Sri Lankans went to polls yesterday (August 5) in adherence to the health precautions outlined by the respective authorities (AFP)
The SLPP was hamstrung in presenting a fully-fledged budget to execute its plan
The SLPP, right throughout its election campaign, requested for parliamentary power with two-thirds majority
No matter what, the new Government is bound to encounter fresh challenges which are beyond its control
Sri Lankans went to polls yesterday (August 5) in adherence to the health precautions outlined by the respective authorities to make sure that COVID -19 will not spread as a result of the polling process. Every election has its own significance, and so is the case of this election. Polling was conducted primarily to elect members to the Legislature that has remained defunct since its dissolution on March 2, 2020 by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
In the presidential proclamation, April 25 was declared the day of polling. But, polling could not be taken because of COVID-19. It got postponed till August 5 finally. The new Government came into being after President Rajapaksa was elected to office at the presidential election that was conducted on November 16, 2019. The United National Party (UNP) that enjoyed parliamentary majority stepped down after the defeat at the presidential election enabling the incoming President’s party to form a minority Government. Parliament operated under the new minority Government till March 2, 2019. But, hardly anything tangible could be done without a proper parliamentary majority for his Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). He dissolved Parliament on the very first opportunity available to him in terms of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. A General Election was the immediate priority for the President as a result.
The outcome of this election is obvious. It is a foregone conclusion, and therefore one’s comments on it will not have any adverse effect on the other contestants.
Since March 2, the country has been governed only with two tiers of Government with elected representatives- Executive Presidency and the local authorities. Parliament, as one of the most crucial organs of governance, is non-functional. The Government or the President for that matter had to fight COVID-19 with such restraints. The pandemic posed new, unexpected economic challenges to the country. Budgetary decisions have to be taken to respond to the new situation, but nothing can be done without a functioning Parliament. The SLPP was hamstrung in presenting a fully-fledged budget to execute its plan. In that sense, the day of polling was something much looked forward to by the SLPP which has already secured
The SLPP, right throughout its election campaign, requested for parliamentary power with two-thirds majority. It is something unachievable for any party under any circumstances. At the elections held in 1977, former President the late J.R.Jayewardene obtained five-sixth majority, but it was under the previous First-Past the Post System only. Since the introduction of the Proportional Representation system in accordance with the 1978 constitution, no party gained such a majority. The closest to two-thirds was achieved by the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) in 2010 when it secured 144 seats. At that time, the UPFA , under the leadership of present Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa , accommodated some Muslim parties such as the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) led by former Minister Rishad Bathiudeen. The political force led by the UPFA at that time is controlled by the SLPP today under the same leadership, but it is devoid of the Muslim parties. When analyzing the possible outcome of this time as far as the SLPP is concerned, one has to discount Muslim votes.
The closest to two-thirds was achieved by the UPFA in 2010 when it secured 144 seats. At that time the UPFA accommodated some Muslim parties
The SLPP talked about a two-thirds majority. The SLPP is well aware that it is an impossible target. But, it laid emphasis on the need to have such a majority to encourage its organizers to work as hard as possible at least to get near the target. Two-thirds means 150 seats in the House of 225.
The simple majority required to govern a country is 113. Accordingly, if a political party secures 120 -125 seats at a general election, it will be a comfortable number to run the country. That is a figure sufficient to enact legislations. Two-thirds is needed only for matters such as the enactment of constitutional changes, the impeachment of the Chief Justice or the President.
Despite it being unrealistic to achieve two-thirds, the SLPP is keen to get it. That is for the amendment of the present constitution or to bring about a new constitution. Otherwise, the SLPP will not mull the impeachment of the President since it is their own President. The party is full of criticism of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. True, the 19th Amendment is full of grey areas. Also, attempts have been made over the years to change the present electoral system by introducing a mix of proportional representation and the First Past the Post System. The SLPP looks to ready have a departure from the current electoral system.
Two-thirds is needed only for matters such as the enactment of constitutional changes, the impeachment of the Chief Justice or the President
The 2010/2015 Mahinda Rajapaksa Government fell short of two-thirds to enact the 19th Amendment and to impeach then Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake. Two-thirds was secured by roping in members from the UNP and accommodating Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC). That the same strategy will be worked out this time cannot be ruled out given the nature of Sri Lankan politics. In the past, there were many instances in which the law makers switched sides for personal benefits and later justified their actions.
Bringing about constitutional changes is a meticulous, time consuming exercise. The new government will prioritise it for later, then.
If the SLPP forms a Government, the formulation of the maiden budget will be the number priority. It is urgently needed to make necessary allocations to the ministries for the implementation of the macroeconomic policies envisaged in the President’s manifesto.
No matter what, the new Government is bound to encounter fresh challenges which are beyond its control. Revival of the tourism sector for international travelers is not possible anytime soon since the pandemic, though under control in Sri Lanka, is raging across the globe. India and China are the largest source markets for tourism in Sri Lanka.
Even if the airport is open, there will be fewer travellers. China recovered earlier than most other countries from the pandemic. Chinese economy also showed growth. Already, Chinese President Xi Jinping had talks with President Rajapaksa on financial cooperation. A SLPP-led government is likely to enhance bilateral ties with China for post-pandemic economic recovery. Similar close cooperation will also be sought with India. A currency swap agreement has already been signed with the Reserve Bank of India.
These are two Asian powers with strategic interests in the region. The new government will face challenges in balancing out relations with the two countries.