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Monday, 12 April 2010






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The legislature must pull its weight for a change

Just before the election I wrote in this newspaper about the kinds of consolation prizes that losers would get. I forgot one thing: absenteeism.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, perhaps the greatest excuse-trotter this country has known since Independence (Tissa Attanayaka comes a close second, by the way), was quick to latch on to this straw. This is what I read this morning:

Electoral system

Wickremesinghe said that the Opposition lost the election as the people had boycotted the polls because of their lack of faith in the executive, legislature and the electoral system. “If you look at General Elections from 1994 to 2004 on average there has been a voter turnout of 75.9 percent. Even during the 1989 riots there was a voter turnout of 63 percent. However, this time only 56.9 percent have voted. Therefore, even though a Parliament has been elected, it does not have the mandate of the country.

Some have said that ‘intimidation’ was the reason why voters kept away from the polling booths. I am sure no one, not even the staunchest supporter of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) would say that there was no voter intimidation during the run up to the Election or on Election Day. There was violence but it was more intra-party than inter-party. The fracas in Nawalapitiya is a case in point.

Ranil Wickremesinghe

Any kind of violence would make a voter think twice about leaving home, this is true. But voters have memory and they are bound to remember that they voted under far worse conditions, especially the older voters who know what the UNP-JVP ‘Bheeshanaya’ was all about and how the ‘Rathu Sahodarayas’ threatened to shoot the first person to cast his/her vote.

This election was clearly among the least violent. The ‘intimidation’ argument therefore is full of holes. At worst, it would have affected the result by less than one percentage point and that would translate at worst to the UPFA getting two seats less. A total of 143 instead of 145 is not significant.

Least violent

Ranil Wickremesinghe’s reasoning seems superior, actually. I listened to Gomin Dayasri and Damma Dissanayake discussing the implications of the results last night on Rupavahini. They made some interesting observations. Gomin in particular spoke to the concerns that Ranil expressed in the post-election media conference.

Gomin observing that the excitement that surrounded the Presidential Election was clearly absent in this election. He opined that part of the reason for the low voter turnout was that the general public had greater faith in the President than in his party; that they knew how crucial the January 26th election was going to be and responded with an appropriate level of engagement before and on Election Day. The lethargy shown on April 8 indicated, among other things, a manifest lack of faith in the legislature, he said.

Preferential votes

The results of the preferential votes substantiate this thesis. Ministers and Deputy Ministers have lost. Others have been bested by younger candidates. There has been a marked preference for the new face. That’s virtually an assessment of performance. ‘We are not happy’ is the overall voter statement. Ranil himself has lost quite some ground in terms of popularity. Karu Jayasuriya had to trail a teledrama actress. Mangala Samaraweera was pushed to second place in Matara (UNP) by Buddhika Pathirana.

Ministers Dinesh Gunawardena, Bandula Gunawardena, A H M Fowzie, Susil Premajayantha, Gamini Lokuge and Jeevan Kumaratunga trailed Wimal Weerawansa, Duminda Silva and Patali Champika Ranawaka in Colombo. Although the excuse of not having as much money as Wimal and Duminda had is legitimate, it doesn’t explain how Champika Ranawaka came third, when he, Ranawaka, would have spent just a fraction of what Bandula, Lokuge and Jeevan spent, for example. Wickremesinghe is correct only in part therefore. There is a lack of faith in the ‘legislature’. This is pretty clear. He is part of the legislature.

Had he been honest, he would admit that his party’s loyalists have lost their faith in his ability to lead the UNP, in order to explain the massive erosion of the party’s vote base.

Party leadership

If, as he argues, the low voter turnout indicates that the elected Parliament does not have the mandate of the country, then he himself does not have the mandate necessary to lead the UNP, it follows. Would he acknowledge, would he resign? No. That’s not his style. Pity.

My friend Dr Ruvaiz Haniffa, in an open letter to Ranil has quoted Cromwell’s memo to the rump Parliament of England on April 20, 1653: “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”

After the election debacle of 2004 I wrote that I would make a better leader of the UNP. It was in jest. Looking back six years later, I am sure very few UNPers would disagree. I mean, in the very least I couldn’t have done worse. Someone like Karu Jayasuriya would have delivered something more had he been made leader back then and had someone like Sajith Premadasa taken over the party leadership a year ago I am pretty sure the result wouldn’t be this embarrassing. Come to think of it, why not try him out now, after all there’s little to lose?

Dr Haniffa urges that Ranil resigns ‘after’ reflecting and considering the facts and evidence before him: ‘The only Performance Indicator as far as a politician is concerned, from a voter’s perspective is success at elections, any type of election. We shall say no more.’

What the UNP does or does not do is up to that party. We have a Parliament.

A new one. Some fresh faces. They have to deal with one important thing:lack of faith in the eyes of the voter. They can’t be blamed or be expected to resign because some people did not vote, but they can be a different and better legislature. One that pulls its weight. For a change. [email protected]

[ New era]

* Election among least violent

* Marked preference for new faces

* Massive erosion of UNP vote base

* Questions about UNP leadership

* Different and better legislature


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