President Mahinda Rajapaksa is beaming from ear to ear. He has every reason to paint the town red. It is he who won the UPFA such a mammoth victory at the parliamentary polls. Hadn't he floored the Opposition at a snap presidential election last January, the outcome of the April 8 polls would have been different. His victory debilitated and demoralised the Opposition irrevocably and paved the way for the UPFA's subsequent win.
Securing 144 seats under the PR system is a rare feat. President Rajapaksa has stunned his critics who underestimated his political acumen and cunning. The UNP and the JVP must worship President J. R. Jayewardene posthumously for his PRsystem. If the parliamentary polls had been conducted under the first-past-the-post system, the UNP would not have obtained even a quarter of the seats it has at present and the JVP would have been left without a single seat. Instead of cursing JRJ at every turn, Rathusahodarayas should hang the old fox's picture above that of Rohana Wijeweera!
At the 2005 presidential election, President Rajapaksa scraped though and took over a shaky government. He, to his credit, overcame all the hurdles in his path and crushed terrorism. This time around, he has nothing to grumble about; he is in a very powerful position. It is now up to him to deliver on his promises and live up to people's expectations.
Giving an executive president a big majority in Parliament is a huge gamble. The people have taken that risk because they have faith in President Rajapaksa. Whether he will make them regret having done so or not remains to be seen.
An enervated Opposition is what all government leaders dream of but if President Rajapaksa thinks the sky is the limit in exercising his executive powers because there is little resistance from an etiolated Opposition characterised by languor and infirmity, he is mistaken. The most effective resistance to any regime comes not from political rejects in the rival camp but from the disillusioned voting public.
In 1970, it may be recalled, people elected the United Front government with a two-thirds majority and reduced the UNP to a mere 17 seats. But, in 1977, the same people defeated the SLFP-led regime intoxicated with power, and voted the UNP back to power with a five-sixths majority. The SLFP won only 8 seats!
The people have kept the UNP in opposition for about 13 years for its gross abuse of power and dictatorial rule for 17 years from 1977 to 1994. President Chandrika Kumaratunga came to power in 1994 riding a wave of popularity but in 2001 her luck ran out and she lost power in Parliament to the UNP-led UNF. The people, not to put too fine a point on it, kicked the UNF out of power in 2004 for appeasing terrorists and imperiling national security and voted the UPFA to power. This year they have given President Rajapaksa and his UPFA government a second term each by way of their gratitude for eliminating the scourge of terrorism.
Mammoth victories, as is our experience, precede ignominious defeats. For, unbridled power causes leaders to lose their heads and blinds them to reality. They begin to see only after they are relegated to the dustbin of politics like the present-day Opposition heavyweights shedding crocodile tears for us.
If some of its National List appointments are any indication, the newly elected government does not seem to have realised the gravity of its task to be accomplished during its second term. When the new Cabinet and next Prime Minister are appointed, we will know whether President Rajapaksa has mistaken jokers for trumps. Let him––as well as ourselves––be wished good luck!