GE 2020: Quest for a Stable Government | Daily News

GE 2020: Quest for a Stable Government

Next week’s Parliamentary Elections will mark the much awaited end of the period of uncertainty in the country. The twice-postponed General Election is being held after overcoming several unprecedented hurdles. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was elected Executive President with an overwhelming majority at the Presidential Elections held on November 18, 2019, could not govern freely as he could not dissolve the uncooperative Parliament until March 2, 2020 because of the peculiar Constitutional provision adopted as the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, barring the President from dissolving the Parliament until it completes four and half years of its 5-year term.

Although the new President appointed a Cabinet of Ministers headed by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa the Government could not function unhindered as the Parliament, which was elected in August 2015 had refused to cooperate with the new Government, despite the fact that the people had given a resounding mandate to the President. The victory of Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Presidential Election was a clear democratic signal that the old Parliament had lost its mandate. However, the belligerent Opposition refused to cooperate with the Government to pass the required financial bills, thus blocking the Government’s development plans.

President Rajapaksa did not have any alternative other than dissolving Parliament on the day it had completed a four and half years, using the powers vested in him. Although the Election Commission scheduled the General Election for April 20, the plans went awry due to the global pandemic of COVID-19.

The Constitutional hurdle and the pandemic lockdown prolonged the period of uncertainty and finally the voters are set to elect a fresh Parliament next Wednesday (August 5) to give much-needed stability to the Government.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa obtained 6,924,255 votes at the Presidential Election, while his main opponent Sajith Premadasa could get only 5,564,239 votes. More or less, the 6.9 million votes polled by Gotabaya Rajapaksa are still intact with his political party, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). Impartial analysts believe that the vote bloc of SLPP has further increased due to the high appreciation of the bold, effective decisions taken by President Rajapaksa during the last eight months. The way the gigantic challenge of COVID19 pandemic was handled has been lauded by almost everybody. Furthermore, the campaign to curb the drug menace and other criminal activities of not only the hardened culprits but also among the members of the law enforcement authorities such as police, prison guards and narcotic bureau officials have won the hearts and minds of the people.

At the same time the Opposition vote bloc of 5.5 million eroded vastly due to internecine warfare between the top two leaders of the United National Party (UNP) that resulted in Sajith Premadasa leaving the UNP to form the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB). The UNP vote bloc will vertically split between Ranil Wickremesinghe’s UNP and the breakaway SJB of Sajith.

Of the 5.5 million votes polled by opposition candidate in the Presidential election, a large chunk was from the North and the East. The majority of those votes will go to Tamil party candidates in the Parliamentary election next week. Furthermore, the Muslim candidates will also eat into a substantial section of opposition votes in Muslim majority areas, further reducing the share of the UNP and the SJB. Another segment of opposition votes will end up with the Jathika Jana Balawegaya led by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna.

All these factors will give an advantage to the SLPP to increase its voter base to comfortably get the absolute majority and vie further for the eventual target of a two thirds majority in the next Parliament.

Even SJB theoretician Dayan Jayatilleka, a staunch critic of the Rajapaksas, appealed to the people in his ‘Lanka Guardian Column’ yesterday to vote for the SJB to deny a two thirds majority to the SLPP. It was an unintentional acknowledgment that the SLPP would easily get a simple majority and could even get two thirds unless voters prevent it by casting their votes to the SJB. Jayatilleka, who is known for his well researched arguments seems to have come to the pragmatic conclusion that the SLPP’s victory cannot be stopped and the target of the Opposition is now limited to prevent the ruling party from getting a two thirds majority.

The calculations to forecast the forthcoming election results can be further augmented by analyzing the results of earlier elections. The August 2015 Parliamentary Elections were a complicated and unprecedented situation in Sri Lankan politics. The UNP managed to get 45.66% of the votes to elect 106 MPs, while the United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) received 42.38% and bagged 95 seats. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the largest party representing Sri Lankan Tamils, won 16 seats. The remaining eight seats were won by Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (6), Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (1) and Eelam People's Democratic Party (1).

There are apprehensions of a possible decline in voting percentage at the forthcoming General Elections due to the fear of the COVID-19 pandemic and voter apathy due to the vast deterioration of the image of the politician.

The 1989 General Election marked a low voter turnout because of the boycott launched by terrorists of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the North and the East and by JVP militants in the South.

In that election, the UNP polled 2,838,005 votes (51%) and won 125 seats in the 225-member Parliament. The opposition’s SLFP received 1,785,369 votes (28%) and managed a mere 67 seats. Two main Tamil parties collectively won 19 seats while the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress bagged four seats.

Another election of low turnout was the notorious national referendum of December 22, 1982, held to undemocratically extend the term of the Parliament. The turnout was 70.82 percent, out of a total of 8,145,015 Sri Lankans eligible to vote. In an election which was considered to be the most fraudulent one in the electoral history of Sri Lanka, over 54 percent voted in favor of extending the life of Parliament, an increase even from the 52 percent J R Jayewardene obtained at the Presidential Election in 1982.

In the 1982 General Elections, with a low voter turnout of 69%, the UNP managed to get a share of 51% and form a stable Government with 125 MPs - 110 elected and 15 from the National List. Hence, there is no doubt that next Wednesday –whatever the voter turnout – the SLPP is certain to gain on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s near 53% and capture the Parliamentary majority enabling to extend fullest support to realize the goals specified in the ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’ Policy Statement.

 

 

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