With the seats won by the SLPP on its own, together with the seats of allied political parties like the EPDP, TMVP, and the SLFP (Jaffna) the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government easily crosses the 150 seat mark to obtain a two thirds majority in Parliament. This writer still remembers listening to the results of the 1977 election over the radio as a 13-year old. The results of every electorate as they were read out seemed to go to the UNP. At that time, what constituted a landslide was for one party to come out on top in a large number of electorates. However, as a proportion of votes, the J.R.Jayewardene led UNP got only a modest 50.89%. To a generation used to the proportional representation system, that would seem almost disappointing. However at that time, it was an epoch making victory because no political party had ever got more than 50% of all valid votes since Independence. Until 2010, the UNP’s victory of 1977 was what was referred to as the mother of all electoral landslides.
The Mahinda Rajapaksa led UPFA got 60% of the popular vote and 144 seats at the Parliamentary election of 2010, thus eclipsing 1977. Now, the Parliamentary election of 2020 eclipses both 1977 and 2010 as the mother of all electoral landslides. The yahapalana conspirators presented the political divide in this country to the people as ‘everybody else’ against the Rajapaksas. Now the people treat ‘everybody else’ as one party and the Rajapaksas as another party. As the results were rolling in on Thursday evening one thing that was glaringly obvious in almost every polling division, was that the total number of votes polled by the ‘everybody else’ political formation was less than half of that of the Rajapaksa led SLPP.
Rajapaksas emerge stronger than ever
This marks the conclusion of a remarkable journey that began in January 2015 at the point that the Rajapaksa triumvirate led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa was literally thrown out onto the street by means of a well-orchestrated conspiracy hatched by elements both local and foreign. This is a story straight out of the history books. A successful and popular government ousted from power by foreign conspirators and local traitors with the people rallying around their fallen leaders to restore them to power is a recurring theme in the history of politics, not only in this country but worldwide. We have just seen this historic theme being played out in Sri Lanka to a picture perfect finish.
The Rajapaksas were defeated not once but twice in 2015 through underhand and unfair stratagems, but their support base never wavered. In three mighty bounds, the local government election of 2018, the presidential election of 2019 and now the parliamentary election of 2020, the Rajapaksa triumvirate, this time with Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the helm, has been restored to power. Uncannily, they now have the same or even more support in Parliament than they had at the point they were ousted in 2015. The result of the 2020 parliamentary election was clearly a ringing endorsement of the nine months of rule by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa led SLPP minority government. The success that the new government showed in controlling Covid-19 seen in the backdrop of the previous achievements of this same government between 2005 and 2015 could not have left any doubts in the minds of the people as to whom they should vote for.
The conventional wisdom was that a parliamentary election that is held on the heels of a presidential election will be won easily by the party that won the presidential election but with each passing month, week and day, the popularity of the government will decline. We saw that happening in 2015. Despite the shock of seeing the Rajapaksa government ousted and the persecution that followed, the UPFA led by Mahinda Rajapaksa was able to obtain 95 seats because the election was not held immediately after the presidential election and there was a gap of eight months between the elections during which the yahapalana govt. lost support. The UNP/SJB opposition was hoping for a replay of that situation at the present parliamentary election which was held more than nine months after the Presidential election.
They never missed an opportunity to demand that the election be postponed on account of Covid-19 even making the accusation that the SLPP government was trying to hold the parliamentary election early despite Covid 19 so as to secure a two thirds majority over the dead bodies of the voters. None of that worked. At the last presidential election and this parliamentary election, the people clearly showed they can see beyond the lies and deception of the yahapalana propaganda machine.
The people may not have had a technical understanding of the manner in which the economy of the country had been run down by yahapalana mismanagement and then brought down further by the Easter Sunday bombings but they knew that the circumstances under which this country had successfully controlled Covid-19 had been exceptional. The yahapalana political parties have now reaped the whirlwind after engaging in unprincipled politics by ganging up for no other objective than to defeat the Rajapaksas. The UNP and JVP had met US Ambassador Patricia Butenis on several occasions during the conspiracy to field Sarath Fonseka as the common candidate in 2009/10 and she had written to Washington about those meetings describing both the JVP and the UNP as ‘opportunists’.
The result of the 2019 Presidential election and the 2020 Parliamentary election will be a lasting reminder to all that any victory that can be achieved through conspiracies, subterfuges and deception is short lived. Every government that we know of came into power with the intention of ruling the country. But the yahapalana government of 2015 came into power only with one intention and that was to finish the Rajapaksas off. They made that fact clear to the public too. Every time a yahapalana leader opened his mouth, it would be to fulminate against the Rajapaksas and to promise to put them in jail. What we had was a near five year period of hate speech against one family and their supporters and that fact contributed in no small measure to this election result. The yahapalanites have had their snouts rubbed on the ground by the people, and how!
13 year conspiratorial quest in tatters
This ganging up of everybody else against the Rajapaksas has been going on since 2007 when these elements tried to topple the Mahinda Rajapaksa led government in 2007 through a parliamentary conspiracy. That was at the height of the war and what prevented the plan from being carried through was the stiff resistance put up by the patriotic group within the JVP led by Wimal Weerawansa. The JVP’s contribution to that coup was crucial because they controlled 39 MPs in that Parliament and without their participation, the coup had no chance of succeeding. Even though this attempt failed initially, the political parties that had got together did not lose heart and immediately after the war against the LTTE had been won, they conspired once again to gang up to field Gen. Sarath Fonseka to defeat the Rajapaksas. That attempt also failed. Yet they persisted and finally succeeded in 2015. They were unprincipled, but tenacious.
For the past 13 years and more a group of political parties led by the UNP, JVP and TNA have been engaged in an attempt to oust the Rajapaksas from power for no other reason than that the latter were successful in what they did and they always tried to do what was right by the country. The Rajapaksas were doing well so they had to be brought down – that was the logic. Even worse than the politicians engaged in this exercise were the foreign funded NGO operators. They wanted every rule, every law violated to put the Rajapaksas behind bars and end their politics. They knew that the patriotic camp in this country was dependent on the Rajapaksa triumvirate for leadership and that the former would be vastly diminished in terms of popular appeal without Mahinda Rajapaksa and their leadership and operational ability seriously impaired without Gotabaya and Basil Rajapaksa, so for the past five years they were shouting themselves hoarse trying to get the politicians to bend the law and put the Rajapaksas behind bars.
Not one of the political parties that participated in the yahapalana conspiracy of 2015 has emerged unscathed. The main political party the UNP no longer exists in a viable form. The United National Party and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party – two political parties that have existed for more than seven decades and six decades respectively, have been eliminated from the scene and replaced by two new formations the Samagi Jana Balawegaya and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna. The JVP has been reduced to three seats in Parliament even though they have managed to increase their votes marginally from what they got at last year’s presidential election.
This parliamentary election and the Presidential election of 2019 clearly showed that the politics of promising handouts to win votes is over. The SJB contested the presidential election on the pledge of giving Janasaviya on top of the Samurdhi benefits, and free sanitary towels to women. Sajith Premadasa was hailed by yahapalana pundits who said that the people of Sri Lanka were poor and that Sajith’s approach had a certain attraction for the electorate. Even though he lost the presidential election resoundingly, he tried the same approach at the parliamentary election. This time pledging to provide a dole of Rs. 20,000 to each family and to refund the payments made for the electricity bills of the months of March April and May when the country was shut down due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Another pledge he gave was to reduce the price of fuel.
The SJB will have to rethink this style of campaigning. This is a relic from a bygone era when politicians won or lost elections on the pledge of half a pound of dried fish. This is not to say that people cannot be duped with such pledges. One instance when the voting public was duped with such pledges in recent times was when the yahapalana coalition pledged to increase the salaries of government servants by Rs. 10,000 in 2015. Usually, even if extravagant promises are made at election time, no government tries to follow through with all those pledges, because it’s simply not politically feasible to do so. However in the case of the yahapalana government that was formed in 2015, they had conspired and lied their way to victory at the presidential elections and were in a blind panic that they may lose the Parliamentary election and they made good on some of the most prominent the pledges they gave before the parliamentary election.
They increased the salaries of government servants by Rs. 10,000 thus increasing government expenditure while at the same time drastically reducing the price of fuel and decreasing government revenue. This sent government finances into a tailspin from which it has never recovered. The people obviously did not know the theory and mechanics of all this, but they instinctively knew that Sajith’s schemes were unworkable and counter productive and that the people will finally have to pay for the honour of having an inefficient and incompetent yahapalana government ruling over them. The people have now come to recognize pledges of handouts as the mark of the political charlatan.
Reminting Sri Lanka
The reason why the SLPP asked the people for a two thirds majority is to institute Constitutional reform. In any discussion on constitutional reform the first thing that comes to mind is the 19th Amendment. The latter however, is not all that needs to be reformed. The Constitution that we have now was a disaster from the beginning. This writer has pointed out in previous columns that the system of elections in the 1978 constitution was changed twice before any election had ever been held under that system – that cannot be the hallmark of a successful elections system. When the elections system was changed by the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, the Parliamentary Elections Act of 1981 which had been designed to suit the original system of elections in the 1978 Constitution, was not amended, thus placing unreasonable restrictions on campaigning which was experienced by all candidates at this election.
The most important issue to be sorted out in the 1978 Constitution is the reform of the system of electing the President, Parliament, provincial councils and local government institutions. The US system of elections has many features that would work well in Sri Lanka including the concept of a ‘general election’ in the proper sense of the term whereby representatives to several tiers of government are elected on the same day and by the same ballot. The reduction in the term of office of the President and Parliament to five years makes it necessary to think seriously about combining elections so as not to have too many elections at short intervals adding to the cost and causing the disruption of day to day life.
In 2010, the UPFA did not make proper use of the two thirds majority they had. We can say with hindsight that they could easily have reminted Sri Lanka at that time but neglected to do so. However at that time, constitutional reform did not have the kind of immediacy that it has now. Apart from reforming the electoral system to all tiers of government, another top priority should be the protection of Sri Lanka from foreign interference. Given the ring of international enemies that Sri Lanka is confronted with, an indemnity clause for the Sri Lankan armed forces should be included in the Constitution after the fashion of the ‘Postamble’ of the South African Constitution of 1993. This would need to be combined with provisions similar to the American Service-Members’ Protection Act prohibiting any Sri Lankan citizen or institution from cooperating with any foreign party or institution in any investigation against the Sri Lankan armed forces or the political leadership during the war.
Sri Lanka also needs legislation to regulate NGOs and foreign funded political activism in Sri Lanka modeled on the 2010 Foreign Contributions Regulatory Act of India. Such a law does not need a two thirds majority but given the dicey position that Sri Lanka finds itself in, it’s always better to include provisions relating to this legislation in the ‘Postamble’ of the Constitution so that no subsequent government can change it at their whim. It was the Indira Gandhi government that first introduced the Foreign Contributions Regulatory Act in 1976. It was made tougher by a bi-partisan committee led by Sushma Swaraj of the BJP when the Congress government was in power in 2010. All Indian governments have seen the value of this piece of legislation and India would not exist in its present form today if not for this law.
This is a law to monitor and regulate funding coming from overseas to individuals and organisations in India. This act even monitors foreign trips and junkets given to individuals by foreign organisations and governments, to prevent such elements from acquiring influence over Indian citizens. The conspiracy of 2015, and many things that led up to it was a stark reminder how vulnerable Sri Lanka is to any foreign country or organization that’s willing to spend a few million US Dollars to influence politics in this country. This is clearly not a situation that should be allowed to continue.
The Elections Commission needs to be commended for taking a very professional approach to the timing of the election and cooperating with government functionaries in the health sector to decide when to fix the date of the election instead of being swayed by the yahapalana opposition’s rhetoric and their demand that the election be postponed further. The way this was handled is a triumph of the state sector bureaucracy working in different agencies. The two former public servants in the elections Commission Mahinda Deshapriya and N.A.Abeysekera saved the day for democracy in this country by not entertaining yahapalana conspiracies to bend and twist the elections law so as to torpedo Gotabhya Rajapaksa’s candidacy at the presidential elections and by not postponing the parliamentary elections any longer than was absolutely necessary.