Editorial/Opinion

New chapter opens with SLPP victory

• RW remains; appoints committee to propose changes
• Decision on UNP National List slot this week
• PM swearing in today; Cabinet of 26 to be sworn in
• SLFP returns 14 MPs; one slot from National List

The prediction made several weeks prior to the 2020 general election that it would be a decisive as well as historic event has now come to pass.

Last week’s polls would be etched in history as the event that saw the emergence of two new political forces – the Mahinda Rajapaksa-led Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and Sajith Premadasa-led Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB).

The emergence of these two parties indicates the end of an era so to speak where the two main parties since Independence – the United National Party (UNP) and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) – used to alternatively govern the country.

The one-time largest political party in the country, the UNP led by Ranil Wickremesinghe, faced a humiliating defeat at the 2020 general election, unable to win any electorate and being reduced to polling a total of 249,435 votes (2.15%) and slotting in at seventh position in the final results sheet.

Wickremesinghe, who was also the Prime Minister of the former Government, was unable to secure his seat in Parliament.

The Ilankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) was placed fourth in the final results sheet, polling 327,168 votes (2.82%) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)-led National People’s Power (NPP) polling a total of 445,958 votes (3.84%) was placed third in the list.

The NPP managed to secure three parliamentary slots while the UNP only managed to secure one slot and that too from the National List.

The SLPP recorded a landslide victory at the poll securing 145 seats, which includes 17 National List seats. The party polled a total of 6,853,693 votes (59.09%) and has now become a force to reckon with.

Despite securing 145 seats in Parliament and five seats short of a two-thirds majority, several political parties supporting the SLPP that contested separately will join the governing party in Parliament, completing the 150 seats required for a two-thirds majority.

One of the biggest hurdles the SLPP will now have to face is to limit its ministerial portfolios while maintaining the support of 150 MPs in the House.

The task will undoubtedly be taken over by the Founder/theoretician of the SLPP Basil Rajapaksa, who is also the chief architect of the party’s resounding victory at the 2020 general election.

Basil has expressed the party’s desire to work with all progressive forces to move forward with the country’s development agenda.

The SLPP has already said the party is prepared to work with the minorities but not extremists.

Basil told a special media conference in Colombo last week that the Government and the SLPP are keen to work with all communities and that the SLPP is reaching its hand out to the minority groups and hopes those groups will work with the Government.

He further noted that their only objection is working with extremist groups and terrorist groups.

Rajapaksa also said that the public had accepted the policies of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and that those policies will remain even after the polls.

While the SLPP holds the country’s political power base, the UNP splinter group, the SJB, is now the second force in the country’s political scene after securing a total of 2,771,984 votes (23.90%).

The role of the main Opposition in Parliament will now be vested with the SJB with its Leader likely to be appointed as the Opposition Leader.

The SJB. on Friday (7) revealed its seven National List nominees. Tissa Attanayake, Harin Fernando, Imtiaz Bakir Marker, Diana Gamage, Shiral Lakthilaka, Ranjith Madduma Bandara, and Mayantha Dissanayake made the list.

Meanwhile, the SLPP handed over the party’s 17 National List nominees to the Election Commission (EC) last Friday (7) with the SLFP being given one slot on the list. The list included Prof. G.L. Peiris, Sagara Kariyawasam, Ajith Nivard Cabraal, Ali Sabry PC, Jayantha Weerasinghe PC, Manjula Dissanayake, Prof. Ranjith Bandara, Prof. Charitha Herath, Gevindu Kumaratunga, Mohamed Muzammil, Prof. Tissa Vitharana, Engineer Yadamini Gunawardena, Dr. Surendra Raghavan (SLFP), Tiran Alles, Dr. Seetha Arambepola, Jayantha Ketagoda, and Marjan Faleel.

Swearing in

SLPP Leader and newly elected Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa is to be sworn in to office today (9) at the Kelaniya Raja Maha Vihara.

He will be sworn in as the 14th Prime Minister of Sri Lanka at 8.30 a.m. today.

The Cabinet of Ministers is to be sworn in tomorrow (10) at the ceremonial Magul Maduwa in Kandy.

It is learnt that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has decided to limit the Cabinet of Ministers to 26 members. The President is to also hold a portfolio in the new Cabinet.

Arrangements are also being made to appoint a group of project ministers apart from the cabinet ministers, who will also be vested with powers to engage in official work. These project ministers will be positioned as non-cabinet ministers.

It is learnt that several young parliamentarians are bound to be appointed as cabinet ministers.

President Rajapaksa has summoned the new Parliament to meet on 20 August and the relevant gazette notification was issued last Monday (3).

It is also learnt that coalition partner of the SLPP-led alliance, the SLFP, is likely to receive three portfolios in the new Cabinet. The three SLFPers who are likely to be appointed to the portfolios are Party Leader Maithripala Sirisena and the next senior SLFP MP Nimal Siripala de Silva while there are several contenders for the third slot. SLFP General Secretary Jayasekara, National Organiser Dissanayake, and Mahinda Amaraweera are all contenders for the third slot.

Wishes from India and US

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was one of the first foreign leaders to congratulate his Sri Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa on the clear mandate at the parliamentary polls.

Posting a message on Twitter, Rajapaksa had thanked the Indian Premier for his congratulatory call on Thursday evening (6).

Rajapaksa had said that he looks forward to working closely with Modi to further enhance the long-standing co-operation between the two countries.

Prime Minister Rajapaksa further said that Sri Lanka and India are both “friends and relations”.

PM Rajapaksa’s tweet read: “Thank you PM @narendramodi for your congratulatory phone call. With the strong support of the people of #SriLanka, I look forward to working with you closely to further enhance the long-standing co-operation between our two countries. Sri Lanka & India are friends & relations.”

The Indian High Commission in Colombo, issuing a statement, said that Prime Minister Shri Modi had noted that the incoming results of the elections indicate an impressive electoral performance by the SLPP party, and had conveyed his congratulations and best wishes to Mahinda Rajapaksa in this regard.

“Recalling their cordial and fruitful previous interactions, the two leaders reiterated their shared commitment to strengthen the age-old and multi-dimensional India-Sri Lanka relationship. They stressed the significance of early progress in all spheres of bilateral co-operation,” the Indian High Commission said.

Meanwhile, the US while congratulating Sri Lanka on electing a new parliament, expressed hope that the new Government would uphold human rights and the rule of law, and protect the country’s sovereignty.

The US Embassy in Colombo, issuing a statement, noted that on 5 August, the people of Sri Lanka exercised a fundamental democratic right and went to the polls to elect their next parliament.

The Embassy said the US congratulates Sri Lanka on conducting the election in a peaceful and orderly manner despite the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

As the new Parliament convenes, the US observed that it hopes the Government will renew its commitments to building an inclusive economic recovery, upholding human rights and the rule of law, and protecting the country’s sovereignty.

The US also noted that it looks forward to partnering with the Government and new Parliament.

SLFP fares well

As for the SLFP, a total of 12 SLFP candidates who contested under the SLPP have been elected to Parliament – Maithripala Sirisena, Duminda Dissanayake, Dayasiri Jayasekara, Shantha Bandara, Mahinda Amaraweera, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Shan Wijayalal, Jagath Pushpakumara, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Chamara Dasanayake, Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, and Dushmantha Mithrapala.

It is also interesting to note that while Wickremesinghe suffered a humiliating defeat at the polls, former President Sirisena topped the preferential list in the Polonnaruwa District by 111,137 preferential votes in the district.

SLFPer Angajan Ramanathan, who contested under the party’s “hand” symbol, secured a slot in Parliament while another party member Cader Masthan had also secured a seat from the Vanni District.

The SLFP had an overall strength of 14 parliamentary seats while Dr. Surendra Raghavan of the SLFP was nominated by the SLPP through its National List, submitted to the EC on Friday (7).

UNP’s Waterloo

The UNP on the other hand suffered a major defeat at the polls, while its splinter group, the SJB managed to place itself as the second political force in the country.

As unofficial results of the elections were being gathered at the UNP headquarters Sirikotha, it became evident to the UNP supporters that the party was headed for an unprecedented defeat.

By Thursday (6) evening, Party Leader Wickremesinghe had informed the party seniors that the party needed to move forward under a new leadership.

However, the question on every UNPer’s mind was who would take the baton from Wickremesinghe and work to resuscitate a party that has fallen to depths never before experienced by any political party in the country.

The leadership of the UNP met at Sirikotha on Friday (7) morning following the conclusion of the 2020 general election. Among them were UNP General Secretary Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, Assistant Leader Ravi Karunanayake, Ruwan Wijewardene, Vajira Abeywardena, and Sagala Ratnayaka.

An initial analysis of the election results were discussed, and the members, while accepting that the SJB had taken a percentage of the UNP vote, recognised that a large portion of the UNP vote had shifted to the SLPP.

The Sinhala vote bank had reduced by an estimated two million people following the presidential election.

It was also found that the SJB did not control the Sinhala vote bank either, with a large percentage of its votes having originated from the minorities.

The UNP leadership discussed the need for a change in the party structure and leadership, similar to that seen post 1970.

During the discussion, several UNP seniors had opined that the party leadership should not be changed in a hurry and that it should be a well thought out move.

The UNP seniors are to meet again tomorrow (10) to discuss the reorganising and restructuring of the party.

A committee of three members – Kariyawasam, Karunanayake, and Wijewardene – was appointed to discuss and formulate recommendations and proposals to be implemented with regard to restructuring the party.

UNP General Secretary Kariyawasam noted in a statement that it was being done with the intention of making it a vibrant entity.

“We request the people to take both victory and defeat in good spirits and maintain peace. The UNP will be restructured and reorganised as it was done after every previous election,” Kariyawasam had stated. “We take the responsibility for the huge defeat suffered by the UNP in the face of internal and external challenges.”

Kariyawasam had said the SLPP had secured a landslide victory despite the services rendered by the UNP Government on a long-term and short-term basis.

The party has not yet decided on who would be appointed to Parliament through its National List slot. However, a final decision on the matter is to be taken before 20 August, when Parliament is scheduled to convene.

SJB accuses UNP

While the tussle for preferential votes was at its peak on Thursday night with the UNP making all efforts to try and secure at least one parliamentary slot from the Colombo District, the SJB dropped a bombshell by claiming that UNP Leader Wickremesinghe and his loyalists were making an unlawful attempt to save his seat in Parliament.

SJB General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara issued a statement noting that desperate and unlawful measures were being resorted to by UNP Leader Wickremesinghe in order to save his seat in the House.

Madduma Bandara claimed that as per election laws and the Constitution, only a political party or group which has secured a minimum of 5% of votes can be allocated a seat in Parliament.

However, he noted that the UNP is attempting to manipulate the preferential vote system so Wickremesinghe can be allocated a seat in Parliament.

Madduma Bandara said that the matter has been raised with the EC and legal advice will also be initiated against the arbitrary act.

However, regardless of the alleged efforts by the UNP and protest by the SJB, Wickremesinghe lost his seat in Parliament.

Big changes in lists

It was the Colombo District list that showcased many surprises.

Key among the surprises was the defeat of UNP Leader Wickremesinghe and Assistant Leader Karunanayake as well as the failure of the UNP to secure even one seat in Colombo, which is known as the party’s power hub.

SLPP candidate Sarath Weerasekara topped the preferential votes in the Colombo District with 328,092 votes while Wimal Weerawansa and Udaya Gammanpila were placed second and third amongst those in the party.

SJB prime ministerial candidate Sajith Premadasa secured the second highest preferential votes in Colombo with 305,744.
Former UNP MPs and SJB candidates Sujeewa Senasinghe and Hirunika Premachandra failed to secure a seat in Parliament from the Colombo District.

Meanwhile, eight female candidates have been elected to the Ninth Parliament.

Three female representatives have been elected from the Ratnapura District alone – Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Muditha Soyza, and Thalatha Atukorale.

The others are Rajika Wickremesinghe, Sudarshani Fernandopulle, Kokila Gunawardena, Geetha Kumarasinghe, and Rohini Kaviratne.

However, the number of female representatives in Parliament could see an increase depending on the candidates nominated by political parties through their respective National Lists.

According to reports, female representation in Parliament has not surpassed 6.5% in the country’s history and female representation in the House had stood at 5.3% with 12 female MPs during the 2015-2020 period.

Also, several districts saw newcomers to politics beating professional politicians to secure the top slot in the preferential vote lists – Nalaka Godahewa, Nipuna Ranawaka, Shasheendra Rajapaksa, and Jeevan Thondaman among others. (See boxes for names of winners and losers at the general election).

Controversy over Jaffna list

Meanwhile, a tense situation arose in the Northern Province during the counting of preferential votes in the Jaffna District.

Former Tamil National Alliance (TNA) Jaffna District candidate M.A. Sumanthiran was accused of manipulating the preferential vote count in the district by Pravina Raviraj, who is the daughter of assassinated TNA MP Raviraj.

Pravina’s mother, Sashikala Raviraj, contested under the TNA-backed ITAK for the Jaffna District.

Pravina claimed foul play stating that her mother, who was polling second in both Jaffna and Kilinochchi by 6.30 p.m. on Thursday, was placed fourth when the final results for the Jaffna District were announced.

On a post shared on Facebook, she had alleged that the final results for the Jaffna District in the 2020 general election were delayed as they were awaiting the arrival of TNA Spokesperson Sumanthiran at the counting centre.

Sumanthiran and his associate Sajanthan were reportedly seen seated inside the counting centre along with election officials when all other candidates were restricted from entering the centre, Pravina had stated.

She had noted that the turmoil was thereafter created at the counting centre to hide the rigged voting that had occurred in two counting booths.

Sumanthiran and the Police Special Task Force personnel deployed on duty at the counting centre are being accused of attacking persons who were carrying out a peaceful protest against the rigging of votes.

According to Pravina, TNA Leader R. Sampanthan had failed to answer their multiple calls during the attack on peaceful protesters and incidents of alleged rigging.

Hardliners in the House

Apart from the in-house battles in the TNA, the 2020 general election results have also sent in several hardliners to Parliament.

Among the hardline Tamil nationalists are C.V. Wigneswaran and Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, who have secured seats in Parliament.

Wigneswaran contested from the Tamil People’s National Alliance in the Jaffna District while Ponnambalam contested from All Ceylon Tamil Congress (AITC). Ponnambalam is the son of the late Kumar Ponnambalam of the AITC.

Wigneswaran was the former Chief Minister in the Northern Province who was brought into the limelight by the TNA. However, he later split from the TNA and formed his own party.

Ponnambalam was also once a member of the TNA before splitting and taking a hard stance on the national issue.