The rise of the Blues
The late President J. R. Jayewardene, after securing a five-sixths majority in 1977, changed the electoral system and introduced the Proportional Representation (PR), because he wanted to ensure that the UNP with a solid block vote at that time would stand to gain at subsequent elections in a bigger way. It was being claimed then that the UNP had, in spite of a crushing defeat which reduced it to a mere 17 seats at the 1970 parliamentary election, polled more than the SLFP, which won 91 seats; at that election the UNP obtained 1,892,525 (37.9 per cent) and the SLFP 1,839,979 (36.9 per cent). The proponents of this argument, however, conveniently chose to remain silent on the fact that the SLFP had entered into no contest pacts with its socialist allies and, therefore, forgone a large number of votes in some electorates.
The JRJ method worked for the UNP for 17 long years. The debilitation of the SLFP owing to external and internal factors such as brutal suppression and a leadership crisis respectively also contributed to the UNP's winning spree. However, the UNP's luck eventually ran out in 1994, when the SLFP-led People's Alliance won the executive presidency and captured power in Parliament. Since then the UNP and the SLFP have had to shore up their electoral strength by coalescing with smaller parties to win elections. At the 2004 general election, the JVP, which was part of the SLFP-led United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA), obtained 39 seats out of a total of 105! Some political analysts went so far as to claim that the JVP was about to realise its dream of gobbling up the SLFP!
But, this time around, the SLFP has reconsolidated its power in coalition politics. Its gain has been at the expense of not only its traditional rival, the UNP but also the UPFA partners. The National Freedom Front fielded 15 candidates and only two have been returned; only three of the nine Ceylon Workers' Congress candidates were elected, the Jathika Hela Urumaya had five contestants in the fray but only two of them succeeded; the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna fielded five candidates but three of them failed to win; of the 13 leftists who contested on the UPFA ticket only three got elected and the Upcountry People's Front was wiped out in the contest. The UPFA has won 117 seats according to the results released so far.
The UPFA will miss a two-thirds majority in Parliament only by a few seats. It boasts that it is in a position to engineer crossovers to raise the required numbers to change the Constitution.
The SLFP's re-emergence as a formidable political force may be considered a positive sign in that this country needs a strong two party system but it is disturbing that it has achieved that feat because of a single person and that the UNP is lying supine.
The UPFA won because of the SLFP and the SLFP won because of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Whenever we had powerful charismatic leaders at the helm of strong governments consisting mostly of mediocre lawmakers beholden and subservient to them, with an enervated Opposition in total disarray unable to challenge them, we had one man/woman shows much to the detriment of the wellbeing of democracy.
One could only hope that too much of success would not go to President Rajapaksa's head and he would be different from his predecessors, save the late President D. B. Wijetunge, who never let power get the better of him.