It was ‘vox populi’ — the voice of the people. The people have indeed spoken and, in a broad sense, endorsed the January 8 changing of the guard in the country’s politics. The results declared last Tuesday (parties) and Wednesday (MPs) are a true reflection of what the people of this country wanted; some to guide [...]


Election victories bring hopes, expectations


It was ‘vox populi’ — the voice of the people. The people have indeed spoken and, in a broad sense, endorsed the January 8 changing of the guard in the country’s politics. The results declared last Tuesday (parties) and Wednesday (MPs) are a true reflection of what the people of this country wanted; some to guide the destiny of the nation, others for their own goals and personal ambitions. All the same, the Commissioner of Elections, his army of public servants who helped conduct the elections and the Police deserve kudos for this monumental feat in bringing the country back to a time when elections were largely peaceful, free and fair, and reflected the will of the people.

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s comeback bid was foiled, despite a creditable showing by the UPFA he virtually led, this time minus the State apparatus which he had blatantly abused while in office. The people wanted to give the UNFGG and its leader Ranil Wickremesinghe “another chance” — not Mr. Rajapaksa.

The JVP was the unfortunate victim of the two-coalition contest. Going it alone as it did, it would have realised that quantity outweighs quality when it comes to votes; that logical speeches are no match for a sing-song at the end of a rally for a young generation now accustomed to a pop culture and that their wavering stand on whether to support a Government, or not thereby unable to promise ‘jobs for the boys – and girls, does not bring the party votes. The JVP’s impeccable record as lawmakers in recent times still bore the heavy burden of its past as violent lawbreakers. A last minute swing towards the UNFGG for fear that Mr. Rajapaksa’s UPFA would be the beneficiary from a split vote ultimately did the JVP in.

Hopefully, the JVP will not be too dejected by the overall results. Like the LTTE in the North, the JVPers were once radical youth who found no place in the Parliamentary system due to social reasons. They therefore opted for an armed struggle. This cost them and the country dearly.

The dominance of the two-party system in the ‘South’ and a virtual one-party system in the ‘North’ must be taken into account when electoral reforms are discussed by the new Parliament if these youth, both in the ‘South’ and ‘North’ are not to be kept marginalised from Parliament and again seek alternative routes to power and place.

The fact that the UNFGG will need to rely on the TNA to form a working majority in the Legislature — unless there are defections from the UPFA — or a ‘National Government’ is formed, is good for national reconciliation but given the reality that the ‘Opposition’ won eight districts in the Southern heartland, the fallout from such a tie-up is not to be overlooked. That the communal drum is going to be beaten is a foregone conclusion.

This election was not only a fair reflection of how the parties scored, but also of the voting population given those individuals who have been elected. It has defeated politicians who had a leg on either side of the political fence undecided which way the wind would blow – but the President has brought them back into the fold in a seeming ‘power struggle’ within his party. The good, the bad and the rascals have been nevertheless elected all the same. The case of a murder suspect topping the UPFA list in Ratnapura is a case in point. Similarly, the polls rejected some candidates with worthy track records. Their place in the august assembly would have made a substantial contribution to the quality of the debates in the House. This reflected the poor quality of the voter — not the candidate.

Parliament in recent years has descended to heated verbal exchanges and meaningless theatrics but been sorely wanting in gravitas. The official proceedings (Hansard) show what weighty debates we had once, and the lacklustre talk nowadays.
The Prime Minister has often said he wants to turn Parliament into a truly National Assembly drawing from the Executive Committees of the pre-Independence era and the current European Parliament where all elected representatives participate fully in the decision-making process when churning out national laws and policy.

In fact, the European Parliament sits in a circular manner unlike the British Parliament from whom we adopted our own with the House divided into two benches — the Government and the Opposition. But this experiment since January 8 was severely tested by the parochial conduct of the UPFA Opposition.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has been equated to the likes of former Premier Dudley Senanayake for assuming the mantle of PM for the fourth time. And like Mr. Senanayake his first three terms were truncated. Mr. Senanayake was able to complete a full term in office only on his fourth stint, but the way it ended may not be how this incumbent would want to end his tenure.

The one significant difference, however, is that unlike Mr. Senanayake, Mr. Wickremesinghe is not the Head of Government or of the Cabinet; there’s now an Executive President holding that post; something of an uneasy cohabitation that the PM will have to live with. With less than an absolute majority in Parliament, the task becomes even more tenuous.

As he cobbles up a National Government (coincidentally this is what the 1965-70 Dudley Senanayake Administration was also called), the Premier has a plateful of promises to fulfil. He would know only too well that with victory comes great hope and high expectations followed perhaps inevitably, by disappointment.

As an avid reader he might delve into a groundbreaking new book by Sir Michael Barber titled “How to Run a Government So That Citizens Benefit and Taxpayers Don’t Go Crazy”. The author, a British educationist, has worked on Government and Public Service reform in more than 50 countries, and shows that the situation is less about ideology and more about sustained priorities, and not giving up when the going gets tough.

Billions of citizens around the world, he says, are frustrated with their Governments. Political leaders struggle to honour their promises and officials find it near impossible to translate ideas into action. The result? High taxes, but poor outcomes. Cynicism not just with Government but with the political process.

While the newly elected Government is entitled to enjoy the fruits of victory, the task before it is an onerous one. It must roll up its sleeves straightaway, and get to work.

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