Voting to elect new members to the Sri Lanka Parliament is expected to be held on April 8 and indications are that the new Parliament will meet on April 22. President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Tuesday night ordered the dissolution of Parliament with effect from midnight of Wednesday, paving the way for a general election.
The present Parliament was constituted in April 2004 and would have finished its normal tenure in two months.
The United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) led by the then President, Chandrika Kumaratunga secured majority of the seats in the 225 member House. The UPFA won 105 seats and the main opposition party the United National Party (UNP) led by Ranil Wickremesinghe secured 82 seats. The Tamil National Alliance had 22 seats while the Jathika Hela Urumaya had nine seats. That election had a voter turnout of 75 percent.
As per the Election Commission data, the UPFA at the last General Election received 4,223,970 ( 45.60 percent) votes, UNP received 3,504, 200 (37.83 percent) while TNA received 633,654 (6.84 percent) and JHU 554,076 (5.97 percent) votes. The UPFA comprised the Lanka Sama Samaj Party (LSSP), Communist Party, Democratic United National Front (DUMF), Mahajana Eksath Perumana (MEP), Sri Lanka Muslim Party (SLMP) and Janatha Vimukthi Perumana (JVP) in that election.
But after President Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected in November 2005, he sought the co-operation of the main opposition party, the UNP in defeating terrorism. In October 2006, a historic agreement was signed between the two ruling party and the main opposition parties to cooperate on all issues of national issues including exploring possibility of a common approach towards resolution of the ethnic conflict.
However, the agreement was declared as null and void after the President accommodated 17 senior UNP Parliamentarians including party Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya in his Government. The UNP accused the President of seducing its parliamentarians with allurement of ministerial positions.
The JVP, which was part of the ruling alliance in the 2004 election, chose to join the ranks of the opposition citing its disagreement with the President on the approach towards consensus efforts for bringing all parties on board for a solution acceptable to all on the ethnic conflict as well other reasons. During the vote on the Budget in November 2007, the main Opposition party (the UNP) attempted in vain to defeat the Budget in Parliament.
The Parliament, as it emerged after the 2004 election and as it stood at the time of dissolution are poles apart. Mr. Rajapaksa, who became the President for the first time in November 2005, not only succeeded in splitting the opposition ranks but also conjured up a majority for the ruling combine in Parliament.
Most of the key Ministerial positions held in the Rajapaksa government are from the ranks of the main opposition party the United National Party (UNP).
The Parliament is constituted by the system of proportional representation, which is based on the percentage of votes polled by individual parties, and direct election. So, all the major parties are assured of a relatively decent presence in the next Parliament.
The opposition combine that backed the Presidential candidature of the retired General Sarath Fonseka cannot be expected to stay together for the general election as they are entities with conflicting views on certain fundamental issues facing the island nation.
Uncertainty prevails in the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) as well. It would be an uphill task for the President to give party tickets to all of them in the government without antagonising members of his own party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).
The JVP has already gone on record that it will go it alone in the general election. The pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is in disarray and has not made clear the position it will take.
The combinations that will emerge in the run-up to the elections remain unclear. Whatever be the case, President Rajapaksa has little to be concerned.
With a massive margin of over 17 percentage points in the recently held Presidential election, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) headed by Mr. Rajapaksa and the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) that he leads has a clear edge over the divided and battered opposition. However, it needs to be watched what impact the Fonseka detention would have on the general election.