The day is upon us. The Parliamentary Election to decide the next five years of Sri Lanka is being held today, and it has been a difficult journey for several reasons. COVID-19 and its linked issues has ensured that this election will be among the most expensive ever held, but it is essential to protect the country’s democracy, institutions and inclusiveness.
Many are the complaints against Sri Lanka’s political culture and criticism of its representatives, but the only way change on these issues can be achieved is by voting. It is understandable and at times easier to avoid the responsibility of going to vote, because the feeling is that nothing will change. But democratic rights and freedoms are still extremely important and worth protecting. While elections are by no means the only way to do this, they are nonetheless an important conduit to pushing for better governance.
Typically, Sri Lankans show more enthusiasm for Presidential Elections because the Executive wields considerable power in the make-up of any Government. Typically, whoever wins the Presidency will see a majority given to the same party by practical-minded voters at the Parliamentary Elections. This trend is likely to run true this time as well, but the make-up of the Opposition is bound to be just as interesting as who wins.
This is especially important as the frontrunner Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) has proposed serious and far-reaching changes to the bedrock of Sri Lanka’s democracy if it gets a two-thirds majority. The pledge to abolish the 19th Amendment, and possibly bring in a new Constitution, could bring about serious changes, especially to Sri Lanka’s law and order frameworks as well as key issues of accountability. These are aspects of governance that can impact the lives of every citizen, and therefore are worth the effort of a vote.
This is also the Samagi Jana Balawegaya’s (SJB) first outing at a national election, and it will be interesting to see how the split of the United National Party (UNP) will figure in the formation of a new Parliament. If the SJB is successful, it will spell the end of the two old parties that have dominated Sri Lankan politics since Independence. The splintering of the vote base could also provide a smidgen more momentum to other fringe Opposition parties such as the National People’s Power (NPP) that may get the opportunity to make use of the shifting vote bases. It could also be beneficial to the SLPP.
As always, minority voting patterns will garner much interest. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has a fight on its hands to preserve its seats in the North, and the decisions made by them and Muslim parties post-polls will be important to how reconciliation moves forward in Sri Lanka. In such a closely-contested race, they will also have a role in preserving democracy.
One of the most significant opportunities provided by an election is to reject candidates that have been linked to corruption, murders, rape, drug trafficking and other crimes. Parliamentarians from the earlier administrations have had the opportunity to show their true colours, and now the time has come to judge them as well as provide newcomers a chance to make a difference. Therefore it is the responsibility of approximately 16 million voters to make the best use of this opportunity.