Batticaloa, Colombo, Elections, IDPs and Refugees, Jaffna, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Trincomalee, Vavuniya

The loud and clear message from the voter turnout and the voters in the North and East

Aachcharya writing from Jaffna

I wrote on the 30th of December in a post to Groundviews (and republished in the Daily Mirror) that the assertion that the Tamil people would be deciders in the Presidential election would be a myth. There was nothing brilliant or extraordinary about what I said at that time, but it was contrary to public perception that was prevalent all over the country and in international media circles. What I suggested was that for the Tamil people to be deciders two conditions have to be fulfilled. I wrote:

“For the Tamils to be the deciders in the election (like they could have been in the last) they have to vote as a whole, to one candidate and the Sinhala votes to both candidates should be almost equal.”

A lot of people thought it would be close in the South. I feared a good lead for Mahinda Rajapaksha in the rural south. I told my friends that a 600,000-800,000 lead in the South by Mahinda cannot be offset by SF by the margins that he receives in Minority areas. I never expected a 1.8 million lead for him in the South. Some of it might have been rigged. We just don’t know and we will never know. But one thing is clear the rural south did come out strongly for him.

My vote

I voted in the Nallur electorate in the Jaffna electoral district and I did vote for General Sarath Fonseka. My early impression was that both candidates did not deserve my vote but I soon altered my stance. For me taking a decision to spoil the vote meant not believing in the system. The system is indeed fundamentally flawed but then if we can’t change things democratically, the only alternative is for change to be attempted violently. Most in this country are tired of losing lives and I am definitely one of them. So the option of not believing in the system was not open to me. It was just inconsequential. I also thought that it is not right to approach this elections standing from an ivory tower of personal conscience and die hard political philosophy and principle. Politics, including the act of voting, is about taking tough decisions. I did not have the energy for another MR presidency. I was convinced that a vote for anyone else but SF would in effect indirectly contribute to a MR Presidency. The unknown devil at least I thought would provide an opportunity to try something differently. If the SF presidency even by a fraction or a chance might have increased the collective opportunity of life over death of the Tamil community I thought it was my duty to vote for him. And hence I voted for Sarath Fonseka, despite his flaws, despite the vaguness vis a vis his position on the problems of the minorities, despite his anti-minority pronouncements in the past, despite his role in the war. I voted for him because it was the only strong way of showing my protest to the incumbent and because I believed in the political forces supporting him. It was an uncomfortable decision to take but I had no other option.

The voter turnout in Jaffna

Many have expressed concern about the ‘poor turnout’ in Jaffna. Some die hard SF supporters were annoyed with the turnout. Some Pro-LTTE and Anti- LTTE Tamil Diaspora sites who opposed TNA’s decision to support SF have called the low voter turnout a boycott. Some know-it-all types in the Diaspora have said that the Jaffna people are not interested in a democracy. Nothing can be more insulting.

The following are some reasons for the ‘low voter turnout’, in my opinion:

  1. 40% of registered voters are not in Jaffna. The 600,000 registered voters includes those migrated. Many Tamils in Colombo who moved from Jaffna have their vote in Jaffna – they are not registered in Colombo.
  2. Killinochchi low voting (Killinochchi is part of the Jaffna electoral district. Only 7% voting was recorded mainly because of the poor state of facilities provided for the IDPs to vote),
  3. Bomb scare in TNA strongholds on the day of the elections (example Nallur, Manipay),
  4. Internal displacement within Jaffna (From the Islands to the mainland. From Chavahacheri (Thenmarachchi) to Jaffna and other places). People possibly were not willing to travel 10-12 kilometers to vote.
  5. 80,000 people displaced by the High Security Zones (23,000 live in welfare centers and the rest with family and friends or have migrated).

The Chavahacheri, Udupiddy, Manipay, Vadukoddai, Thenmarachchi electorates in Jaffna recorded 30% voter turn out. This must be 60% of the actual residents. The Jaffna and Nallur electorates polled around 20%. The Jaffna peninsula average voter turnout should be in the high twenties and this must be at least 50% of the actual residents. If there had been no High Security Zones, internal displacement within Jaffna and proper voter registration this might have gone upto at least 60%. The 2010 turn out is the highest voter turn out ever in Jaffna in a Presidential election. The figures from the last election are:

2005 – 7.868 (1%) (Note: LTTE enforced a boycott)

1994 – 17,716 (2.97%) (Note: Jaffna was under LTTE control at this time)

1999 – 117,549 (19.18%) (Note: Killinochchi polled less than 4% – Was under LTTE control).

In 2010, 185,132 votes were polled with an average of 25%.

A comparison with the general election also shows us that this turn out is quite decent: In the 2004 General Elections Jaffna polled 300,000 votes (47%) the highest recorded in more than 20 years in election history. (I attended the only TNA rally in Jaffna on the 23rd of January in Sangilyan Thoppu, Nallur where R. Sampanthan of the TNA said that last time the margin for MR was less than 200,000 and the vote that TNA had received in the 2004 General Elections was 620,000. I thought at that time that comparing the turn out at General Elections was not good analysis). In the 2001 election around 200,000 votes were polled (30%). In 2000 around 130,000 votes were polled averaging at just over 20%. It must be remembered that in both 2001 and 2004 General Elections the TNA had the backing of the LTTE.

The voter turnout in the rest of the North and East

Batticaloa has polled a remarkably consistent 64% as in the last three presidential elections. Vavuniya polled 43% this time and voted in the 40s in 2005 and 1999. Trincomalee polled 65% and had polled in the 60s in the past three elections as well. Voter turn out in Mannar was 35%. It has been consistently in the 30s. In 2005 the turn out was 30%. None of these districts were affected by LTTE’s enforced boycott in 2005. Mullaitivu has recorded less than 4% in the past having been under LTTE control and this time recorded a 14%.

What is the message from the voter turn out in the North?

The message is that there are very serious issues to be addressed prime among them being the resettlement of IDPs. This includes both the Vanni IDPs and the Old IDPs. Demilitarisation is also key to a higher voter turn out.

What is the message from the people of the North and East at this election?

The ‘liberated’ have clearly registered their protest against their ‘liberator’. The vote in Killinochchi and Mullaitivu amongst all difficulties and however small were clearly against the President. All over the North and East this has vibrated. The Jaffna vote clearly rejects Mahinda Rajapaksha’s Chechnyan style local leader Douglas Devananda. I don’t know how Dayan Jayatilleke is going to still call him the Jaffna people’s choice. EPDP won only Kayts in the 10 electorates in the Jaffna peninsula that even by a 600 vote margin. Even in Jaffna and Nallur which make up by and large the Jaffna Municpal Council (which he supposedly won) he lost receiving only 27% and 21% of the votes. It is loud and clear from Jaffna that he is not wanted; his style of politics is not desired. (But he might do well in the general elections under an MR presidency. Patronage politics will help him for another six years). The East has similarly spoken very clearly rejecting MR’s Chechnyan style local leader V. Muralidharan alias Karuna Amman. Pillayan should be silently happy with the vote. Two years of centrally controlled pseudo-provincial council rule has been rejected by the people. (Here again the TNA might struggle at the General elections under a MR Presidency).

The vote shows a clearly divided country: 65% of the minorities (Tamils, Muslims, Up Country Tamils) preferring one candidate and more than 60% of the majority community preferring another. I do not know what else we need to show that we are far from being a united country. But the President does not seem like he wants to reflect on this message. To journalists who met him soon after the elections he has repeated the same story: “the IDPs are happy in the camps”. We are likely to see more of the same.

The way forward

I am afraid that the result might be taken negatively by the minorities and the opposition parties, that even if they come together that they cannot make an impact. But the minority parties should take the positive message – the possibility that this election gave/has given of collectively envisaging an agenda. The opposition parties have to resolve and work together to break the common sense philosophy in Sri Lanka that being in the opposition is useless. If our democratic culture is to be rejuvenated we need opposition parties to believe that an opposition can do credible work. Concrete action based on a concrete agenda that mobilizes the people has to be worked out. The minority parties have to show their communities that it is possible to serve them sitting in the opposition. A strong coalition between the TNA-SLMC-DPF is immediately possible. That should be a starter for a broader coalition of progressive forces. This Government is sure to continue to wage a war on the opposition with new force. It has to be resisted and fought back democratically. For that we need opposition leaders who believe in themselves.

  • Dhiraj

    I think the TNA and the SLMC made a huge mistake banking on Fonseka. If they had sided with Mahinda I’m sure they would have found it much easier to argue for the rights of their constituencies. But I’m happy that their communalism was defeated and they remain outside government. The TNA and the SLMC are no better than the JHU, but no body wants to say anything simply because they are minority parties. The truth is the SLMC and the TNA are racist, communal parties that use the ethnic card to get votes. Hopefully the coming parliamentary elections wll remove the JHU as well.

  • Good analysis. Yes you actually underwent a critical and dangerous conditions. W, Sinhalese, too suffered lot in 1974 and 1989. we too were endangered by LTTE. Y we can not work corporatively? y v seek seperate? y cannot v unite? v know politicians are politicians. y people cannot be ahead of the hipocratic politicians.

  • Thavapalan

    Dear Achcharya, TNA-SLMC-DPL is not a progressive coalition.Instead they are the worst reactionary ,opportunist and pro Imperialist forces.Do you think that these forces can play a good role in the future of the country? They will be erased from the political arena like the pro imperialist and Mafia LTTE.I hope that the Saiva,Vellala and Jaffna hegemonic cant play any role in the future. Please think in terms of the poor people of the Island. Thanks

  • dayan de silva

    so naive… it’s quaint how you still have confidence in the system after 60 years… this is the Tamils’ problem: a slave mentality

  • fine articul.thank you.the election have been rigged.if it is free and fair election FONSEKA would have been won.RAJAPAKSA have ti dicided what he is going to to do for north and east even though he lost.if not their will be another war will start.DOUGLES AND KARUNA have to pack their bagege from the parliment.thier is another question is why election commetioner wants to resign???he know well what happened in the we have to wait and see what is next stepRAJAPAKSA going to take.

  • wijayapala

    Aachcharya, thank you for your insights on voting patterns in Jaffna and elsewhere. Your five reasons for the low turnout were very helpful and give us outsiders a great picture into the conditions in Jaffna. Also thank you for your faith in democracy. It isn’t terrific but what is the alternative?

    The only question I have is your comment on “patronage politics.” Can one really separate patronage from realistic politics? If Tamils (or anyone else) vote along patronage lines, what does that say about the strength of their ideals? Would it validate Mahinda’s claims that the Tamils are primarily interested in development and rebuilding their lives, and not the elusive “political solution?”

  • wijayapala

    Dear Dhiraj,

    If they had sided with Mahinda I’m sure they would have found it much easier to argue for the rights of their constituencies.

    If TNA and SLMC had sided with Mahinda, they would have bombed at the upcoming General Election this summer.

    Contrary to what you believe, most Tamils and Muslims don’t blindly follow the TNA and SLMC. If the minorities really thought that Mahinda represented their interests, the TNA and SLMC would not have sided with Fonseka.

  • Travelling Academic

    “[…] clearly divided country: 65% of the minorities (Tamils, Muslims, Up Country Tamils) preferring one candidate and more than 60% of the majority community preferring another.”

    Does this not show a huge lack of vision and leadership on the minority side? Would they not have had a higher chance of getting a better deal working with the winner — doing the analysis to accurately predict who might win and taking the side of the winner? What exactly were they supposed to gain by supporting the loser?? Backing the winner, there might have been a small chance of getting something good; backing the loser, that chance is exactly zero. Yet the TNA recommended to the people to back the loser. It is good time for the Tamils to totally reject the TNA and all it stood for, in its various previous incarnations over the last five decades. They shouted big, achieved nothing! Time for a radical re-think, ditch them for failing to do simple calculations and give space for a new leadership to evolve.

  • Leon

    This election has proved that the minorities are united.The TNA and the Muslim parties should form an alliance when the national elections are declared. They will then form an effective opposition.

  • Dhiraj

    “If the minorities really thought that Mahinda represented their interests, the TNA and SLMC would not have sided with Fonseka.”

    Er no, the TNA and the SLMC have a grudge against Mahinda. The TNA because the LTTE was destroyed, and Rauf Hakeem would have lost face if he ‘went back to Mahinda.’ I severely doubt either parties had the interests of their constituents in mind. In any case, I’m glad they are on the defeated side. The CWC made the right choice and smiles all around for them.

  • Thamilachchi

    Aachcharya,Your article makes some valid points. I agree especially with the last paragraph. I am a member of the MR support group on Facebook. One of the comments by a fan on the election victory of MR was that the Northern and Eastern Tamils who voted for SF were all kotiyas. While I am encouraged by the fact that Tamils are identifying themselves as part of the polity by going and voting there are others who call them kotiyas simply for having done that. This too while pro-LTTE sites say that the Tamils are with them cos they have boycotted. Isnt it an irony then that Tamils are considered kotiyas irrespective of whether they have voted or not? Is it then worthwhile still to try engaging as members of the polity?

  • balan

    As a tamil from jaffna,,we feel the two candidates are not going to give any kind of solution for tamils.Mahindha lost votes because of EPDP and karuna partnership.EPDP and karuna never represent for community ,they are doing politics for themself only.TNA is the only party emphasizing Tamil’s problem whatever the influence it has over the government.

    Sinhalse prefer mahindha for somany reasons,but for tamils,they suffered maximum especially Northeast in his presidency in many ways.that does not mean SF period will good for tamils.Minorities does want MR is clear thing here.Mahindha won kayts because EPDP leader’s home town!

    Anyone can gain the support of tamils,only when someone REALLY concerns about solution for tamils,which majority of sinhalse resist,So itz is a contrasting factor that reflects slightly in tis election,i blv

  • Mahinda Rajapakse won the election by rigging the election results with the help of Indian computor experts who were hired by Basil Rajapakse. Why the Colombo University was not given the task to conduct the computor process of the election this time? Corrupt Indian Congras Politicians have already won the last election by rigging. This time they helped Rajapakse in order to save thier own skin regarding war crimes on Tamils.

  • Groundtruth

    An interesting and perceptive analysis of the voting pattern in the north and east. And even more of greater interest from social and humanitarian points of view is the reflection on the plight of the Wanni IDPs and older displaced inhabitants for resettlement and livelihood means . It’s not very different in the east too. But there have been not much concrete movement either from government or private sector on any of these essential prerequisites of these displaced people so far except for some makeshift arrangements by religious and UN supported Agencies. This is where as the Author prognosticates there is “room for opposition parties to do credible work”. It has to do with changing the culture of just being in the opposition from one of mainly carrying out rhetoric to doing something more concrete on the ground, also given the present embargo and suspicions on NGOs and INGOs. It is obvious that government has a primary role to play in enabling things to happen even with opposition parties as catalysts-something which requires ipso facto a change of orientation the way central governments work with the opposition to change people’s lives at the ground level. The way the Provincial Council in the east shows without proper devolution of functions, in reality reflects a meaningless yet costly arrangement. A more puposeful and productive devolution to benfit local lives is something that is to be much desired in the future, including possibly local tax collection to fund accountable local development initiatives to supplement funding from the Centre.

  • wijayapala

    Er no, the TNA and the SLMC have a grudge against Mahinda.

    It makes little difference if they had a grudge or not. If the minorities really felt they had something to gain with Mahinda, they would have voted against the TNA and SLMC.

  • samuelj

    Dear acchhariya,
    thanks a lot for this piece. You have articulated the thought process of many Tamil voters this time round. You have also give a very good statistical analysis of voter turn out in the pediminantly tamil speaking areas.
    I cannot agree with you more on the reasons why more Tamil speaking voters chose to vote SF rather than MR. They made that decision on their own. They would have done that even sans the help of TNA. Therefore the TNA should have acording to my thinking encouraged the voters to vote but not publicly spoken about any discussions or agreements with SF.
    I also feel political parties backing certain candidates or politicians crossing over before elections do not make much positive impacts to the candidates or parties. The case of Daglous and Chandrika prove this point among both communities. Voters make their choice based on the campaign more than on parties or individuals.
    At the parlimentary elections the pitch is different as winner doesn’t take all. There are seats for all who get a certain persentage of votes. There is a lot of hope for opposition politics therefore.

  • malaselvi

    Author so happy to see that devananda did not bring enough vote for president. Mr.Dougless Devananda is a man who fearlessly stood against tigers. The man who survive almost ten times from terrorist. War was finished with tigers. but their sympathizers and medias are still in large. such as veerakesary and uthayan. Mr.devananda is still fighting with their propaganda machine.
    He is true democrat and never intimidate any body. Last twenty odd years tigers intimidate voters for voting or boycotting. every body knew this. T.N.A got bumber loto from tigers.
    All these crocodiles never utter a single word against tigers but using every opportunity to blame Dougless and Karuna.
    I was expected Mahinda would get between fifteen to thirty five lacs votes,

  • Dhiraj

    “It makes little difference if they had a grudge or not. If the minorities really felt they had something to gain with Mahinda, they would have voted against the TNA and SLMC.”

    This is what you said “If the minorities really thought that Mahinda represented their interests, the TNA and SLMC would not have sided with Fonseka.”

    When I read that it means the TNA and the SLMC actually care about what their constituencies think and act accordingly. I don’t think that is the case; the leadership of the TNA and SLMC are backward, grudge holding individuals who use the ethnic/religious card to gain votes. In anycase, the minorities lost out bigtime by supporting Fonseka. But as I said, I am glad their communalism was defeated.

  • SomewhatDisgusted


    “I am glad their communalism was defeated.”

    I believe that communalism ought to be defeated and I’m in agreement with you. However, one thing bothers me. Was the communalism of the minorities defeated by the communalism of the majority?

  • wijayapala


    When I read that it means the TNA and the SLMC actually care about what their constituencies think and act accordingly.

    You misunderstood my argument- it makes no difference at all whom the TNA and SLMC care about, because most voters will choose according to what they personally want. In other words, it made no difference whether TNA/SLMC would have endorsed Mahinda or not, because the minorities still would have voted for Fonseka.

    See SomewhatDisgusted’s comments- are you glad that Sinhala communalism has triumphed?

  • niranjan

    The worst racists on the Sinhala side are with this Government and it seems likely that they will win the Parliamentary elections as well. Who or what is going to stop them from winning the Parliamentary elections?


    “minorities lost bigtime by supporting Fonseka”- Did they? The only person who lost big time was Fonseka and not the minorities. The TNA and the SLMC have retained their support base in the North and the East. In the Parliamentary election they will likley support Ranil W. The minorities have faith in the UNP under Ranil W and not in the UPFA which comprises of racist individuals.