UPFA rule and the development
Although it has
drawn very little comment over the years, coalition governance
has become an almost unshakeable fact in the political life of
countries in our part of the world.
In the case of Sri Lanka, coalition governance has been
enduring in a major way since 1994 and even in neighbouring
India, 'the world's largest democracy', coalition governance has
been more or less the norm over the past two decades.
If Sri Lanka's experience is anything to go by, coalition
governance is not intrinsically bad. Whereas, the conventional
perception of coalition rule is that it is essentially unstable,
political stability has been by and large the norm in Sri Lanka,
although we had a short-lived, two-year UNP-led government
beginning December 2001. But in the case of the latter too, it
was a coalition administration.
While there could be a tendency to conclude that the day of
the 'Grand Old Parties' of the region is over, the situation in
contemporary Sri Lanka is of some complexity and is not amenable
to any simplistic analyses. In the local case, it is the SLFP
that has been predominating in the centrist coalitions which
have been pivotal in governance since 1994 and considering its
numerical strength in Parliament, the SLFP could by no means be
considered a spent force. On the contrary, it has proved a
dynamic nucleus of these coalitions and currently boasts of 118
seats in Parliament.
Moreover, the SLFP's partners under the current UPFA umbrella
have thus far found co-existence with the SLFP to be
trouble-free and satisfactory.
The key to the continuation of the coalition administration
could very well be the Social-Democratic vision of the SLFP and
its pragmatic policy positions on the majority of issues
confronting the country. In fact, it is Social Democracy which
is likely to emerge as the best policy framework for the world
in terms of governance, out of the economic turmoil which is
currently gripping the West.
Even during the headiest days of economic globalization, say
around ten years ago, the SLFP considered it fit to stick to the
centrist vision formulated and practised by the founding fathers
of the SLFP.
The best interests of the mass of the people could not be
abandoned, come what may, and this has essentially been the
standpoint of the SLFP over the years.
Expressed in the simplest terms, on the question of economic
policy, the SLFP has stood by the position that it should
traverse a middle path between free business enterprise and
tight state control of the economy. Those sectors of the economy
which impinge on the people's lives should remain within the
purview of the state and these have been guiding considerations
of the SLFP. Thus, education, health and agriculture, for
instance, remain, largely, state administered subjects.
Global economic history seems to be substantiating these
policy standpoints of the SLFP. Gone are the days when economic
liberalization was seen as the key to prosperity. On the
contrary, today it is the consensual view that neo-liberal
economic policies have failed, in that the gap between the
wealthy and the poor worldwide has only widened. Thus, has the
Social Democratic middle path in economic policy been vindicated
by the increasing pauperization of the less well off all over
Besides this policy plank on matters economic, what has
enabled the SLFP-led UPFA governing coalition to click over the
years is the vision of President Mahinda Rajapaksa to unite Sri
Lanka's communities on the basis of equity and fair play,
coupled with a concerted attempt on the part of the SLFP to
eschew ethnic chauvinism. Thus, it should be no cause for wonder
that the SLFP's coalition partners are finding co-existence with
it generally trouble-free.
As the current UPFA government completes its second year in
office, these considerations should be given close thought.
Whether one likes it or not, ethnicity or identity-based
politics have exploded to the surface in our part of the world.
Governing the plural societies of South Asia would not prove
easy, unless and until the legitimate interests of all our
communities are represented and met to the extent possible.
Thus, a clear case could be made for coalition rule.