The Guest Column by Victor Ivon

3rd September 2000

Parliament after polls: cohabitation or conflict?

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What will be the composition of the new parliament? Will the PA be able to improve its slender majority in parliament or will its members occupy the opposition benches?

Although the PA after the parliamentary election of 1994 was considered a government with a majority of one in parliament, it managed to have a working majority of about 30 in parliament.

The six parties which constituted the PA had 105 seats, the SLMC seven and the Up-country People's Front one and together they enjoyed a strength of 113 seats. In additioan to this support, the PA also had the backing of seven CWC members and nine EPDP members. Accordingly the PA had a parliamentary strength of 129 seats.

The main opposition UNP, officially had 94 seats, but the seven CWC members who entered parliament on the UNP ticket had decided to back the government, its strength was reduced to 87. The TULF had five MPs while PLOTE-TELO combination had three. The JVP had one. Thus, the combined opposition had 96 seats, it was not an opposition with any coherence.

Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Ravi Karunanayaka and R. Chandrasekaran joined the opposition as the parliamentary term was approaching its end, bringing down the government's strength to 126 and increasing the opposition's strength to 99. But the government party's strength increased again due to the cross-over of five UNP members, bringing down the opposition strength to 94.

The survival of the PA government rested to a great extent on the three pillars of the EPDP, the SLMC and the CWC. However, two of the pillars have started cracking by this time. Five CWC MPs and two SLMC MPs joined the UNP. The future of the EPDP is uncertain.

When the country went to polls in 1994, Jaffna was under the sway of the LTTE. The election in the peninsula thus was held under dubious circumstances with the EPDP which polled 10,744 votes winning 9 out of Jaffna district's 10 seats.

However at the upcoming elections, both the TULF and the All Ceylon Tamil Congress are contesting in the Jaffna district. It is said that the ACTC will have the LTTE's patronage. Under these circumstances, it is uncertain whether the EPDP will be able to get even two seats in the Jaffna district.

The split in the SLMC and the CWC as well as the precarious position that the EPDP has been placed it could harm the PA's prospects.

The PA wants the SLMC and the CWC to contest under its banner to obviate the possibility of these parties joining the victor to form the next government. But these two parties will have advantages as well as disadvantages from contesting on the PA ticket.

Of the 16 seats in the north, the government had as many as 12. However the number of seats that the EPDP and the SLMC will get might come down to four.

The next factor that will change the overall picture is the JVP. The JVP-backed Sri Lanka Progressive Front had one member in the last parliament. Going by the strength of votes it received at last year's presidential election, the JVP might get six seats at the October 10 elections. The JVP could have got more votes, had there not been a crisis situation following the Town Hall bomb attack, resulting in the surge of a huge sympathy vote in favour of President Kumaratunga, the PA candidate and victim of the blast. Thus a fair estimate could give the JVP two or more seats at the upcoming elections.

If that happens neither of the two main parties is likely to cross the hundred-seat mark meaning they will not be able to form a government without the support of minority parties.

Whatever be the results, the aftermath of the election will inevitably throw the executive presidential system into a major crisis.

The two parties are in a close contest. At this election which is held after the government itself has injected new life into a debilitated opposition, there is a possibility that the PA will lose to the UNP. If that happens the UNP is unlikely to permit a power to exist above itself. This is why the UNP is going around saying that it will abolish the executive presidential system if it wins.

If the PA loses, some PA members might blame the president for the defeat and they might even rise against the executive presidential system.

A large number of PA ministers and MPs are tolerating the presidential system not because they like it but because they fear the consequence of rising against it. However, the executive presidential system has humiliated many of them and they might make this an occasion to vent their anger. Such a revolt against the executive presidential system might even lead to a consensus in parliament and might end in a national government with the participation of all.

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