The sixth Parliament has just been dissolved. That it managed to complete its full term without facing a premature dissolution was in fact a miracle. Revolutionary changes this country has witnessed under several Parliaments over the past few decades but never have the tectonic plates of the polity shifted as they did during the past six years.
The last Parliament also presided over not only the worst ever natural disaster, the Boxing Day tsunami (2004) but also the escalation of the war to unprecedented levels followed by a bloody end. In 2004 merchants of doom claimed that the days of Sri Lanka`s political stability were over and the country was in for ephemeral parliaments like the ones formed in 2000 and 2001. The sixth Parliament commenced with the ruling party losing the very first vote it faced in the House the UPFA could not even elect a Speaker! It found itself hobbled. About a year later, disaster struck again with the JVP voting with its feet and depriving the government of 39 MPs elected on its ticket!
President Chandrika Kumaratunga had been retired and her government was a veritable chicken ready for plucking in the eyes of the Opposition, when the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa scraped through a presidential election in 2005. No sooner had he been installed than LTTE leader Prabhakaran began a low intensity war carrying out mine and bomb attacks on the armed forces and police personnel, a process that culminated in the capture by the LTTE of the Mavil Aru anicut in 2006, when the country was plunged back into war.
The methods that a desperate President Rajapaksa adopted to stay in power and fight the war were unorthodox. He played every trick in the book for that purpose he engineered mass defections from the UNP and mustered a working majority in the House. This process of raising numbers led to the swelling of Cabinet ranks proportionately. It also resulted in a serious distortion of the popular verdict at the 2004 general election over 40 Opposition MPs who had no mandate to wield State power joined the government and were rewarded with ministerial posts. A jumbo Cabinet was the price the country had to pay for achieving the much needed political stability, a sine qua non for defeating terrorism.
The sixth Parliament was like a shaky yet serviceable tooth, which helped bite. Reduced to a political badger, the UPFA government fought the heavy mastiffs of neo-colonialism, terrorism, opportunistic forces in the South and pseudo patriots who were running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. The budget votes in 2007 and 2008 turned out to be difficult political battles that had to be fought with might and main vis- -vis pro-LTTE forces and some western governments going out of their way in a frantic bid to topple the government and scuttle the war with the help of their local proxies.
In short, the sixth Parliament will go down in the annals of Sri Lankan history for having had the singular distinction of witnessing, inter alia, a president being unceremoniously retired, another president securing two terms, a thirty-year-old war being ended in spite of heavy external costs such as mass displacement, the `most ruthless terrorist group in the world` being decimated, the JVP`s rise and fall in parliamentary politics and the country coping with the worst ever natural disaster.
Asked at a press conference in Kilinochchi in 2002 what he considered his biggest ever military achievement was, the late LTTE leader Prabhakaran did not say it was the overrunning of military installations in the North contrary to expectations instead he said, `I stopped Operation Jayasikuru.` On the political front, President Rajapaksa has achieved several feats from winning Provincial Council elections with unprecedented majorities to securing a second term recently. But, if asked what the most difficult political task he has accomplished for the past forty years or so is, President Rajapaksa may say it is to have retained his parliamentary majority in the last Parliament.