Speculation mounts not just in political circles but also in civil society of an impending presidential election, early in the New Year. The Uva Provincial Council elections, which besides being constitutionally required, were also a testing of the political waters by the Rajapakse Administration and the results could not have been more disturbing to those in the corridors of power.

Now the Rajapakse presidency has a reelection strategy that has been born of necessity, which is winning the presidential elections with almost solely the Sinhala vote. Even a cursory glance at the 2005 and the 2010 presidential election results would demonstrate that President Mahinda Rajapakse does not receive the votes of either the Muslim or the Tamil communities. Even Minister Thondaman’s ability to deliver the estate Tamil vote is hampered, by the President’s lack of appeal to ethnic and religious minorities. For instance in the 2010 presidential elections in which he secured a near 58% national vote, he lost in the multi ethnic Nuwara Eliya – Maskeliya electorate securing only 34% of the vote and conceding a huge 60% vote share to General Sarath Fonseka. As the Rajapakse presidency’s in house think tanks have concluded, correctly, the Rajapakse brand attraction is limited to its core constituency of the ethnic Sinhala electorate, both Buddhist and Catholic. The Catholic vote in Sri Lanka, currently is splitting along ethnic lines, with Tamil Catholics, whose views are essentially articulated by Mannar Bishop Rayappu Joseph, voting TNA and supporting minority rights, while Malcom Cardinal Ranjith, now aided by an impending Papal visit, keeps Sinhala Catholics firmly within the orbit of a Sinhala nationalist Administration.

Accordingly an unprecedented Rajapakse third term reelection plan requires a preponderance of the Sinhala vote, or about 65% or two thirds of the Sinhala vote, which is about 75% of the total electorate to squeeze out a victory. Hence in 2005, President Rajapakse would not have won except for the fact that the LTTE enforced a boycott of the election by voters in Jaffna and the LTTE controlled Vanni. This time around the TNA does not need to say very much to see Tamils voting quite heavily against the Rajapakse Administration.

In 2010, in the aftermath of winning the war, President Rajapakse had no trouble securing the Sinhala vote based on the war victory, but even as President Rajapakse conceded as far back as 2009, once the war is over, people will look at economic development in return for their political support. It is essentially in the area of economic management and governance that the Rajapakse Administration finds itself losing ground among Sinhala constituency. An interesting poll by Social Indicator in the days preceding the Uva provincial polls stated that more than half the people indicated that they were worse off now economically than they were two years ago, notwithstanding the rose tinted reports of a politicized Central Bank and Chinese funded large scale infrastructure projects with little local employment opportunities, with most of the work being also done by Chinese labour.

A worry for the Rajapakse Administration should be its performance in the Monaragala District. The Monaragala district is the most mono ethnically Sinhala district in the country. Monaragala is more Sinhala than even the President’s own constituency of Hambanthota and more Sinhala than Jaffna is Tamil. In recent past elections, the UPFA sectored huge majorities in Monaragala, polling 81%, 75% and 69% respectively at the 2009 provincial and the 2010 general and presidential elections. Now Monaragala is a reasonable proxy for the Sinhala vote, given that it is essentially a mono ethnically Sinhala district. But at the recent Uva provincial poll, the UPFA secured only 58% of the vote in Monaragala. Basically 58% of the Sinhala vote would not be sufficient in a national election when the minorities also come out and vote, as they did in Badulla and the UPFA  and that too after throwing everything they had into the effort, something that would not be possible on that scale at a national election. It was quite a fight, literally. Here is how the Sunday Times political column of Sunday 28th September, describes the Rajapakse effort that fell far short of what was required.

“Lawlessness reigned in the run-up to the September 20 polls. Intimidation and thuggery were rampant. The Police were blind to new Defender Jeeps sans number plates clogging the outback of Badulla and Monaragala Districts. Unidentified but well-built men were canvassing in different ways for the ruling party candidates. Various forms of inducements were offered.

A VIP distributed envelopes with money amounting to between Rs 2,500 and Rs 5,000. Opposition party supporters feared to walk into a Police Station. In one instance on polls day, the Mayor of Bandarawela was assaulted inside the Police Station by three Government politicians. The Officer-in-Charge of this headquarters station was transferred for failing to prevent the incident. However, no action so far seems to have been taken on the assailants. Polls laws were violated with impunity. The Polls and Police Chiefs were buck-passing complaints from those who sought a free and fair poll.”

If President Rajapakse secures anything less than two thirds (2/3) of the Sinhala electorate and assuming the minorities come out and vote, the unprecedented third Rajapakse term may be electorally quite difficult. The opposition has the momentum coming out of the Uva election. But they  still need to create a broad opposition front and a minimum common opposition program for a common opposition candidate to take on President Rajapakse. The president will still win reelection if the opposition is divided, with a serious three or four person race. In the Uva election, the UPFA flag carrier was a presidential nephew, while at a presidential election it will be the president himself. The Venerable Sobitha Thera has done a lot of the ground work for a common opposition front, if the UNP has the political imagination to see it and more importantly the realization that it requires a broad front to win the elections. Let’s not forget the fact, the UNP did well in Uva, but it still did not win, the UPFA did. Without a broad opposition front, that is still the most likely scenario in a presidential election as well.

  • L. Gunasekara

    Well thought argument. Fully agree with the psephological arithmetic. The big question is: who should be the “common” candidate. That is, how “common” can, and should, the candidate be? In addition to being credible with the ethnic minorities (including the Hillcountry Tamils) and obtaining the loyal UNP vote, the ‘common’ candidate MUST win over a chunk of the SLFP’s constituency. To do this, ideally, such a candidate should be seen as ‘saving’ the SLFP from further disaster under a new ‘family rule’ that is being attempted. Can a UNPer do this? On the other hand, can Gen. Sarath Fonseka or the Ven.Sobitha do this, let alone win over the ethnic minorities sufficiently? Whoever it will be, if successful, will have the huge challenge of a vast repair job and the task of regaining Sri Lanka’s ‘honour’ in the community of nations.

  • Jayalath

    The next presidential election will be a very crucial and important one to all Sri Lankan . We know now there are various ideas and discussions has been flooding all over the medias regarding to the incoming presidential election . And Also it seems to be that main opposition parties trying to blend the advantage of UVA provincial council election result on the next election . In fact , some are camping up with ideas of abolishing the executive presidency , some are dreaming off changing the regime , some are actively working off to obtain what they lost after 30 years of battle . Those are the people who will encounter Rajspaksa on next election .
    So , it is not important who will win the election , but it is important to understand who is strong and capable of securing the victory that has been conquered . Therefore ,
    , I cannot see any one has taken this matter seriously . Which is a shame . We must understand the real impending threat to the country by certain groups if Rajapaksa slipped away . for a fact , we all know today that Muslims and Tamils would never vote for Rajapaksa , and they have own ideas how the country can be split into pieces with the support of international hypocrites so ,it is normal to their perspective ,and not for us . This is needed to be understood and prevented by singhala majority to supporting Rajapaksa . It should be our duty today. I do not see any problem with that . Firstly the country. And from there we can discuss how we can resolve the quarrel between us . We have plenty of time , unless we have chances of going back to old days which is for sure . I have no hesitation to accept what we have achieved today and Also I have no intention of letting it grabbed and pocketed by another ass for nothing

  • Jayalath

    I badly missed out to speak few words about the lawlessness that mr. Pieris referred during the election period . Honestly, I do not know where do you come from , actually if you lived in Sri Lanka last 4 decades , probably you should know how our politicians behave in the elections . Particularly , the politics has become the main root to staggering revenue for the most of our people in the country . Some time it perfectly work for them either they are in the governing side or not ,so I do not understand why you think they should not gamble with life to be elected .
    Please think of Previous regimes and who ever governed the country since 77, You mention about some manoeuvre followed by incumbent politicians to be reelected , such as offering money, spreading fear and intimidating opposition party members and supporters , attacking at opposition parties and constantly police blind to defenders and ranger rovers . Haven’t you seen them happening before of every elections ? Is it happening only today ?
    I would mind to remind you one incident without carrying argument any longer . I never forget the fear and hopelessness that we had to live with during Prenadasa regime .when the Gamudawa was conducted in Kundasale at that time , I remember special thugs were mobilised in the Gamuda ground to beat up people who criticise the state or Premadasa by Premadasa’s henchmen .
    How come you forget that past today ? I’m not trying to clean Rajapaksa or his dirty lot , but what I’m telling you is that we have very short memory about such nasty group of political rogues in the past

    • Pragmatist2014

      Well said. I too have watched from my office window as JR’s thugs mercilessly assaulted innocent bank workers who were only on strike and demonstrating near the then Lower Chatham Street. This is certainly not a new phenomenon in Sri Lanka but it seems to have got extremely ugly lately.