The masses it appears
from the results were looking for quick fix economic relief rather
than long-term stability with peace too taken for granted.
But the problem in
forming a stable government for the UPFA despite winning a
majority of districts is simply in the numbers and putting a
coalition together to add up to 113 given the sharp policy
differences between the parties available for negotiations.
The only parties that
have got parliamentary representation at this election are the
UPFA, UNF, SLMC, TNA, UPF, EPDP and the JHU.
The SLMC and the UPF are
of course in coalition with the UNF in addition to the CWC which
contested on the UNF ticket.
Thus, if the UPFA is to
form a stable government by mustering 113 MPs, it must strike a
deal with the JHU or the TNA, failing which it will be in a
minority government and the Sword of Damocles perpetually hanging
over it come voting time in parliament on all important issues.
And the irony is even if
a newly formed UPFA government is defeated in a parliamentary
vote, the President will not be constitutionally empowered to call
for fresh elections at least for another year.
In such a situation,
Kumaratunga will be compelled to call another party in parliament
to form a government until such party is also defeated on a vote
and the merry go round will continue at least for a year at which
time the President will be in a position once again to dissolve
parliament and go for fresh elections yet again looking for the
elusive 113 seats.
The question then is how
the President can muster 113 seats to form the semblance of a
stable government and keep the economy afloat in addition to the
peace process given the instability that will play on the minds of
the foreign donors and investors, not to mention the international
community as a whole.
The first option in this
respect is to ask the TNA to either join a UPFA government or
support it from the opposition, the former option of course being
a non starter.
The TNA has in fact
already rejected the option of forming a government with the UPFA
given the sharp policy differences over the peace process and the
JVP factor in the alliance.
On the contrary, they
would look at the option of helping the UNF form a government to
continue with the peace process, a move TNA’s Jaffna District
member Gajendra Ponnambalam said he would strongly advocate.
In fact by Saturday
morning, the UNF was already making informal contact with the TNA
on the two parties working together to move the peace process
forward whilst taking the Muslim Congress also on board.
Thus, the question of the
TNA helping the UPFA form a government is a non starter leaving
open the possibility only for the UPFA to get the support of the
Tiger-backed TNA to support it from the opposition benches.
In the first instance, if
that were to happen, then any possibility of getting the JHU
support will go out of the window.
Next comes the question,
at what price the TNA support from the opposition benches will be
forthcoming for the UPFA?
For starters, the TNA
would use its parliamentary clout to get a commitment from the
UPFA to continue with the peace process without any deviation and
also a firm commitment to the north east merger, the interim
administration proposals, federalism as agreed to in the Oslo
Declaration and recognition of the LTTE as the sole
representatives of the Tamils for purposes of negotiations.
All these conditions are
anathema as far as the JVP is concerned and will cause a serious
rupture in the alliance if agreed to by Kumaratunga in an attempt
to get TNA support.
The JVP will particularly
be forced to take a tough stand on these issues given the
emergence of the JHU as a formidable third force in its first
outing, essentially stealing the JVP platform of the hardline
Thus, short of splitting
the alliance, there is no way Kumaratunga can even get the TNA’s
support from the opposition benches to move the peace process
forward. The TNA has made it clear it will not let up on the
stated positions which were already in force under the UNF
The JHU option
Taking all these factors
into consideration, there is no way the UPFA can count on the TNA
to sustain it in government which then leads to the next option
— the JHU.
Despite the bitter feud
between the JHU and the JVP in the lead upto the April 2 election,
the Buddhist monks may well consider an invitation by the UPFA to
form a government but the price for such an adventure too will be
Just as much as the TNA
would have bargained for its pound of flesh, so would the JHU,
both in respect of the peace process as well as their declared
policy of forming a dharmarajya, thus once again hoping to
eclipse the JVP in the eyes of the masses as the saviour of the
That would necessarily
mean no peace talks on the LTTE’s ISGA proposals, no merger, no
federalism, no Norwegians as facilitators but ensuring the
establishment of a Buddhist state, once again conditions which
Kumaratunga will be hard put to fulfill. These conditions the
monks have already placed on record.
In such a situation,
there is very little prospect of the UPFA joining hands with the
JHU if it seeks to avert the imminent outbreak of war and the
resultant economic chaos in the country.
Formidable third force
More importantly, the JHU
has now emerged as a formidable third force that can play the role
of king and queen maker, a position the party asked the electorate
to put them in to break the minority parties stranglehold on such
placement and is not likely to barter away the newly acquired
status without extracting the maximum mileage for its cause.
And that would
necessarily mean opposing any change to the present electoral
system, without which the party would not be in the strong
position the JHU finds itself in presently.
Thus, the question of
Kumaratunga obtaining the support of the JHU for constitutional
reforms is zero as well unless she agrees to satisfy their
Likewise, the question of
the TNA supporting the formation of a constituent assembly to
change the constitution and abolish the executive presidency will
also not arise without a solution in place for the ethnic issue
That necessarily means
the President in any event will not have the 113 MPs she was
aspiring to get for purposes of constitutional reform even if the
numbers were obtained to put together a hodge podge government.
In these circumstances,
the President will be left with the option of either wooing the
CWC of Armugam Thondaman or the SLMC of Rauf Hakeem.
The question then arises
what the basis would be for such a formation given the fact the
SLMC and CWC have already gone on record stating they will not be
party to a government in which the JVP is a constituent.
And even as the results
started coming in Saturday morning, CWC Leader, Armugam Thondaman
was to speak with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and give an
assurance he will not abandon ship.
In any event, the
President’s objective of reforming the constitution to abolish
the executive presidency and changing the electoral system will
also never see the light of day considering the CWC’s bargaining
power stemming from these two very systems.
Thus, if the intention of
wooing Thondaman is to simply form a government, while it can
succeed in the very short term, it cannot help achieve the
objective of abolishing the executive presidency or the electoral
system, thus placing the President in a catch 22 situation.
For in such a scenario,
the Presidential election will have to be held in 2005 or if
Kumaratunga arrogates to herself another year by virtue of the
second swearing in, in 2006, forcing the party to look for a
This, to Kumaratunga,
will defeat the entire purpose of the election since all she has
then achieved is helped the JVP increase its numbers and pose a
serious challenge to the SLFP base in the long-term.
As far as Kumaratunga’s
personal political fortunes and future are concerned, the election
has not achieved the desired objectives and the full realisation
of this fact was slowly but surely sinking into her Saturday
At the same time, she is
also left with the option of wooing the SLMC despite Rauf Hakeem
stating he will have no truck with the JVP.
This again raises
questions with regard to the Ferial Ashraff factor in the UPFA as
well as Hakeem insisting the SLMC be recognised as the
representative of the Muslims in the peace process.
And as in the case of
Thondaman, the Muslim Congress too will not be party to a
piecemeal amendment to the constitution where the SLMC will
sacrifice its leverage by agreeing to change the electoral systems
or abolish the executive presidency.
In the ultimate analysis
therefore, what the President has achieved by going for a snap
general election before the fruits of the peace process and the
economic reforms reached the people is create conditions for chaos
and instability in the country.
Further, having dissolved
a parliament in which the UNF had a clear majority just two years
into its term, Kumaratunga has paved the way for the birth of an
unstable government which will now have to grapple with the peace
process and the economy.
In these circumstances,
if and when a new government resumes the peace talks with the LTTE,
it will be doing so from a much weaker position than April 2, 2004
with the LTTE considerably strengthened by the strong showing of
the TNA at the election.
And ironically, it is the
SLFP and JVP which justified the dissolution of parliament on the
basis the UNF was compromising national security and sovereignty
in negotiations with the LTTE.
The question then arises
whether a much weaker government can now negotiate with the LTTE
without caving in completely to the Tiger demands, if a return to
war is to be avoided.
It is also pertinent to
note that Kumaratunga and the UPFA promised the people a host of
goodies in the election manifesto including fertiliser subsidies
and 50,000 jobs in a matter of months.
Where are all the monies
coming in to fullfil these promises? The donor agencies will
certainly not provide any economic support to a government that
continues with welfare measures without proceeding with strict
economic reforms and privatisation, both of which the JVP are
vehemently opposed to.
The JVP will be hard put
to stay in a government that does not provide the welfare measures
promised and Kumaratunga will be equally hard put to provide them
without donor support.
And the peace process is
also unlikely to get started under a UPFA government due to its
steadfast refusal to recognise the LTTE as the sole
representatives of the Tamils, which would necessarily mean the
US$ 4.5 billion pledged will also be not forthcoming.
But of course the
President could just cobble a government together by offering big
bucks to some UNF members to cross over and bide her time for one
year before dissolution and try her hand again at getting a simple
majority to abolish the executive presidency.
That then is what
President Chandrika Kumaratunga has cooked up for the country by
her sudden dissolution of parliament — chaos and confusion.
And the UNF for its part will rue the day
they decided to go soft on the President after the 2001 election
victory in the name of cohabitation and thereby aided and abetted
Kumaratunga to make Sri Lanka a basket case.