As the parliamentary elections draw close with a mere 24 days to go, public opinion more often than not differs on its possible outcome. Nevertheless, there is a consensus among the majority that the upcoming election will be unique with a former President contesting, while the President in office has taken a middle ground as well the possibility of being the final election held under the preferential voting system prior to the suggested electoral reforms.
This compiled report attempts to give an overview of parliamentary elections held since 1994, and the political and social background they were held in, a glimpse of perhaps the swaying public opinion and its sentiments.
The parliamentary elections of 1994 were a landmark election driven by the possibility of peace, management of a liberalized new market economy in 1977, while uplifting the living standards of the people and the protection of human rights along with ending the abuse of political power. This election spelled an end to the 17-year rule of the United National Party (UNP) in Sri Lanka.
Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), formed a coalition with nine other parties and calling themselves the People’s Alliance (PA) in order to contest the elections held on August 16, 1994. The election was held for all 196 seats in Parliament, following the premature dissolution on June 24, 1994 by the then President DB Wijetunge.
General elections had previously been held in February 1989 thus making these elections six months early. 1,440 candidates from a large number of parties vied and a stark difference to the roughly 6,000 candidates contested the general election.
However, the month-long campaign was violent, marked by 24 killings. The violent campaign led to tight security measures on polling day, which was comparatively peaceful. The voting process was monitored by international observers, who deemed it generally free and fair except in the Jaffna and Vanni Districts, marked by low turnouts due to Tamil terrorism scare; the participation rate in Jaffna was less than three percent.
The PA was able to win by a wafer-thin majority by garnering 113 of the 225 seats in the legislature through the support of the SLMC, and an independent member. On August 19, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was sworn in as the Prime Minister along with the Cabinet.
In 2000, general elections were announced on the normal expiry of the members’ term of office. Parliament was dissolved on August 18, 2000, one week before the end of its six-year term, and the government announced that elections would be held on October 10, 2000.
The elections were announced during government’s attempts to introduce constitutional reform while attempting to gather support for a draft constitutional reform Bill despite various oppositions by various parties like the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna(JVP) and Sihala Urumaya along with the intensification of the war. Kumaratunga who was elected as President in 1999 called for the elections, hoping that the results would give her party enough seats to gain the two-thirds majority needed to change the Constitution.
The 17-year war was the main issue of the electoral campaign that was marked by violent clashes between rival political factions, claiming at least seven lives. There were also many allegations by the Opposition, regarding attempts to rig the election and the distribution of polling cards illegally to supporters of the government even though elections had not been announced.
The government was accused of trying to intimidate the Elections Commissioner, Dayananda Dissanayake, through police investigations for ordering millions of stickers to be attached to ballot papers in what he said as an effort to minimize fraud.
Twelve million voters were eligible to vote while a record 5,038 candidates were fielded by 29 registered parties and 99 independent groups. Although no voting took place in the rebel-held areas, polling stations operated on the fringe of these areas, allowing people to cast ballots. An estimated 75 percent of the electorate turned out to vote.
The People’s Alliance, consisting of seven political parties, won 107 seats, but fell short of an absolute majority once again. The main opposition party UNP won 89 seats. The ruling PA formed the next government with the support of the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP).
On October 13, President Kumaratunga swore in Ratnasiri Wickremanayaka as the new Prime Minister. He had also occupied the post in the outgoing government since August 2000, replacing former Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike.
On October 11, 2001, Parliament was dissolved a little over a year since it was formed, and new elections were ordered after the Government lost its House majority. This was due to the People’s Alliance government facing a major blow when most of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress parliamentarians left the coalition.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga tried to recruit the JVP to replace it, but this angered several PA parliamentarians, 13 of which defected to the Opposition. A no-confidence motion was prepared. Kumaratunga called the election in order to forestall this. A week after the announcement of new elections, four opposition Tamil parties announced the formation of a Tamil Nationalist Alliance (TNA) to contest the elections.
One of the main themes of this election was the rising military expenditure that continued to hamper economic growth. The election saw 4,610 candidates fielded by 27 registered parties and 133 independent groups. An estimated 76 percent of the electorate turned out to vote.
The government had to step up security as violence marred the end of the campaign period the weekend before the polls. The rallies went peacefully, but the election chief reported that 14 people had died so far in pre-election violence, while the Center for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) put the toll even higher at 25 deaths. The vote was also marked by widespread allegations of intimidation and fraud. 14 deaths occurred on the polling day.
In a major incident, Prime Minster Ratnasiri Wickramanayake escaped a possible attempt at his life by an LTTE-suicide bomber during the election period. According to the final results, the opposition United National Party won 45.62 percent of the vote, 109 of the 225 seats in Parliament, while its Sri Lanka Muslim Congress allies took five seats.
President Chandrika Kumaratunga invited UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to form the new government and was sworn in as Prime Minister on December 9, 2001.
On February 4, 2004, President Chandrika Kumaratunga dissolved Parliament and called early elections for April 2, 2004, three years ahead of schedule. These were the country’s third general elections in four years, and were called in a bid to break a political stalemate between President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe over how to handle peace talks with Tamil Tiger rebels to end the war.
The parliamentary elections were held in on April 2, 2004. United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) won the election with 4,223,970 votes and secured 105 seats.
The United People’s Freedom Alliance was formed between President Kumaratunga’s party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), and the People’s Liberation Front (JVP). The inclusion of the People’s Liberation Front (JVP) a hard-line nationalist party with Marxist economic policies in the United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance was another wildcard at the elections.
Other parties that belong to the People’s Alliance, the Communist Party of Sri Lanka, the Democratic United National Front, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, Mahajana Eksath Peramuna and the Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya, later joined the UPFA.
A record of 6,024 candidates from 24 registered political parties and 192 independent groups, including for the first time a party of Buddhist monks contested the elections. The former ruling United National Party (UNP) was only able to obtain 3,504,200 votes there by securing 82 seats in the Parliament. Winning 633,654 votes and 22 seats the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) won the third most votes.
Political violence rose in the days prior to polling day although it remained far less than in the last election in 2001 when 61 people had been killed in political attacks. In eastern parts of the country pre-poll violence left at least two people dead.
Police deployed a 64,000-strong force to guard the 10,400 polling booths and counting centers while the military patrolled and reinforced areas prone to violence. 25,000 local and international election monitors including the European Union and the Commonwealth were also deployed on Election Day. Five politically motivated murders were also reported during the election period.
In the Eastern Province, a slightly lower turnout was observed on the day of the election. Incidents of electoral malpractice in certain polling stations in six electoral districts were reported.
On April 6, 2004, Mahinda Rajapaksa who was until then the Leader of the Opposition was sworn in as Prime Minister by President Chandrika Kumaratunga.
Parliamentary election was held on April 8 and April 20, 2010. Another landmark election, it was the first general election held in the country following the end of the 26-year-civil war in May 2009, when the Sri Lanka army defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels.
In November 2005, Mahinda Rajapaska defeated Ranil Wickremesinghe in the presidential polls and was re-elected as the president in 2010.
At the election, UPFA secured 4,846,388 votes and thereby winning 144 seats in the Parliament, and the United National Party won 2,357,057 votes with 60 seats, while Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi (ITAK) won 14 seats and the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) which consisted of SLMC (Sri Lanka Muslim Congress), JVP and DP gained 441,251 votes winning seven seats. However, the lowest voter turnout since independence was reported in the parliamentary election 2010.
Although the election was initially scheduled to be concluded on April 8, due to irregularities in two districts, the Commissioner of Elections decided to hold re-polls on April 20.Final results of the election were announced on April 21 which was the day before the inaugural meeting of the new Parliament was scheduled.
274 incidents of election violence were reported to the police by April 5. The government deployed 80,000 police and soldiers to provide security during the voting. The Department of Elections invalidated the results of two polling stations in Kandy and Trincomalee Districts, where elections were repeated on 20 April.
The final results gave 144 seats to the UPFA, six short of a two-thirds majority. The UNP led UNF came in a distant second with 60 seats. The TNA and the JVP led DNA took 14 and seven seats respectively.
The CMEV recorded 413 incidents up to April 7 and mentioned that the election was not held freely and fairly. The Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE) also in their reports refused to admit that the 2010 election was free and fair and they condemned the inaction of the Police and Election Commissioner for not being able to conduct a free and fair election by preventing election law violations. People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) recorded 270 incidents up to 7 April.
The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), another election monitoring body, recorded with a number of violations. One of the unique features of the violence which took place during the time was intra-party clashes between UPFA candidates.
DM Jayaratne was sworn in as Prime Minister on April 21, 2010 with the newly-elected Parliament holding its first session on April 22, and elected MP Chamal Rajapaksa of the UPFA and the eldest brother of President Rajapaksa as its new Speaker.
COMPILED BY MANESHKA BORHAM AND KISHANI SAMARAWEERA