Opposition and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has warned the voting public against granting any political party a two-thirds majority in Parliament at the next general election. He has said such a mandate will be detrimental to democracy. His assertion is not without some truth under both the SLFP-led United Front government (1970-77) with a two-thirds majority and the UNP regime (1977-94) with a five-sixths majority, democracy received debilitating blows.
The two main parties have demonstrated that they are not capable of handling steamroller majorities without succumbing to their dictatorial tendencies. However, the UNP leader`s warning could also be read as an expression of defeatism following a crushing defeat at the recently concluded presidential election. For, no politician confident of victory ever asks people not to give his party a two-thirds majority.
The UPFA seeks a two-thirds majority in Parliament. It seems to believe that President Mahinda Rajapaksa`s impressive victory, which is still fresh, will help it achieve its goal with ease. The government may raise the bar for itself and try to better its performance at the parliamentary polls in April but it shouldn`t be out of touch with reality.
The way people vote differs from election to election. When they voted for President Rajapaksa recently, they did so in spite of many a burning issue such as the high cost of living. They gave him a second term mainly because of his leadership for the war on terror. But, it is doubtful whether people will vote for the whole caboodle of lesser minions of the UPFA for the same reason at the parliamentary polls. The government obviously has the edge over the Opposition by virtue of having secured the presidency as well as the control over the Provincial Councils and a majority of LG institutions but it has got to get its act together if it is to win future elections. It cannot keep going places on war victories till kingdom come.
Now that the war is over, the government has to concentrate on the kitchen front, which it has neglected for too long. Electoral reforms, devolution, independent commissions etc, however necessary they may be, are hardly substitutes for food items which a vast majority of people demand at reasonable prices.
Although this is the paddy harvesting season, prices of even the locally produced rice varieties remain exorbitantly high. Here are the current prices of some randomly selected food items in Colombo CWE prices (at the D. R. Wijewardene Mawatha outlet) are given parenthetically: Red kekulu-Rs. 80 (Rs.60-70), white kekulu-Rs.60-70 (Rs.47), samba-Rs. 85-100 (not available at CWE), samba (red)-Rs. 90 (Rs.70), nadu-Rs.80 (not available at CWE), basmathi-Rs.100 (Rs.90), sugar-Rs.110 (Rs.97.50), potatoes-Rs. 70 (Rs.65), big onions-Rs.60 (Rs.67), garlic-Rs.200 (Rs.232), dhal-Rs.190 (Rs.160) and dried sprats-Rs.350 (Rs.275).
Gas costs Rs. 1,550 per 12.5 kg cylinder, electricity about Rs.1,500-2,000 or more depending on the number of units used and water Rs. 300 to Rs. 2,000 or even more depending on the number of units consumed. Transport costs, especially school van fees, also take a sizeable chunk of a family`s income. Although education is free, every family spends a great deal on private tuition.
True, the people voted overwhelmingly for the President in January in spite of their economic woes, though the urban people gave vent to their resentment through a protest vote. But, it will be a mistake for the government to take the burning issues such as the high cost of living for granted. It has been making some half-hearted attempts to tackle the problem but its ad hoc remedies have manifestly failed. It is dishing out some rosy statistics to have the public believe that inflation is down. However `cooked` they may be, stats cannot be substituted for food! Proof of the pudding, they say, is in the eating.
With no war to fight and no terrorists to fear, it is only wishful thinking that the people will vote on empty or half-empty stomachs at the next general election to give the UPFA a two-thirds majority. It is not constitutional amendments that people seek but solutions to their burning problems.