Healthy mandate in Sri Lanka

August 19, 2015 12:05 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:32 pm IST

Seven months after the presidential elections that saw President Mahinda Rajapaksa >being defeated by a coalition of disparate forces , the Sri Lanka Freedom Party strongman has been dealt another blow in the parliamentary elections. United National Party leader and presumptive Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe’s United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG) >emerged as the largest coalition with about 46 per cent of the votes. It is set to form the government with likely support from the Tamil National Alliance and parties such as the leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna. The coalition that defeated Mr. Rajapaksa was intact in these elections, as President Maithripala Sirisena had also endorsed the UNFGG, scotching any speculation that he would back Mr. Rajapaksa’s comeback bid. The coalition was bolstered by strong support from the minorities yet again, and by the UNP’s surge in votes among the Sinhala population. It also benefited from the President’s rural electoral base. The fact that Mr. Rajapaksa’s party still managed to retain a nearly 43 per cent vote share (from preliminary estimates) suggests that the winners have no reason to be complacent. That said, the UNP victory is a reiteration of the message from the presidential elections — against the authoritarianism associated with Mr. Rajapaksa’s tenure, and the narrow communal campaigning style he adopted in these elections. He resorted to a virulent campaign against the UNP and the presidency, playing on fears of a return of the LTTE and re-living the triumphalism of his tenure. His defeat reinforces the message for democratisation and the politics of reconciliation that the electorate had supported in the presidential elections.

The minorities’ support to the coalition that was most capable of defeating the SLFP (the TNA in Jaffna and Vanni, the UNFGG in the Eastern Province, Colombo and elsewhere) should only push their just and democratic case for greater devolution of provincial powers: the government should not hold it up any longer. Steps taken to empower democratic institutions such as the Constitutional Council, and the creation of independent commissions as a check on the executive presidency, seem to have gone down well. So has the >fixing of a two-term limit for the President . These were seen as a negation of the authoritarian and nepotistic trend of the Rajapaksa regime, which thrived on militarisation. This victory will enhance the credibility, internationally, of the government’s efforts to aid a process of reconciliation and rehabilitation of the war-affected Tamil minorities, something that remains unrealised six years since the end of the horrific civil war. All things considered, despite the inherent differences between the market-friendly UNP and the more statist SLFP in power, the results suggest a healthy mandate.

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