The results of post-conflict Sri Lanka's first parliamentary elections are on expected lines. President Mahinda Rajapaksa's ruling United Progressive Freedom Alliance, led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, has scored a decisive victory on the strength of a vote share that may exceed 60 per cent. After President Rajapaksa's big victory in the January 26 presidential election, there was never really any doubt about the outcome of Thursday's general election. Perhaps this was one reason for the low turnout of voters. This is way and ahead the best performance by a political party or coalition in a general election since 1977. Indeed, a two-thirds majority in the 225-seat House, always a difficult target in a system of proportional representation, seems to be within the UPFA's grasp, assuming there will be a repeat of the defections that followed the 2004 elections. The United National Party, which has won only one parliamentary election in two decades, can take some comfort from the fact that its vote-base has not eroded significantly in this period. But the kingmaker of elections past, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, has suffered a rout, its opportunistic decision to back former Sri Lanka army commander, Sarath Fonseka, who is under detention and facing court martial proceedings, doing nothing to shore up its fortunes. The third force, the Democratic National Alliance, has failed to take off.
With his political stock enormously boosted, President Rajapaksa must turn his attention to the urgent task of reconciliation with Sri Lanka's Tamil minority and the development of the North and the East. The poor voter turnout in Jaffna was a reminder of Sri Lanka's persisting ethnic polarisation. In an interview to this newspaper after his re-election, President Rajapaksa agreed that the 13th Amendment was “implementable” in Northern Sri Lanka with some provisos. Under his leadership, the government must quickly articulate a set of comprehensive political reforms that will devolve power to the Tamils in a genuine and far-going way. It would be ideal if the UPFA, secure in its majority, could co-opt the UNP and especially its leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in this historic project. It is one of the tragedies of the Tamil community that its leadership, even in a post-LTTE world, remains confused between the politically achievable and the impossible. Unable to shake off the extremist politics and expectations of vocal sections of the Tamil diaspora, the Tamil National Alliance, which has fared well in the Northern Province, has not shown itself to be capable of rising to the challenge. What Sri Lanka's Tamils badly need is a responsible democratic leadership that can engage meaningfully with the Sinhala majority to resolve all aspects of the Tamil question on the basis of equality and devolution of power within a united Sri Lanka.