Uncertain alliances

Published : Feb 26, 2010 00:00 IST

AT the end of a six-week-long nasty and extremely personal campaign, there is a clear winner in incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Now he will be able to preside over the proceedings of the general elections scheduled for April and also the elections in 2015. The current Constitution bestows enormous powers on the President. For instance, the President has the power to dissolve Parliament a year after it comes into existence without assigning any reason for doing so.

The 225-member Sri Lankan Parliament is constituted by the system of proportional representation, which is based on the percentage of votes polled by individual parties, and direct election. So, all the major parties are assured of a relatively decent presence in the next Parliament.

The opposition combine, which has parties with conflicting views on certain fundamental issues facing the island nation, is likely to split during the parliamentary election. Uncertainty prevails in the ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA). The Parliament that emerged after the 2004 elections has changed in its composition (see chart). Rajapaksa, who came to power for the first time in November 2005, not only succeeded in splitting the opposition ranks but also conjured up a majority for the ruling combine in Parliament.

Many key portfolios such as Foreign Affairs, Tourism, Foreign Investment and Power in the Rajapaksa government are held by those who defected from the main opposition party, the United National Party (UNP). It was actually a herculean task for the President to accommodate them in the government without antagonising members of his own party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

Although cases are pending against the defectors in the Supreme Court, the anti-defection laws in the existing Constitution are so weak that they make little difference to their status.

The opposition, which had come together and put up Fonseka as its consensus candidate for the presidential election, has no common approach to some of the key issues, including the resolution of the ethnic problem and vital economic issues plaguing the nation. For instance, the UNP advocates liberalisation of the economy but the ultra-nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) is against it.

The JVP has already gone on record that it will go it alone in the general election. The pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is in disarray and has not made clear the position it will take.

The combinations that will emerge in the run-up to the elections remain unclear. Whatever be the case, President Rajapaksa has nothing to worry.

Ironically, the least-favoured scenario for the President would be a two-thirds majority for the ruling combine in the next Parliament. In such an eventuality, there will be pressure on him to push through the constitutional amendments necessary to find a solution to the nearly three-decades-old ethnic conflict and redress the real and perceived grievances of minorities in general and Tamils in particular.

B. Muralidhar Reddy
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