The voters of Sri Lanka have with a huge majority cleared the path for a monarchy in the country – the Kingdom of the Rajapaksas – or Rajapaksa Rajya.
The chairman of the victorious Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) says the resounding victory is an achievement without parallel in any country at any time. It brought a two-thirds plus majority in a parliament of 225 members. It is certainly unparalleled in the world where a democracy based on universal franchise has voted to establish a monarchy after seven decades of democratic governance, bringing in the reign of the Rajapaksas – those who support the Royalty.
Its exceptional status globally is how a democracy can move into a realm, ensuring the sovereignty of a single family, moving from universal franchise to a grand revival of the royal or Rajya Rule, that Sri Lanka has had in its history of more than 2,000 years, before democracy came towards the end of British colonial rule in the 1930s. The calls for the revival of the monarchic traditions and feudal trends is not unheard.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, twice President and current Prime Minister, brother – President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and all others in this realm of dominance have gained their peak of power, just as the Royal rulers of the past. The bloodline of the Rajapaksas who dominate the SLPP membership in the new parliament are brothers, sons, nephews and cousins, both old and young, who make the pedigree of the new realm – also possibly not seen anywhere else.
It is a political saga that has beaten all previous political leaders. Getting two-thirds from an election based on proportional representation is certainly bigger than JR Jayewardene’s 1977 five-sixth majority in the old parliament, with lesser seats and elected on first-past-the-post.
The Rajapaksa Rajya now has the power given by the people to have a new constitution, the main call of the SLPP in the polls campaign, with no draft or any details of what the constitution should be, its political goals or aims in governance. One target of the SLPP and Rajapakas is the amendment or removal of the 19th Amendment to the present constitution, adopted by the last parliament, which reduced the authoritative powers of the Executive Presidency, and gave more power to Parliament in the cause of wider democracy.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in his last presidency – 2009 to 2015 – obtained a politically and functionally purchased 2/3 majority in parliament, to remove the two term limit for the President, and extend it to any number of terms; removed the independence of important institutions such as the Elections, Human Rights, Police, and Judicial Service commissions, and bring them under the president’s direction.
Those with faith in democracy, or the sovereignty of the people through the ballot, must now begin to think of how meaningful this sovereignty is or will be once a new constitution is enacted or the 19th Amendment removed. The 19A brought back the presidential term to two, and revived the independence of many state institutions, ensured the Right to Information, and increased the age limit for a president to 35 years from 30, which would have benefitted a younger Rajapaksa in the waiting.
The thinking on a new constitution could very well seek to change all these pro-democratic changes of 19A, and bring in aspects of governance that have much to to with constitutional dominance of the Sinhala-Buddhist majority, as well as amendments, reductions to or removals of the powers of the Provincial Councils and curtailment of already limited minority rights.
There are shortcomings in the 19A which require consensual agreement among parties in parliament. But the availability of a huge two-thirds plus majority to the Rajapaksa Regime does not promise much of such consensus. The one hope the people can have is the need for a national referendum to adopt a new constitution. But, the pro-Rajapaksa thinking of the people that saw the rise of this new regime, has little hope for democratic awareness on the substance of a new constitution.
The Rajapaksas can take pride in their achieving such a decisive victory in a wholly free and fair election, organized so well by an independent Elections Commission, with a polling in excess of 70 percent, and at what hopefully is the tailend of Coronavirus trail. Such pride is not likely to last long as the search for wider dominance over government and people becomes the goal of the realm.
Let’s make no mistake, this search for dominance by a Rajapaksa Regime is what the people wanted, the reality of this electoral democracy. This is what a huge majority showed they wanted in three elections – the last Local Government poll in 1918, the Presidential Election last November, and this General Election.
Sri Lanka has come to the deeper and even deadly political reality of majority rule through the ballot. We have given hope to all political leaders who seek overall dominance away from the democratic values of universal franchise. Sri Lanka will go down in the annals of modern politics as a country that elected a Kingdom from an electorate of citizens, who have shown a desire to be the vassals of the realm. This is clearly what the voters wanted and they have every right to enjoy this victory of democratic choice.
What about those who have been defeated in this rise of a new kingdom. The biggest defeat came to the Elephant, the powerful jumbo of politics, the symbol of the United National Party (UNP) from 1948, which has been thrown even beyond the wild; not winning a single seat in this election. In the UNP’s traditional stronghold of the city of Colombo, even a single lame elephant has not been elected. Looking back at the trend of politics, the leaders of the UNP – Ranil Wickremesinghe and Ravi Karunanayake – both from Colombo, must understand why the people turned against them so harshly and decisively. Mr. Wickremesinghe who obtained a 500,000 plus majority in the 2015 election, could not even get 5 percent for election this time. The UNP gave leadership to the promise of Yahapalana or Good Governance in January 2015. What did it do in the fight against corruption, by the Rajapaksas, that brought the UNP-led alliance to power?
The various institutions of government that are meant to deal with corruption were so slow, weak and twisty in fighting the forces of corruption and fraud, other than many and lengthy days in Remand Custody, without a single member of the previous Rajapaksa regime punished under the law. The people have now shown who needs punishment for this political crookedness. The emergence of the Rajapaksa Rajya is certainly the result of the hugely farcical moves in supposedly fighting corruption that the UNP, and Maithripala Sirisena-led SLFP, shamelessly displayed, through a near five year domain of political cheaters.
The humiliating defeat of Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP shows the people have certainly taken revenge and more for what was done with the two Central Bank Bond Scams.
The voters have avenged those who had crooked deals with a dodgy Governor of the Central Bank, who and which was wrongly under the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe; and the nefarious benefits that the ever forgetful Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake obtained from the Perpetual Swindlers on Treasury Bills. The voters have not forgotten the warped move on a Volkswagen factory and many other moves by the leader and key members of the UNP.
There are many who think the huge defeat of the party with the symbol of the elephant, could be due to the curse of the wild elephants so threatened with death today, on those who have been crookedly silent on mounting dangers faced by the elephants in our jungles today, while using it as a political symbol. Let’s hope the defeat of this political elephant, may lead to the public looking with more concern and sympathy for the elephants being killed so often, with their wild terrain shrinking daily.
It is also noteworthy that a majority of those 145 elected to the SLPP team in parliament, and most of the 19 nominated members of this team, are persons with huge allegations of corruption, many with cases against them in a hugely delayed legal system, and those who were ever willing to be supportive of the corruption of the Rajapaksa government from 2009 to 2015, which corruption led to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s defeat in January 2015.
The winners of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB – United Peoples’ Power) will certainly have to build their own place and positions in the parliament under the new Rajya. Its leader broke away from the UNP on the issue of leadership, with Ranil Wickremesinghe hanging on despite overall failure. There are questions about the leadership capability of Sajith Premadasa, son of former President Ranasinghe Premadasa; but the voters of Colombo stood with him strongly, as they did with his father many years ago. Does the SJB have a line of leadership that can effectively criticise, oppose and also advise the powers and beneficiaries of the Rajapaksa Rajya? One must not forget that most backbench members of the SJB bowed down and even supported the larger corruption of the UNP leaders. There is a major need for a clean opposition, away from the dangers of being dominated by a realm of massive power.
It will be good if the key memes of this Opposition spend more time in the library of parliament, to read and learn more of how the weighty opposition leaders of the past such and NM Perera, Colvin R de Silva, Dudley Senanayake, MD Banda and others, performed in dealing with different governments, in the early years of universal franchise.
They will have a major role to play in opposing moves for undemocratic changes to the constitution, and keep the voice and minds of the people alive on the rising issues of economic hardships, rising unemployment, the hardships faced by the agricultural and fisheries sectors, and the rising needs and demands of the youth. The Rajapaksa Rajya, with its huge power in parliament, will certainly seek to race through policies that will have strong links to fraud and corruption, as seen in the past.
The opposition members of the minority parties, so much smaller in this parliament, will also have to rethink their goals and strategies, in a situation when majority dominance has been the overall message of the voters. The results did show increasing differences among the political parties of the Tamil minority, and divisions among the Tamil people too. The Muslim parties must also do more study how they must represent the Muslim people in the new political and wider national context.
The old State Council was called the Rajya Sabhava in Sinhala, when we were under the British monarchy. The next parliament will certainly be a new and definite House of Royalty – Rajamedura. The Opposition will have to learn the new behavior and traditions of a Rajamedura or Raajasabhava of the Rajapaksa Rajya.
Sri Lankans must begin to settle down under the new Regime so decidedly elected by the voters of Sri Lanka, with majoritarian dominance through the power of universal franchise, so close to the current trend in our closest neighbour, India. The sovereignty of the people to the sovereignty of the Rajapaksas — Rajapaksa Rajya. Vandana, Vandana!