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Sunday, 25 April 2010

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Stability will help usher in prosperity

The United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) opened a new chapter in Sri Lanka’s election history when it registered a landslide victory at the recent general election.

The UPFA, having secured a record 144 seats in the 225-member legislature, was the first party to secure a thumping majority in the 32-year-old preferential voting system in the country. All earlier governments elected under the controversial 1978 Constitution, had slim majorities and this was the first occasion that a single party polled such a commanding majority under the preferential voting system.

This is undoubtedly an added feather in President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s political cap as the masses had pledged overwhelming support for the people’s President and his novel policy statement - the Mahinda Chinthana Idiri Dakma .

The stunning election victory of the UPFA reaffirmed the people’s faith in the policies of President Rajapaksa who is determined to usher in economic prosperity, having restored peace after three decades of LTTE terror.

It is abundantly clear that the Government’s fertiliser subsidy and its mega agricultural development drive have won the hearts of people in far-flung areas. This was evident from the voting pattern of the masses in rural areas where the majority farmer community in the North Central, North Western, Central, Sabaragamuwa and Southern Provinces had given an unprecedented mandate to the UPFA, mainly because of President Rajapaksa’s far-sighted agricultural and economic policies which have been formulated to protect farmers.

The UPFA, for the first time, is now represented in all 22 electoral districts and among all ethnic and religious groups. It was, indeed, most heartening to witness the election of the new Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa, unanimously, as the UPFA’s proposal was seconded by the United National Party (UNP). Compared to the ugly incidents at the previous Parliament which marred the election of the Speaker, the new development is a positive sign and a victory for democracy.

The President’s move to reduce his new Cabinet of Ministers to less than 40 as promised is praiseworthy. In the past, he was obliged to offer ministerial portfolios to Opposition parliamentarians who crossed over to the Government side. Understandably, the President had to do so to muster more support for the Government’s relentless battle against terrorism. The President, however, accomplished that task too with the help of UPFA parliamentarians and over 40 Opposition parliamentarians who joined the Government during the last Parliament.

Now that Parliament has secured an absolute majority for the ruling UPFA, Sri Lanka could look forward to political stability. This could take the country towards new economic horizons. The time is now opportune to sink petty political differences and work together to develop the country.

The UNP, on the other hand, should even at this late stage, learn a lesson after its ignominious defeat at the recent polls. Perhaps, its leader Ranil Wickremesinghe could feel happy that he has achieved his ‘goal’ of retaining his position as the Leader of the Opposition after making Sarath Fonseka a scapegoat at the last presidential election. Wickremesinghe would have breathed a sigh of relief after surviving the last hurdle.

The UNP-led United National Front (UNF) suffered its worst defeat since 1956, with its vote base shrinking to around 29 percent of the total votes polled. At all previous elections, the UNP enjoyed a percentage of around 40 of the total votes polled.

Eighty-two members of the UNP were elected at the 2004 general election, but at the time of dissolution of the last Parliament, the party had less than half the original figure as the others had joined the Government to support President Rajapaksa. It would be no wonder if the number of UNP MPs in Parliament drops to 30 during the next six years.

An early sign was witnessed on the day the new parliamentarians took their oaths before the Speaker. The National Workers’ Front (NWF), leader P. Digambaram a member of the UNF coalition) severed his party’s links with the UNP and extended its support to the Government.

The Democratic People’s Front (DPF), another constituent party of the UNF, is also having differences with the UNP after Wickremesinghe dropped DPF leader Mano Ganeshan from the UNF National List. In light of these circumstances, the UNF may lose another MP - Prabha Ganeshan who is likely to protest his brother’s omission. The DPF and NWF are extremely unhappy over the UNP’s selection of the National List MPs and are set to break away from the UNF, isolating Wickremesinghe further.

The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) have been rejected altogether by the masses. The JVP which had 41 members in the previous Parliament secured only seven seats this time while the TNA’s seats were reduced to 14 from 22.

The new political developments would no doubt pave the way for a stable Government that could take Sri Lanka to greater heights. With the end of terrorism, Sri Lanka’s booming tourism industry and the agricultural development in the North and the East, would show steady progress. The economy, which grew at 3.5 percent last year, would fast track before the end of this year.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has expressed confidence in Sri Lanka’s economy. With the global economy in recovery mode and with higher domestic and foreign investments, the ADB has predicted a six to seven percent growth in the country’s economy this year.

Growth momentum is likely to reach around six percent this year and seven percent in 2011, according to the ADB. The positive post-war economic prospects will depend mainly on private sector growth, improved investor confidence and performance of service industries, ADB Country Director Richard Vokes had said.

The Asian Development Outlook (ADO) 2010 said that Sri Lanka achieved its growth rate in 2009 amidst many challenges. All in all, the future looks brighter for the country with a stable Government sans terrorism. Whatever said and done if we are to derive the maximum out of the conducive environment at present, we have to work harder to achieve economic prosperity.

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