Just 10 women in Parliament – a disappointing showing

By Satarupa Bhattacharjya

Ten women have been elected to the seventh Parliament, a disappointing showing considering that there were 12 women members in the previous Parliament.

And these 10 women represent only eight out of the 22 electoral districts: Colombo, Gampaha, Digamadulla, Hambantota, Ratnapura, Anuradhapura, Jaffna and Moneragala. The Kandy and Trincomalee results are still to come, as a re-election has been ordered in those two districts.
Going by the results received so far, it would be safe to assume that the more than 500 political parties and independent groups that took part in the polls would have nominated not more than 50 women in the first place.

Upeksha Swarnamali Pavithra Wanniarachchi Rosy Senanayake S. Fernandopulle
Nirupama Rajapaksa Thalatha Athukorala Chandrani Bandara Sumedha Jayasena

Rosy Senanayake, former Mrs. World and Western Provincial Council United National Party (UNP) leader, has been elected from Colombo district. Although not a career diplomat, Mrs. Senanayake served as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Malaysia from 2002 to 2004. The sixth Parliament that opened in 2004 and was dissolved a few weeks ago did not have a single woman member from Colombo.

Dr. Sudarshani Fernandopulle, widow of the late minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, has been elected as the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) candidate, collecting the second highest number of preference votes for Gampaha district, where Basil Rajapaksa topped the preferential list.

TV actor Upeksha Swarnamali, who added a touch of glamour to her election campaign, is another Gampaha district choice. She received 81,350 votes, becoming the second most preferred United National Front (UNF) candidate for that district. Ruwan Wijewardena was the most preferred opposition candidate, with 88,850 votes. A. R. Anjan Umma of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) was the only woman MP from Gampaha in the last Parliament.

Meanwhile, Rajapaksa family member Nirupama was re-elected as the lone woman Parliamentarian from Hambantota. With 39,025 votes, Nirupama Rajapaksa emerged the fourth most popular UPFA candidate in the ruling alliance list for Hambantota.

Sumedha Jayasena, who was Minister of Child Development and Women’s Empowerment in the last government, was re-elected from Moneragala district, with 45,837 votes. Sumedha was the third most preferred UPFA candidate there.

Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Minister of Youth Affairs in President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s earlier government, retained her seat from Ratnapura district with 110,220 votes. She was one of the highest vote earners for the UPFA at the recent Parliamentary general election. She is expected to emerge as the woman candidate with the highest number of votes cast at these polls.

Thalatha Athukorala of the UNF has also retained her seat in Parliament from the same district. Chandrani Bandara Jayasinghe, the UNP’s female Member of Parliament from the Anuradhapura district in the sixth Parliament, has been re-elected as the opposition’s most preferred candidate in that district. She collected 29,884 votes.

From the Jaffna District, Vijayakala Maheshwaran, widow of slain UNP MP, T. Maheswaran will be the only Tamil woman to be elected to the next parliament.

Among the more high-profile women losers from the ruling alliance were Ferial Ashraff, from Digamadulla, actress Geetha Kumarasinghe, from Galle, and Olympic athlete Susanthika Jayasinghe, from Kegalle. Film star Malini Fonseka, who has campaigned for the UPFA, is understood to be in the reckoning for Parliament from the National List.

Analysts have expressed disappointment in the performance of women in politics in this country. They feel there should be many more than 10 women in a Parliament of 225 seats in 21st century Sri Lanka, considering that Sri Lanka gave the world its first woman head of state when Sirimavo Bandaranaike became prime minister in 1960, and because women are generally in the majority in the country’s electorates.

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