Parties disappoint voters in Sri Lanka

Feizal Samath

Tired of the vituperative and corrupt politics of the two main political parties — the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) —, Sri Lankans at the last parliamentary polls on April 2, looked to two other parties to deliver the goods. The People’s Liberation (JVP), a former Marxist group, secured close to 40 seats as a key partner in the now ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) while the National Heritage Party (JHU), representing a group of Buddhist monks, won nine seats. Together they secured 22 per cent of the 225-seat. If one takes the UNP and the SLFP, they together control less than 65 per cent of the legislature. Under the 1978 constitution no single party can gain a convincing parliamentary majority. The rot in parliament set in after the 1972 and 1978 constitutional cha-nges giving untrammelled powers to the leaders of the parties in power. That actually worsened under the 1978 constitution where an all-powerful executive presidency was established.

Under this constitution the president has unfettered powers which Chandrika Kumaratunga since 1994 uses while at the same time blaming the former UNP regime and its late President Junius Jayewardene for enacting a presidency that overrides the supremacy of parliament. Kumaratunga who won power in parliament andz subsequently the presidency vowed to scrap the presidency. That never happened however. Her archrival, Ranil Wickremesi-nghe, leader of the UNP, had agreed to scrap the presidency.The roles are reversed now. Kumaratunga’s term ends in December 2005 and under the rules cannot serve a third term. Hence she wants to scrap the presidency and enter parliament. Wickremesinghe has other ideas however. He wants to be president.. It is clear that both leaders are more interested in their own future than the country’s future. Are the JVP and the JHU also heading down this destructive road? There is growing concern that this is happening. Many people voted for JVP candidates in the UPFA hoping they would represent a badly needed third political force in this country.

JHU monks also stressed during the election campaign that they would not get into political games in parliament. The first test of character for both parties was last Thursday when parliament met to elect a new speaker, which was won by the joint opposition candidate put forward by the UNP. Most people believe the JVP and the JHU miserably failed this test. The JVP was accused of “detaining” or hiding two JHU parliamentarians. A day after the riotous poll in the legislature, temples where the JHU Buddhist monk-parliamentarians were stormed by suspected UPFA goons who threatened the monks for voting against the government.

On Thursday, the JHU party leader said they would abstain from voting in the election. However when the two JHU monks voted with the government, the JHU hierarchy, under pressure from the UNP to provide two decisive votes, agreed to let two of their mo-nks to vote for the UNP candidate. In doing this, the JHU disappointed their voters by behaving exactly the way the two main parties have done in the past decades. The JVP, in addition to possible involvement in the “detention” of the two monks, also let down its mass support by resorting to hooliganism in parliament on Thursday. “The incidents were a indication that they would go down the same road,” one disappointed voter noted. Samath, a freelancer, writes for THT from Colombo