Refreshing start after resounding mandate | Daily News


Refreshing start after resounding mandate

The PM being sworn-in.
The PM being sworn-in.

The ‘Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna’ (SLPP) walks into the new Parliament wielding a super majority after a clean sweep at the last week’s crucial polls.

As the proverb “With great power comes great responsibility” goes, the two leaders at the helm, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his brother Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, on whom the people have kept an unprecedented faith, have a great responsibility to steer the country forward in the right track in the next five years.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa worships his elder brother PM Mahinda Rajapaksa after the latter’s swearing-in as Prime Minister at the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya last Sunday. Picture by Wimal Karunatilleke.  

Saddled with an economy in shambles and a heap of troubles precipitated by COVID-19, challenges are far from over for the new Government. More struggles lie ahead on the fronts of social and political reforms too. At the same time, the country cannot afford to lose pace with development. Attending to these jobs, while balancing the Government coffers not to put an undue burden on the masses, is no doubt a Herculean task.

The people have decided that President Rajapaksa, with his unwavering political will, and PM Rajapaksa, with his five decades of political maturity and leadership experience, are the right combination to face the present challenges which seem to be insurmountable.

New Cabinet today

Following the oath taking ceremony of PM Rajapaksa at the precincts of the Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharaya on Sunday, the new Cabinet, which will be limited to 28 members, is to be sworn in before the President at the historic ‘Magul Maduwa’ in the Sri Dalada Maligawa in Kandy today along with 40 State Ministers. Reports said that several new faces are to be accommodated in the Cabinet.

The Gazette spelling the duties and institutions under each ministry was issued by the President on Monday. Looking at this Gazette, one can see that the Cabinet portfolios have been rationally arranged and the scope of each ministry and state ministry has been clearly stated. This is a refreshing start and is clearly a departure from the past where disparate subjects had been merged into one ministry resulting in chaos. Who will get what ministry will be known today, and the performance of each of them will matter in the coming months and years.

After initial formalities, the new Government is expected to get straight down to business. As SLPP stalwart Prof G L Peiris perfectly worded at the first presser after the people’s overwhelming mandate, excuses would no longer hold water for not delivering on what was promised.

He also stressed that the Government is well-aware that the people’s mandate is not a blank cheque. Prof. Peiris expressed the Government’s firm determination to live up to the people’s expectations, adding that it would tread cautiously on all its affairs, especially on the Constitutional reforms, and seek broad consultation as well as public views when proceeding on them.

Election outcome

The people, who turned up in their numbers to exercise their franchise on the August 5 General Election, made history doing what many thought was impossible. That Election marked a watershed in Sri Lankan politics with a major shift of power which was unprecedented in the country’s post-independence history.

To recap the final results and the post-Election commentary which dominated the news cycle over the past few days, the SLPP clinched 145 seats at the very first Parliamentary Election it faced, and it has comfortably secured a two-thirds majority in the 225-membered Legislature with the help of its allied parties which have collectively obtained five to six seats.

In this Election, the SLPP fared better than any other political party which came to power since the introduction of the Proportional Representation (PR) system in 1978. The SLPP received over 6.8 million votes, and even if this number was weighed against the cumulative number of votes obtained by all other political parties still there was a 2.1 million difference.

The ‘Samagi Jana Balawegaya’ (SJB) led by Sajith Premadasa, which was formed with about five months to go for the Election, managed to secure 54 seats becoming the main Opposition party in the new Parliament. It was reported that the SJB was having a difficult time in finalizing the names for its seven National List slots as minority parties were insisting on one seat each. SJB General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara and its heavyweights Harin Fernando, Eran Wickramaratne and Mayantha Dissanayake are also waiting to return from the List.

The ‘Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna’ led ‘Jathika Jana Balawegaya’ (JJB) received only three seats while the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) led by R Sampanthan obtained 10 seats by contesting five electoral districts in the North and the East.

The TNA’s tight grip in the Northern polity has loosened with the emergence of new Tamil political formations. Minister Douglas Devananda’s Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) garnered more votes this year, and former Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Vigneswaran and TNA dissident Gajendra Ponnambalam have secured stakes in Parliament by contesting from two new parties, which are inclined towards hard-line views. In addition, former Eastern Province Chief Minister Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias ‘Pilleyan’, an ex-LTTE cadre, has also made it to Parliament.

End of Chapter

Political analysts observe that the August 5 Poll marked the end of the road for two traditional political powerhouses, the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

The United National Party (UNP) with its abysmal performance scraped through with one National List seat. The UNP’s ignominious defeat, where no candidate was able to win a seat, was the talk of the town soon after the Election results. The ‘Grand Old Party’ founded in September 1946, has suffered major setbacks in 1956 and 1970 obtaining only 8 seats and 17 seats respectively, but this is the first time that it has been reduced to a single seat and even that through the National List. It is learnt that about 7-8 former MPs are eyeing the only seat available for the Party.

UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, who repeatedly turned a deaf ear to growing calls for his retirement and a leadership change in the Party, has been packed off home by the people putting an unceremonious end to his Parliamentary career spanning more than four decades.

Having burnt his bridges in politics, Wickremesinghe has decided to step down from the Party Leadership, a mantle he wore since 1994. UNP General Secretary Akila Viraj Kariyawasam made this announcement on Monday also putting forward the names of Ravi Karunanayake, Vajira Abeywardena, Daya Gamage and himself as those who claimed interest in receiving the mantle. Interestingly, the names of UNP heavyweights Navin Dissanayake (who openly made a case for himself as UNP Leader) and Ruwan Wijewardene are not among the shortlisted.

The SLFP, on the other hand, managed to send 14 of its Members to Parliament, 13 by contesting from the SLPP ticket and one more by contesting separately in Jaffna. This strategic move saved the Party from a dismal failure very similar to that of the UNP. The Party has thus been reduced to a small group in the new Parliament.

Voters’ message

Sri Lanka has just concluded the South Asia’s first major election after the COVID-19 outbreak on a high note. Election authorities were happy that it was a well-attended Election, where the voter turnout finally stood at 75.89 per cent. However, the unprecedented number of rejected votes was a cause for concern for them. A total of 744,373 votes, 6.03 percent of polled votes, had been rejected and this number was a steep rise compared to the 135,452 votes rejected at the last year’s Presidential Election.

Election authorities and election watchdog groups are investigating the reasons for the higher number of rejected votes. While lack of awareness on how to vote could be one reason, the voters who do not prefer any running candidate could also have chosen to spoil their vote as ‘None of the Above’ (NOTA) is not an option in our ballot papers.

In the meantime, the people’s long felt need to see more new faces in Parliament has been realised at the last Election. About 58 newcomers have been elected and more first-timers, including professionals, are on the National List. At least one third of the Members in the last Parliament had been defeated. This number, together with those who opted out of the Election race and those who would likely to be left out of the National List, exceeds 90. This is a powerful message the public representatives who have made it to Parliament this time around must not fail to grasp.

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