The ‘Grand Old Party’ -- which strode Sri Lanka’s political arena for the past 70 years since it was founded on September 6, 1946 by the country’s first post-independence Prime Minister Don Stephen Senanayake, who was also fondly referred to as the `Father of the Nation` -- suffered an ignominious defeat unprecedented in our electoral history. Even former president J.R. Jayewardene, the architect of the 1977 Constitution, who always believed that no other political party would ever muster a two-thirds majority, might have never imagined that some 40 years later the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), not very long after it was formed, would deliver such a stunning blow to the United National Party (UNP), JR once led to become Sri Lanka’s first executive president with a 5/6th majority in parliament.
For the first time ever, the once mighty UNP has been reduced to only one representative in Parliament, that too through the national list, has been relegated to the role of a political non-entity if not a bystander. It was pushed to third or fourth place in some electorates by the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) led by former president Ranasinghe Premadasa’s son Sajith. The SJB was officially launched some five months ago and is mainly made up of members disgruntled with the UNP and its leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, who failed to learn the glaring lessons from the past resulting in the party being stuck in a quagmire. With that said, we should not lose sight of the fact that while the UNP had disintegrated under Mr. Wickremesinghe’s watch, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) too, under the leadership of former president Maithripala Sirisena, had vanished from Sri Lanka’s electoral map. He had himself abandoned the SLFP and contested the election with a few other senior SLFPers on the SLPP ticket. The only member to contest under the hand symbol, won a parliamentary seat. What a fate to befall two of the major political parties which administered the country at different times since Independence.
The new parliament which will be sworn in on August 20 consists of some of the old faces, who have been tried, tested and had failed and some new faces entering the Chamber for the first time. As so succinctly mentioned in a weekend newspaper, among those to be sworn in next week some are riddled with various allegations with one of them contesting while in death row convicted of murder charges and another while in remand custody in connection with the killing of former TNA MP Joseph Pararajasingham in Batticaloa on December 25, 2005. After all, a vast majority of the people voted for them and so that’s what we get for the next five years or more depending on the fate that awaits the 19th Amendment but how they will fare as people`s representatives is for the future to determine.
The unprecedented majority bestows on the newly-elected government an enormous responsibility to fulfil the pledges and promises it made both during the campaign leading to last year`s presidential election and the just concluded general election. Even more important is the responsibility placed on the Gotabaya Rajapaksa-led Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) government to refrain from damaging the trust placed by the ordinary people in such large numbers. The onus of delivering the goods as it were is on the ruling party, which would also need to make sure that Sri Lanka’s wealth and resources which the new government holds in trust are protected and safeguarded for all citizens of Sri Lankans now and in the future while misappropriation of government funds, bribery and corruption, drug trafficking and criminal activities are eradicated from this country.
Another of its major responsibilities is that of resuscitating and reviving the economy, providing much needed relief to the people, especially the low-income groups, the poverty-stricken, the destitute and the thousands of migrant workers, who have returned or waiting to return, mainly from Middle-Eastern countries, having lost their jobs or sources of income amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, we take time off to congratulate President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who led the relatively young SLPP to a massive election victory and applaud their decision to limit the Cabinet to 28 ministers. We also hope that the people, who envisaged a change for the better with their ballot, would not be disappointed nor left stranded and that the people’s representatives will firmly resolve to serve others instead of themselves.