prolonged detention of the FP MPs. (It was not just the MPs. There were many more satyagrahis detained. Several of them were released early on the pledge that they will not indulge in anti-state activities, and that includes the present leader of the TNA. Also the detainees were in one building and had very little restriction placed on them. But what use did they make of that privilege?)

  • 3

    Even after winning the war, Rajapaksas fell short of 150 seats. The won 149. Thereafter SLMC, UPF and some UNPers joined in. They had 164 seats at some point.

    Obviously SLPP is not as popular as the UPFA in 2010 April. MR won 58% in 2010 but GR managed only 52% in 2019.

    The maximum they can get is 125 seats. Voters must not waste their vote to the UNP and other fringe parties. Vote for SJB or JVP even if you do not like anyone. It is a vote to retain democracy.

  • 0

    Dear Rajan

    Thank you. Can you kindly write an article about the NPC ever since TNA took over stewardship as the elected during their tenure please.

    Please do not talk about the Judge/Chief Minister nor the TNA and what did and could do……..but independently write about the structure provided (ministries/funds provided by the GOSL) for the function and how this was explained to people and the respective ministries and how they functioned woking with the GA (do not even talk about the individual GA’s). Please do not go into personalities but talk about the efforts made and things available for us learn and implement things to city planning to educational matters such as environmental issues/waste management/water management….write something about how the administration went about dealing with daily needs of the people please. This is after a savage war as the back drop.

  • 0

    Please also do. to talk about all the things such as the Tamil history, jailed, prisoned, missing and the trail for the killing of the innocent Tamil in the final phase of the war.

    Please talk about how the diaspora helped the achievements making available all the expertise (A London Council was one of them) and list their origins/nationalities/nations/qualifications/expertise that was made available to the NPC for the development work (development work is not about building concrete jungles and cover the land with tar etc).

    Leaving the GOSL and army and the land they taken up up deterred the intellectual property not knowing how to work around wold be great??

    It is time we evaluate our capabilities for ourselves/the diaspora mirage/intentions/actual love and know how/dedications/what was really made available for this NPC by the Ceylonese Singaporean/Malaysians/Tamil Nadu experts/Western Tamil expert flocking to assist the NPC???

  • 0

    Then we will get to the importance for a “life list of people” who will pledge/sign unto help with their wealth/dedication/sacrifice/expertise (we will know exactly what they are)/life to empower the Jaffna Tamil etc etc. I will become the custodian of this life document.Thiagarajah Venugopal

    We will learn something very real from this not about all we writing for the past 70 years but “self look” of who we are and how we survived to date? real ability or a deceived perceptions/hallucinations?? My Father school Karainagar Hindu College says…be honest to ourselves in all we do…….shall we set an example in public and invite to create such “Life” documentation useful for future tasks please.

    • 0

      Even to talk about Separatism/Devolution we needed this anyway……now for whatever to come we can count on all the listed people and their diverse expertise in Nation Building (in our case Ghetto Building) for future planning……time to walk the talk without the guns pointing at us for a change. Can I expect all the commentary pandits from all the developed Nations to date who is been so critical about our GOSL to commit to this agenda please??

      Then we make the Agenda/Planning from the feed back in the forum itself……we will see how this goes a good measure even for the GOSL to take note/communicate with the respective individual for the rest of the Nations needs too…..maybe even expertise hired as a business too??

  • 1

    RP :you mean
    “On with your masks-get-set….”

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