Sri Lanka: Situation analysis

Muslim Women's Research and Action Forum (MWRAF)
Sri Lankans went to the polls on the 5th of December to elect its 12th Parliament barely a year after parliamentary elections were held in October 2000.
It has been described as one of the most violent elections with 50 persons killed during the five week long election campaign, the election day being the bloodiest with 19 murders committed.
Over 200 persons, including candidates, were also injured on election day. Polling was marred by intimidation, vote stuffing, and ballot grabbing at gunpoint in some places. Nearly 100,000 voters from the uncleared areas in the war zone were also denied their right to franchise because of the military blockade [closed the checkpoints on voting day].

The result however brought in a new coalition government comprising the United National Party and its allies – the minority Tamil and Muslim parties. The United National Front government has promised to end the 18 year old ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka with constitutional reforms, revive the sagging economy, restore law and order and very specifically advance the status and rights of women. In the run up to the elections the UNP launched a Women’s Manifesto (Vanitha Diri Maga).  Some of its promises included 25% reservation for women in nomination lists, shelters for women in every electorate, and the establishment of a Women’s Council of 50 members to promote legislation on women.

Women’s groups in Sri Lanka also relaunched the Women’s Manifesto first issued in the run up to the October 2000 elections outlining their demands on political participation, law reform, health, education, the economy, media representation, and conflict as well as changes in customary laws and harmful cultural and traditional practices. However women’s representation in Parliament remains at 4%, and only 1 woman has been appointed to the Cabinet.

Despite the level of election violence and malpractice the result has restored some semblance of faith in our democracy and also opened up an opportunity for another attempt to peacefully resolve the conflict, as President Kumaratunga’s government elected in 1994 failed to live up to its promise to end the conflict. Peace activists are also trying hard to see if there is anyway we could influence the peace process.

The LTTE has given clear signals that it is prepared for peace talks. However there is a constitutional tangle as President Kumaratunga is from the main opposition People’s Alliance party. Kumaratunga who will be in power till December 2005, will now have to work with a hostile parliament led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickramesingha which has financial and legislative control and the power to impeach her. The President in turn has the power to prorogue and dissolve parliament. No one knows how far this government can continue with a small majority and the President, given her executive powers, could make things difficult.

However Prime Minister Wickremasinghe in his first speech made after taking oaths has emphasized the need to create a new political culture and put an end to confrontational politics. His proposal to form a government of national reconciliation has however not been accepted by the main opposition. The country and its people are waiting for the next move of the government, which has given high priority to the peace process.