Mahinda Rajapaksa sworn-in as Prime Minister
By: Upali Obeyesekere
A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since Sri Lanka President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa ordered the dissolution of Sri Lanka parliament on March 2nd and called for early parliamentary elections. The onslaught of coronavirus pandemic resulted in the election date to be changed twice in the interests of the people of Sri Lanka. Protocols were put in place, airport was closed, restrictions were enforced as Sri Lanka joined the rest of the world to fight the challenge of the pandemic that had devastated a few countries who showed scant respect for the seriousness of the virus. The election date was finally fixed for Wednesday, August 5th. The Lankan parliament has 225 seats and the election was held under proportional representation system. 196 members are elected from 22 electoral districts. The remaining 29 parliamentarians will be appointed based on each party’s cumulative votes tally referred to as the “National List”.
The result of the parliamentary election was a foregone conclusion. The consensus among the people of Sri Lanka was that the newly formed party Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) would emerge winners at the election due to many underlying factors. The two main rival parties – Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and United National Party (UNP) were in a state of political disarray. The SLFP led by former Maithripala Sirisena were split with prominent members joining the SLPP and some joining other parties. Adding insult to injury the UNP – the oldest standing political party in the country, were facing the biggest leadership struggle since it was formed in 1946. On the one hand was its unpopular leader Ranil Wickremesinghe failing to pass the baton to a younger and emerging leader Sajith Premadasa. The ongoing dispute finally ended when Sajith Premadasa broke away from the UNP taking with him the nucleus of UNPers to form a new party – Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB). The rest is history!
The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) led by Mahinda Rajapaksa won the 2020 parliamentary election in a landslide with 128 of the 196 elected seats. The party also secured 17 seats from the National List ending up with 145 seats in a 225-member legislature. The SLPP had received 6,853,698 million votes — 59.09 percent of the total votes polled. The ‘Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna’ (SLPP) is contesting a parliamentary poll for the first time. Its popularity with the masses is demonstrative of the results obtained. The overwhelming by the SLPP may also be attributed to the personal popularity of the Rajapaksa brothers – Gotabhaya and his older brother Mahinda. Working hard behind the scenes was the third brother Basil Rajapaksa who did not contest the parliamentary elections this time.
The SLPP together with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and about nine other parties formed a new political alliance named ‘Sri Lanka Nidahas Podujana Sandanaya’ last February to jointly contest the Election, but it was agreed to retain the SLPP as the Party name and ‘Flower Bud’ as the Party symbol. The SLPP are five seats short of a two-thirds majority but this will be easily circumvented with support from the alliance that was formed in February. Crunching numbers shows an interesting voter analysis vis-à-vis the November 2019 Presidential Elections where SLPP candidate Gotabhaya Rajapaksa secured 6,924,255 votes to become the Executive President of Sri Lanka. The marginal difference attained at the presidential election by the SLPP is 70,557 votes when comparing with the SLPP performance at the parliamentary elections. This can be attributed to an erosion of votes to the alliance that obviously polled the deficit recorded here (6,924,255 – 6,853,698 = 70,557). Decisive parliamentary majority will allow the new SLPP government to alter the country’s political landscape.
The Sajith Premadasa led Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) received 2,771, 988 votes, securing 47 seats and seven national list seats with a grand total of 54 seats in the 225-member parliament. The Illankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (Tamil National Alliance) is third with 327,168 votes followed by the Jathika Jana Balawegaya (JVP), Ahila Illangai Thamil Congress, the Ealam Peoples Democratic Party (EPDP) and the United National Party (UNP). Illankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) has 10 seats and the Jathika Jana Balawegaya 3 seats.
What happened to the UNP?
The dismal performance of the United National Party (UNP) does not surprise anyone. The United National Party (UNP) that had been voted into power for over four decades, failed to acquire any seats at this year’s poll. They will, however, receive one national list seat. This writer’s conclusion is that its leader Ranil Wickremesinghe is solely responsible for the party’s downfall. The United National Party, once the biggest party in Parliament has only one National List seat, failing to secure even one seat under the proportional representation system. The result showed that the UNP received 249,435 votes – only 2.15 percent of the total vote tally. Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, a former prime minister, and party stalwart Ravi Karunanayake who contested from the Colombo district failed to win a seat in Parliament. Ironically, the UNP polled the highest number of votes 5,098,927 that translated into 45.66 per cent and 93 elected seats and 13 national seats making it a total of 106 of 225 seats in the 2015 parliament. D.S. Senanayake – “The Father of the Nation” will literally be turning in his grave to see the party he formed in 1946, decimated due to erratic leadership 74 years later. Failure to win a single seat in a general election is perhaps the worst case scenario experienced by the UNP, even worse than the 1956 debacle when the party won only 8 seats in a general election that ushered in S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike coalition as Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister.
Logistical Information – GE2020 – Let us look at the general logistics affecting the General Election 2020. The Chairman of the Election Commission Mahinda Deshapriya said that the overall voter turnout island-wide for the 2020 General Election is 71 percent. This is very encouraging. Total number of eligible voters numbered 16,263,885 that included 264,789 first-time voters and 705,085 postal voters. Under the proportional representation system there were 22 electoral district and 196 seats up for grabs. In addition, there are 29 from the National List making it a 225-member Parliament. Mahinda Deshapriya, Chairman of the Election Commission of Sri Lanka had set up 12,984 polling station round the island and 2,820 counting centres. Total number of 7,452 candidates from 40 political parties were in the field to secure 196 elected seats in parliament. A total of 400,000 election officials were on duty to ensure that all controls were in place from a monitoring standpoint and ensuring health and safety protocols were met to ensure the safety of voters from spreading the coronavirus pandemic. All in all, a great job with little or no incidents reported. The National Identity Card (NIC), Passport, Driving License, Government Pensioners’ Identity Card issued by the Department of Pensions, Elders’ Identity Card issued by the Divisional Secretariat, Clergy/Priest Identity Card issued by the Department for Registration of Persons, Temporary Identity Card issued by the Election Commission, Special Permit with the photograph issued by the Department for Registration of Persons are recognized as valid identification documents for voting. The NEC requested the electors who have returned from abroad to bring their passport in addition to the NIC when they come to vote.
Winners and Losers – In every election there are winners and losers! It is enlightening to report that there were a few newcomers to politics not only won their way to parliament but topped the polls in their respective districts while a few tried and tested politicians too topped the polls in their respective districts. SLPP leader Mahinda Rajapaksa topped the winner’s circle polling a staggering 527,364 preferential votes which was an overwhelming 81.13 per cent of the 649,965 votes the SLPP received in the Kurunegala District. Subject to correction, this polling number of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa is the highest recorded so far since the proportional representation system of election came into effect. A relative newcomer to politics Nalaka Godahewa of the SLPP topped the Gampaha District with 325,479 preferential votes edging out the much favoured SLPP candidate Prasanna Ranatunga who polled 316,544 preferential votes. Another newcomer to politics Rear Admiral (Dr) Sarath Weerasekara (SLPP) topped the Colombo District polling 328,092 preferential votes. Dr. Ramesh Pathirana (SLPP) topped the Galle District polling 205,814 preferential votes. Another first-timer Nipuna Ranawaka (SLPP) topped the Matara District with 131,010 preferential votes. Ranawaka is a nephew of President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Pavithra Wanniarachchi (SLPP) polled 200,977 votes in the Ratnapura District. Another newcomer to politics Jeevan Thondaman (SLPP) topped the Nuwara District with 109,155 preferential votes. Thondaman is 25 years old and is the youngest elected member of parliament. His candidacy was due to the recent death of his famous father Arumugam Thondaman. Former president Maithripala Sirisena (SLPP) topped the Polonnaruwa District with 111,137 preferential votes while Namal Rajapaksa (SLPP) topped the Hambantota District with 166,660 preferential votes. His uncle Chamal Rajapaksa came in fourth with 85,330 preferential votes in the Hambantota District.
The 2020 Parliamentary Elections of August 6th had around 60 Members of Parliament who were unable to retain their seats in the Parliament of Sri Lanka. Around 16 candidates from the United National Party (UNP) who contested the 2020 general elections lost their existing seats in parliament including its leader and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, former finance minister Ravi Karunanayake, its secretary general Akila Viraj Kariyawasam. Other UNP heavyweights to lose out are Arjuna Ranatunga, Navin Dissanayake, Sandeep Samarasinghe, Ruwan Wijewardena, Palitha Thewarapperuma, Daya Gamage, Lakshman Wijemanne, Vajira Abeywardena, Palitha Range Bandara, Nalaka Kolonne, and V. Maheswaran. A surprise loss in the Colombo District was that of Thilanga Sumathipala (SLPP). Others who failed to win a seat in parliament from the SLPP are Dulith Wijesekara, Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, Manoj Sirisena, Niroshan Premaratne, S.B. Nawinna, T.B. Ekanayaka, Sumedha Jayasena, Susantha Punchinilame, and Dunesh Gankanda. The Premadasa camp (SJB) too lost a few of their erstwhile candidates. Sujeewa Senasinghe, AHM Fowzie, Hirunika Premachandra, Ajith Manapperuma, Vijith Wijayamuni Zoysa, Chathura Senaratna, Edward Gunasekara, Ajith Perera, Wijepala Hettiarachchi, Piyasena Gamage, Shantha Abeysekara, Chandrani Bandara, P. Harrison, Chandima Gamage, Sydney Jayaratne, Lakshman Seneviratne, Ravi Samaraweera, Wasantha Aluwihare, Ranjith Aluwihare, Thusitha Wijemanne, and Karu Paranawithane (former Consul General for Sri Lanka in Toronto).
Some important dates to remember post-election is the swearing-in of the leader of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister of Sri Lanka for the ninth Parliament. This is scheduled for Sunday, August 9th. According to a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office, the new cabinet is to be sworn in on the 12th of August (Wednesday) at the historic “Magul Maduwa” in Kandy. President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa issued an Extraordinary Gazette with a proclamation to summon the new Parliament to meet on 20th of August 2020.