Hung parliament? Then what?
By the time next Sunday comes round, a new parliament would have been elected hopefully without any more of the blood and gore that has characterised this election campaign. Analysts are agreed that the ruling Peoples Alliance and the opposition UNP are running neck-to-neck and it will be a brave (or partisan) soul who will predict which side will have an edge over the other. We run an interview with President Chandrika Kumaratunga in this issue claiming victory for her party and Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe, no doubt, will make the same claim. Well, we dont have long to wait to see what the outcome will be.
But if we do have the hung parliament that is widely predicted, then what? That is the million dollar question. The president is already firmly on record saying that she does not wish to "cohabit with the UNP while Wickremesinghe has promised to "clip Chandrikas wings. Whatever plans they have for each other, we must hope that both leaders will be big enough to do what is best for the country. In effect, if the country does not give either side a working majority, the clear message is that the people want them to work together and get on with the urgent business of forging a durable peace and reviving an economy whose potential is largely unexploited.
Although the proportional representation (PR) basis on which this election is being worked has been roundly criticised by many, the fact remains that it does not permit the distortions that are possible and have indeed been known here under the first-past-the-post Westminster system. Massive majorities can very well mean tyranny as we have seen with Mrs. Bandaranaikes United Fronts two thirds victory in 1970 and J. R. Jayewardenes five sixths landslide seven years later. The shoddy fashion in which the losers and their supporters were treated and some of the suicidal policies that were followed by those government surely have their lessons for us all.
Election watchers will keenly watch how the new kids on the block do at this election. While the JVP cannot be characterised as "new in the real sense of that word by virtue of the fact that they have figured in different avatars in the Lankan political firmament since the very early seventies, this is the first time that this Marxist party is making a serious bid for elected parliamentary office on a significant scale. Given the dynamics of PR, they are bound to gain representation which may be significant in balance of power terms even though they are not contenders for a winning majority to form a government. The Sihala Urumaya, which is hardly six months old, is also making its presence felt in the political landscape attracting support from middle class and other elements of the majority community disgusted with how both major parties have handled the LTTE and the ethnic problem.
It is quite certain that both these parties, if they acquire a balance of power capability on Tuesday, will not join either the PA or the UNP, to enable the formation of a government. About that the electors will have no doubt whatever. But if they do get sufficient seats, they can be expected to use that muscle to influence events that are of particular concern to them. For the JVP, which retains its old Marxist convictions, economic matters and their impact on the poorer people in our country are likely to loom large while for the Sihala Urumaya, matters connected with the prosecution of the war and the resolution of the ethnic conflict will be predominant. Both these parties have demonstrated their ability to campaign effectively and their showing will be keenly watched not only for now but also for the future.
It is to be hoped that the concerned authorities have adequately provided security cover for leaders of the Sihala Urumaya particularly given the LTTEs track record of seeking to liquidate the leaders of the Sinhala people over the years. Too many of our leaders have fallen to Tiger terror as it is and we cannot afford to allow this process to continue indefinitely. We say this with full realisations that those responsible for securing vulnerable targets do not have unlimited resources. Also, it is very difficult to thwart fanatical suicide killers of the sort the LTTE has deployed over the years. But there must be a consciousness both among those who may be vulnerable and the agencies of the state responsible for the protection of such persons about the ever-present risks.
The campaign which ended yesterday, certainly as far as the two major contenders for power are concerned, was funded by elements who make campaign contributions with returns and dividends in mind. Eventually it is the people who must pay the price of such munificence because contracts, tenders, concessions and what have you with which generous friends of political parties are rewarded by the wielders of power are always priced to ensure the recovery of "investments made and fat profits thereon. The many millions that have been paid for the posters, polythene and other degraders of the environment that is part of election campaigns is in reality money down the drain. If the result is a hung parliament, the constitution does not permit another election within a year. That is why we believe that our leaders must be big enough to seize the opportunity of a truly national government if voters signal no clear preference for Tweedledum or Tweedledee.
Your comments to the Editor