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DateLine Tuesday, 26 August 2008

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Electoral reforms

The pathetic showing by political parties such as the JVP and the CWC at the just concluded Provincial Poll is clear sign that the electorate at large has embraced the two party system.

Both these parties were much more than fringe parties in contemporary politics and more often than not formed the prop that enabled either the UNP or SLFP/PA to form Governments.

Had not Thondaman's CWC supported, Prime Minister Premadasa would have failed in his Presidential bid in 1988 (The CWC claimed to have had a bloc vote of 500,000 at the time. Premadasa won by margin of 250,000).

Similarly the JVP sided with Chandrika Kumaratunga in 2004 to form a UPFA Government. This electoral muscle provided by minority parties gave them ample leverage and bargaining power with Governments.

This sometimes put Governments into embarrassing and difficult positions. It also entailed a drain on State resources to accommodate their demands.

It was President Mahinda Rajapaksa who dared to break this stranglehold when he refused to accommodate certain JVP demands in return for the party's support at the 2006 local Government elections.

The humiliating defeat the party suffered at that poll exposed the JVP's real electoral strength which eventually led to its split. The complete rout suffered by these two parties at last week's poll is a clear indication that voters of fringe parties are increasingly joining the two major parties.

Most marked is the gravitation of CWC voters who were being sort of regimented to vote for the party. Now that the traditional Left parties have all coalesced with the Government and some minority parties are with the main Opposition the day may not be long when the two party system will once again hold sway in Lankan politics.

The country had been accustomed to the two party system since Independence. Although parties such as the LSSP and CP held sway from some time, infighting among stalwarts on ideological lines failed to obtain for them any electoral gains.

Into the breach arrived S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike who along with D.A. Rajapaksa formed the SLFP. It (SLFP) became the second largest party and was eventually able to capture power in the historic victory in 1956. Following the demise of Bandaranaike there was dissension within SLFP ranks and the UNP were able to seize power in the March election of 1960.

But later State power went into the hands of the SLFP at the July elections in the same year. Since then it had been UNP and SLFP led coalitions that ruled the country, small parties being mere appendages to the main parties.

The only exception is when the TULF came to the forefront following the 1977 UNP avalanche, as the main opposition party, when the SLFP was reduced to a mere eight seats. But this was due to an abberation in the electoral landscape as the TULF secured all its 30 odd seats from a contiguous Tamil electorate in the North and the East.

The status quo returned after the exit of the TULF from Parliament following the adoption of the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution. Presently there is minority representation in the form of the CWC, UPF, EPDP the SLMC and their splinter groups and also the JHU.

These parties are either aligned with the UPFA or the UNP. They have no individual clout in the legislature as say the Indian Communist party which had the strength and stature to pull out support to the Congress party following India's nuclear deal with the USA.

Whatever power that is being wielded by the minority parties today is thanks to the PR system. It has allowed them unlimited bargaining power leading to unstable Governments and horse deals. It is no secret how some of these minority parties not only make unreasonable demands but also extend their influence to get their nominees plum appointments in the Government especially the foreign service.

It is in this context that the Government should take steps to speedily implement the new electoral reforms proposed by Minister Dinesh Gunawardena now that the two party system is firmly becoming entrenched. It could also help eliminate questionable characters from entering Parliament.

The proposed reforms will also reduce the huge expenditure incurred on election campaigns under PR while bringing the people closer to their elected representatives. This is not to decry minority parties and their representation.

A special mechanism should be evolved to accommodate minority interests. But as the trend shows minority voters are increasingly gravitating towards the two major parties. This will compel elected Governments to assume direct responsibility over these segments rather than through the representatives of these parties. Above all it bodes well for national unity and communal harmony.

A peep into our Colonial Past

The nearest that may be regarded as such is the chant I have often heard either at kaavadi or at vel - harroh harrah! Govinda! But they were not singing of this mundane world nor of any mundane person, but of one who transcends all worldliness. Quite different to what our colonial masters told us to do to old King George V - ‘send him victorious, happy and glorious’ alas, to where we were not told.

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The real threat

The other day, some of the people I work with were having a discussion about the Taliban and who exactly they are. Most of them were young professionals and many of them are quite devout and adhere to Islamic injunctions about prayer and fasting. When I was asked the same question I started to ponder on it. Luckily for me one of the people in my department walked in just then.

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The SAARC Summit and its multitude of benefits

The 15th SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) Summit was successfully concluded in Colombo and was attended by a pantheon of South Asian leaders as well as other dignitaries from Observer States. The proceedings and other concomitant engagements of the one week high profile international Summit were conducted with a great degree of efficacy, finesse and coordination.

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