Chauvinism down, not out

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Chauvinism down, not out

Yesterday was the second time for the year that the country’s two major parties, the UNP and the SLFP entered in to an agreement to form a National Government.

The first occasion was on 8 January 2015 after Maithripala Sirisena defeated his former boss, then President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the presidential election.

Not to be outdone, Rajapaksa, like a rubber ball tried to re-enter politics by contesting the recently concluded general elections from the UPFA ticket, the coalition which the SLFP, at least till that election led, as its de facto prime ministerial candidate. This was despite the fact Sirisena telling Rajapaksa that he won’t be made Prime Minister even if he or the UPFA won the election.

The UPFA lost, though Rajapaksa won his ‘seat’, with the UNP-led UNF/UNFGG garnering the most number of seats, yet seven short of a simple majority to form Sri Lanka’s 16th Government in its 15th Parliament.

But now with the SLFP lending support to the UNP to form a National Government for two years according to reports, chances are that the new government elected to power on Monday 17 August 2015 would survive, ipso facto, till then.

Sri Lanka, after obtaining independence in 1948 has thus far formed only two National Governments. On both occasions it was this year. The first was on 8 January. But that government survived for hardly six months after Sirisena using his executive presidential powers prematurely dissolved Parliament on 26 June and called for fresh elections, ostensibly because the coalition he led, namely the UPFA, with the SLFP in the vanguard, called for a No-Confidence Motion against his Prime Minister, namely UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Nevertheless, Monday’s general election that followed saw the UNP increasing the number of its parliamentary seats from 60 to 106, though still short by seven seats to have a simple majority, while the UPFA which won 144 seats in the immediately preceding election held in April 2010 for the 225-seat Assembly, saw the number of seats it won reduced to 95.

buddhist-monks-protest-in-colombo_286534The SLFP and the UNP draw their support from the overwhelmingly 70% strong Sinhala-Buddhist vote. Of the balance 24 seats in the island’s Legislature, the JVP garnered six, TNA (16) and the SLMC and the EPDP one each at Monday’s poll.

The Tamil problem which was seemingly on the fringe since 1948, gained ascendancy in 1977, when the TULF (which gave birth to the TNA) became Sri Lanka’s main opposition party at the July 1977 General Elections.

The sum total of these developments was Sri Lanka’s 26-year-long separatist war against Tamil terrorism which was subjugated only six years ago on 18 May 2009. In its wake it left Sri Lanka in shambles at least economically with its largest export earner not being merchandise exports or a ‘respectable’ form of services export, but the unenviable export of its women as servants to the Middle East.

The TULF in 1977 became the main opposition party on the separatist card. However,the TNA in their 2015 Manifesto eschewed separatism, but mooted for federalism on a merged Northern and Eastern Province.

The UNP, relatively speaking, has been possessed of moderate Sinhala leaders. It was the SLFP which first skillfully exploited the Sinhala-Buddhist majoritarian card at the 1956 general election. It was once more successfully exploited at the general election of April 2004, i.e. in the country’s election to its 13th Parliament and also in the island’s 5th and 6th presidential elections of November 2005 and January 2010, as well as in the April 2010 general election for Sri Lanka’s 14th Parliament.

conf0504_vithy_68262_2001The communal card however, failed in Sri Lanka’s last two major elections held thus far, namely the 7th presidential election conducted seven months ago on 8 January 2015 and its 15th general election held only five days ago on Monday.

Sirisena, SLFP’s current leader is a moderate. He was elected to power seven months ago by garnering a 400,000 majority vote by getting 6.2 million votes as opposed to Rajapaksa’s 5.8 million. In the Tamil dominated Vanni and Jaffna electoral districts alone he got that 400,000 majority vote.

Discounting the National List MPs, of the 13 seats in the Vanni and Jaffna, the TNA won nine of those of which the UPFA and/or together with its coalition won two and the UNFGG which supported Sirisena the balance two, at Monday’s poll.

Sinhala moderates calling the shots in the UNP and in the SLFP and Tamil moderates gaining the ascent in the TNA, are left to be seen, whether they would be able to get the better of Sinhala chauvinism which is down, but not out, when considering some of Monday’s preferential voting in particular.