Could SLPP win two-third parliamentary rule?

Wednesday, 17 June 2020 00:20 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


The simplest answer to the above question would be “No”, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) should not win the two-third parliamentary rule at the next election. However, it will look at the possibility of obtaining the two-third consensus in Parliament by way of a possible coalition with unlikely counterpart, the United National Party, or its leaders will look at drafting in some elected MPs from the Opposition in a similar manner as in 2010. 

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna is the most likely party to clinch a majority at the Parliamentary Election given the recent victory of its presidential candidate and now President Gotabaya Rajapakshe (GR). The strong positive perception built around President GR seems to have been insincerely sustained, at the expense of his brother former President Mahinda Rajapakshe (MR).  



Why is President GR still running strong?

The recent COVID-19 lockdown and its trigger was mostly ignored or forgotten by the masses. Being an island nation, there are only two ways the virus could have reached the heartland of the country, and that is via infected arrivals from the airport or port. 

Given that the election was not the topmost priority on the agenda of the Government, the domestic economy could have been prevented from a full lockdown or to a similar extent. It is a fair argument that the proactive measures were not taken on time to combat the virus despite the rise in cases globally, despite several warnings from the World Health Organization (WHO) and even after the warning issued by the Opposition Leader in late January. 

Notwithstanding the above, the reactive measures implemented by the President GR led Government has witnessed growing praise from the masses. The results attained with the containment of the pandemic is truly praiseworthy and the local health authorities and officials, unquestionably need to be given the utmost commendation for their untiring efforts to safeguard the nation from the gruelling effects of this pandemic. 

The strong positive perception about President GR is also stemming to a larger extent from the misalignment of the current main Opposition with the Yahapalanaya Government and in the mannerism in which such a government would have sought to have handled this situation given they were in power. The ineffective and indecisive leadership of the Yahapalanaya Government led by former President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe would haunt many connected individuals and affiliates for some time into the future, as the nightmares of the Easter Sunday attacks has still not subsided from the memories of many Sri Lankans. 

Further, the incident has been constantly highlighted by Government allies to gain political patronage in their favour for which the Opposition has still has found no counter argument that are justifiable. Even the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) has been wrongfully aligned to the ill effects of the Yahapalanaya Government, due to the origins of their leaders clinched to the UNP, the key constituent party of that regime.

President GR came to power promising a vibrant and working nation which is safe and secure to reside in. These strong words that resonate patriotism and dynamism has been the whole mark of his public portrayal. The depiction by certain media on the fast and robust decision making of President GR and the tenacity to seek implementation as portrayed by his recent State sector visits have driven growing positivism and an optimistic future outlook for the President. The strong backing of certain key private media has also helped to inculcate this strong image of the President, despite his inability to fulfil the promises made at the Presidential Election and the peril the country is faced with today. 

The nation has been driven by poor fiscal policy or as one may term it, voter centric populist policies, ever since the election of the new Government. The Government has prioritised obtaining two-third parliamentary power over the country at this juncture and has resorted to sweeping tax cuts that would stimulate the economy in the short term. This non-normal stimulation of the economy would do well with the fragile masses that to their disadvantage fail to garner the true understanding of the reality. 

Tax cuts, freebees and subsidies have caused the rise in expenses and the reduction in Government revenue, which has seen rating agencies resorting to downgrades as concerns mount over the repayment of debt due during the year. A rating downgrade is quite significant as Sri Lanka now relies to a greater extent than before on borrowings from global capital markets, where investors would demand a higher rate given the rise in risk of investing. 

The said policy measures or that with similar attributes, are what is mostly adopted during these times of elections, as witnessed in the past by many Governments, from which the current Government seems to be no different in following suit, irrespective of such actions that may lead to long term repercussions for the country. 

Sovereign bonds have been left undersubscribed in recent months, a tool used to meet immediate expenses. Foreigners also continue to flee domestic capital markets. Government has only been able to provide concessions via moratoriums and deferrals rather than a fully-fledged bailout package as resorted to by most governments globally. Apparel, tourism and foreign remittances, the nation’s key foreign revenue earnings, are faced with the biggest risk of a prolonged contraction. 

If one believes in superstition, it is surprising to note that it was during the first term under Prime Minister MR in 2004 that the country was hit by the tsunami and it is in his return to the same post that we have been made to be faced with this global pandemic. 

Despite the uncertainty, as predicted by many analysts and business leaders, most sections of the population still believe in President GR as the best leader for these challenging times. Many people have taken to social media and other media to demand a complete takeover by President GR and his Viyathmaga team and retired military generals by eliminating his brother President MR and his henchmen from the governance setup. Some have even called for the retirement of President MR to prevent his towering figure from interfering with the decision making of President GR. 



End of SLFP and UNP

The main Opposition, the United National Party (UNP), seems almost certain of becoming a minority party. The greed to retain power, hold position and the lack on an unearthed plan of succession has destroyed the grand old party to a place of no recovery. 

The same could be said about the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and its leaders as well. Once the main contenders for Government, they are now limited to minority status with the emergence of both the SJB and SLPP. 



Can the SJB stage an upset?

The SJB will enter the election race with the chance of an upset being quite remote. This is merely because of the fact that the SJB is a new party with minimum time to prove its capability and disseminate its true patriotic attributes to the broader sections of our country. Also the SJB originates as a breakaway group from the UNP, which most perceive to have led the ineffective Government that was evicted six months ago.

The primary target of both the Government and UNP is also the SJB, in their political propaganda, given the established belief that the SJB is the best alternative to rule the country. Both the UNP and Government will certainly unite forces to subdue the rise of the SJB. Further, the past experiences of a president and government from two different parties have ended up in a clash, in which the most recent Yahapalanaya establishment ended up with President Sirisena resorting to a political coup with the support of President MR. 

Having said the above, the SJB continues to build momentum with its charismatic leader who has proven a better fit with the grassroots voters. Government henchmen have been constantly at work to misguide the population on a bogus claim of leadership immaturity of the former Opposition Leader, while some Government-backed supporters have resorted to discredit the good work done by him as the Minister of Housing. 

If the SJB can position the party as a patriotic national force and build a movement surrounding that notion, similar to that built by President Jayawardena, we can be likely to see a surprise in a similar manner as what we saw with the victory of President Trump. Given the timeline to the election, this task remains a challenge. 

The SJB is similar to the UNP, in that it will face the challenge of communicating the true attributes that one would consider with a suitable party to govern. Such attributes would need to resemble a party with a team and plan that could keep the country safe and secure, a party that can provide economic freedom to the most deprived sections of our population and a party that can drive an economy to sustained growth via FDI, knowledge and skill. 

The UNP was mispositioned by the opponents as a party carrying Western ideologies, driven by foreign lobbying, non-patriotic and ineffective leadership. The lack of an acceptable foreign policy was also a major shortcoming of the UNP that most disapproved. This was clearly evident in the UNP led administration and in most times led to the downfall of the party. 

The SJB must find means to connect with the masses to position itself as a party driven by national interest and patriotism to the core. Although this is seemingly true, the portrayal of the same is quite impoverished. Government allies will try its best to connect the SJB with the UNP and position them next to the failed Yahapalanaya administration. In terms of a mutual standpoint, the former Opposition Leader and President GR might also end up being a better fit for the country as they resemble a new perspective by two new leaders heading the nation. 



Does SLPP deserve two-third parliamentary power?

In the last occasion under a President MR-led Government in 2010, the 18th Amendment was implemented that provided more power to the Executive, including the ability to contest for presidency beyond the second term. The SLPP is a party driven by the Rajapaksa family and it will continue to be so for the next few decades to come.

In hindsight the SLPP does not deserve the two-third power as a similar resemblance for greed to foster more power can hold where governance is concerned. Allegations of large scale corruptions also overshadowed the Government of that time. Two-third parliamentary power only resulted in the deviation from democracy, authoritative rule, family backed administration and irresponsible financial dealings inclusive of the white elephant investment projects. 

The country needs reforms and needs them urgently, to embrace the modern world and harness Sri Lanka’s competitive advantage. However, based on past actions, the ruling family does not seem to have reform as a top priority item of gaining a two-third rule. Therefore, all party consensus driven policy enactment will be the best way forward with the SLPP-led Government and the people must be cautious with the danger of giving any party a two-third rule. 



Conclusion

Given the current scenario it is most likely that the SLPP will have a high probability to clinch a majority in Parliament. However, they would not achieve the two-third parliamentary rule. It won’t be the wisest choice to give any party a two-third parliamentary rule at this juncture. The UNP which can be observed to be carrying a soft stance about the Government can be a probable coalition partner, not necessarily on deed but through action. 

The UNP and SLFP will become minority parties. The SJB has a lot work to do when it comes to proving itself as a force capable to govern, given its short history and the health regulations to meet when campaigning. A corruption-free government is what the people must strive to establish and this is what has eluded the country for a while. Media has showcased innumerable corruption charges and allegations against key political leaders, only to see them disappear after a while, with none or minimum convictions to record. 


[The writer, CFA, is the Managing Director at Elon Venture Catalysts Ltd., a financial and investment banking services firm operating in Sri Lanka. He has a BEng (Hons) in Chemical Engineering degree from the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom and a MBA (Marketing) from the University of Colombo. He is also a Chartered Financial Analyst. Vidushan holds a Certified Management Accountant (Australia) and Certified Global Business Analyst (Australia). He is currently reading for his Doctorate in Business Administration from the University of Colombo. He can be reached via email on vidushan@elonventure.com or www.elonventure.com]

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