Many have read the results of the Sri Lankan general elections the way they wished the results to be. There have been arguments for continued “good governance” with a stable United National Party (UNP) government. There has been free advice for Ranil Wickremesinghe about how he should avoid a tug-of-war, as in 2002-03. This parliament will not be different from the previous one — considered a “rogue” House. Parties nominated 202 MPs of the dissolved parliament as candidates. Of these, 179 have been re-elected. Of the new entrants, most are equally bad.
Yet, this Wickremesinghe government, with only 106 MPs, plus one from the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, will be stable and won’t require the 113-plus majority. Politically, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) cannot afford to let this government down and pave the way for the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), with or without Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The other issue is how President Maithripala Sirisena will now react, which will determine the stability of the new government. In a short period of six months, Sirisena has proved that he lacks leadership mettle. His handling of political issues isn’t democratic. He contested against Rajapaksa of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)/ UPFA and was taken back by the SLFP and UPFA only because he won. The power he wields now in the SLFP/ UPFA rests solely on his position as president, not as party leader. Although the anti-Rajapaksa camp applauds him, his use of power in steamrolling the SLFP was high-handed. The party’s central committee was made redundant with a stay order. Sirisena schemed with his Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) plug-ins and used his stooges to remove SLFP secretaries via court orders. There wasn’t even a semblance of decency or moral authority in how Sirisena went about usurping power within the SLFP/ UPFA.
This parliamentary election proves that Sirisena has no real hold on the SLFP. In every district, pro-Rajapaksa candidates stomped home comfortably. The Colombo district is ample proof. So is it in Kalutara and Ratnapura, where even a man in remand jail, a hardline Rajapaksa supporter, topped the list. In Kandy, even the big SLFP candidate S.B. Dissanayake, who recently wrote a booklet against Rajapaksa, lost badly.
For the SLFP, the logic of bringing Rajapaksa back proved right in many ways. It galvanised a large swathe of the southern Sinhala constituency. In fact, Rajapaksa’s campaign left no space for a Sinhala alternative. The racist Sinhala Buddhist outfit Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) could only muster 20,377 votes (just 0.14 per cent of the Sinhala Buddhist population) from all the districts it ran in.
Bringing Rajapaksa back may also have proved right in winning the election, if Sirisena had honoured his promise of being a “neutral president”. If Sirisena had done what he said he would, the results may have been different. His crude machinations had a negative and demotivating impact on the SLFP. If he had kept his word and allowed the SLFP/ UPFA to contest as a single entity, the gap of 3,66,258 votes (3.28 per cent) in favour of the UNP may have been altered.
Sirisena had his own selfish reasons to keep Rajapaksa out, no matter who won the election. The JHU plug-ins around him were also desperate to have their own stake in the next government, sans Rajapaksa. The JHU, with no provincial and local organisational presence, is a proven non-entity in electoral politics.
A tiny collective of scheming minds, the JHU wanted a comeback as an SLFP faction to negotiate an alliance with the UNP. Rajapaksa’s grip on the SLFP/ UPFA didn’t allow the JHU re-entry into the SLFP.
Promised electoral reforms, a new democratic constitution and “power sharing” beyond the 13th Amendment, which the TNA campaigns for, need a two-thirds majority. Securing that majority will lead to several crossovers, with a cabinet much larger than the 30 written into the 19th Amendment. It would also push the Wickremesinghe government towards a more stubborn, Sinhala-biased stand on the “unitary state”, since this would strengthen the JHU within the government. If Wickremesinghe leaves a two-thirds majority out of his immediate priority list, then he will have to deliver on economic promises.
Wickremesinghe’s government will thus have to focus more on the economy and prove that it is a better economic manager than previous governments.
Post elections, other serious questions like demilitarisation, reconciliation and disappearances, along with the promised independent domestic investigation into war-related issues, will remain difficult hurdles. With the UNHRC report coming up for discussion in September, the government will be left with no clear answers.
The government may be stable, but without the solutions needed for the promised “new” Sri Lanka.
The writer is a Colombo-based journalist.