Galle, Hambantota, Matara, Peace and Conflict, Politics and Governance, Post-War

What now about the Rajapaksa regime, after the South?

What now about the Rajapaksa regime, after the South ?

It was Velupillai Prabhakaran the late Tamil Tiger leader who once said the Sinhala people have only a short memory. Perhaps it is so and it seems quite in order at this elections, where the war against the Tamil Tigers with Prabhakaran projected as the icon of “terrorism” was turned into a glorifying victorious vote puller.

While the war was being waged with only State witnesses to the battle allowed to get on the dock, the Rajapaksa regime started screwing the opposition with provincial council elections, beginning with the bifurcated Eastern province in 2008 May. The going was good for the Rajapaksas, with the main opposition UNP stuck with a fear psychosis of loosing Sinhala votes, but unable to compete with the ruling UPFA headed by the Rajapaksas to be the owners of the Sinhala psyche. The JVP was also left in a dilemma, the Rajapaksas stealing their shares of the war and leaving them with no clear path to campaign at elections.

The ruling UPFA that began with a 55.3% and 56.4% vote popularity in Sabaragamuwa and NCP respectively when elections were held in August 2008 and the war was being hyped as a winning war, moved to 59.5% and 69.4% in Central and NWP (Wayamba) when elections were held in February 2009, after the military moved into Kilinochchi on January 02nd and the capture of Paranthan and Elephant pass. The decline of the UNP was evident without any clear idea as to how they should position themselves against the war and the JVP was drained out of their patriotism with 4.9% reduced to a meagre 2.1%.

Rajapaksas kept Uva and Southern Province elections till the last, on the premise that Uva and South would play as their bastion in elections. The early August 2009 Uva PC elections held in less than a month after the war was declared over and the LTTE accepted as decimated, left the main opposition UNP and the JVP flabbergasted. The Rajapaksas, projecting their family image through Sasheendra Rajapaksa as the would be Chief Minister, rode home with a stunning 74.6% and in Moneragala district where young Rajapaksa contested, the popular vote was unbelievably high as 81.3%, reminding one of the old Soviet day elections in Russia.

The UNP reeking with internal squabbles, defeats at every PC elections and with no idea as to how they should face the Rajapaksa steam roller, slumped to a pauperish 21%. Meanwhile the JVP, which avoided “talk the war” and took the Rajapaksas on high handed corruption and an economy that was going haywire, managed to improve, gaining 4.2% this time.

The indications were clear. Within one month and with all the hype of a glorious war victory that was wholly accrued with the Rajapaksa brothers leaving even the Army Commander Fonseka out, the Uva Sinhala majority paid their gratitude as asked for with a resounding 74% and the young Rajapaksa made Chief Minister. Yet with economic hardships snaking out of the ant hill, the JVP got credited with an improved per centage. The UNP that was neither here nor there, could not gain anything from any platform and thus declined further.

The Southern PC election was thus brought in to crown their glory, but 04 months and 20 days after the war was declared won, it wasn’t turning out that easy and that popular. That was too long a period for the Sinhala South to hold on to the memory of a war victory. Human societies perhaps can not live in the past. They have to move on. They would, or they probably would keep a margin for past achievements, if that pays enough for the future. What has the war victory provided for the Sinhala South ?

Despite a massive war victory exhibition held at the BMICH that was given prime time publicity by not only State media channels but by some private channels as well and the whole of the media still made to go hard and bang with glorifying the war victory, the people who live on the ground still has not received any “peace dividend”. Not even the peace in moving about, with the same high security barriers clamped every where.

Worst was, the election campaign in the South brought home for the first time an avalanche of security boulders that wasn’t there even during the war. With high profile ministers and other personalities including some UPFA candidates going round electoral districts, every kerb and corner of villages and towns were plastered with security personnel. Those who came to buy their grocery, the 3wheeler that went for refuelling, the youth who stayed at bus stands going or coming from school or afternoon classes were all treated as “possible” security threats and checked, when the President was on a special campaign trail in Sooriyaweva in Hambantota.

Previously projected Southern PC election scenario against the Results

Election Data

All election data source – Election department website

I for one, did not take all that as factors that could play negative on the ruling UPFA, especially with all the State resources, power play, media blitzkriegs and the mega cabinet, all taking the South by almost force. Deducting a reasonable percentage for the economic fall, projections showed, the UPFA would not do as well as in Uva, but would still hover close to 70% in the province, starting with 65% in Galle, and improving through Matara with 70% and doing the best in Hambantota with 72% as it is after all the birth place of both the war heroes and the modern day public monarch. That was based on the assumption that Rajapaksa’s performance at his 2005 presidential elections at 63.3%, would improve with the war victory, though not to the extent of the most poor and ignorant district Moneragala.

Voting in the South nevertheless point in a different direction. With all the fire power used in Hambantota, with numerous projects earmarked as “development” of Hambantota, people had not been convinced enough to vote for the UPFA in Hambantota the best, even in the presence of President Rajapaksa, coming at the bottom of the popular list with only 66.9%. Galle did the best again with a 68.3% vote, while Matara came in between with 67.9%. The government could not come any where near their targeted 75 – 80%. The war glamour and its hope of a more promising future as projected by the Rajapaksa regime and its media have not been taken by the people as true or possible under this regime.

The vote gained by the JVP, considered the underdog or the “nonentity” with the war victory totally hijacked by the Rajapaksas, proved their campaign on economic issues, was what the people understood best. They have improved tremendously with 5.5% in Matara and over 11% in Hambantota, where they were bashed and bumped.

The failure of the Rajapaksa regime in delivering any substantial hope for the economic life of the people is evident in how it plays up over their war victory hype at this Southern elections. There is apparently a drop in consumer buying by about 20% which speaks of a reducing buying power in semi urbanised South, than in the peasant Moneragala. But would it remain outside rural life ?

Clearly the war frenzy can not be hyped beyond what it was hyped to. On the war front, the Rajapaksas can not show anything more bigger and more glorious than this defeat of the LTTE and the death of Prabhakaran. Four months and 3 weeks gone and with nothing else seen down the line for a fair living, the government is now being challenged on its economic performance.

The inability of the Rajapaksa regime to even plan on how they would get their money to spend on the estimated expenses, became quite evident before the close of elections, when the government had to announce they would only have a 04 month “vote on account” expenditure plan presented to parliament instead of the usual 2010 budget, without any indication as to how the revenue would be planned and budgeted. What ever the government’s argument is on such escapism and the next parliament that would have to be elected by April this year, the fact remains this government which argues it would continue with more elected power, is unable to put forward its development plan with a budget for 2010.

Can it then survive another few months with high security, threats on opposition voices and media hype on the war victory alone, to win another election? Within an economy that is fast crumbling and the people willing to forget the war to focus on their day to day living, the Rajapaksa strategy seems to be giving way to more opposition.

The brutal campaign against the JVP in Hambantota gave it a new life with 11% votes. Everywhere in this region, extreme repression has given way to more opposition and more stronger voices. It happened during the 30 year war when the LTTE grew with every repressive measure adopted by successive governments that had no answers for the conflict. It is happening in Afghanistan, in the N-E provinces in India and in places like Jammu & Kashmir, Chattisgarh and Lalgarh, in the absence of answers for the conflicts and core issues of their societies.

Here the Rajapaksa regime is also slipping into a similar relapse, after a short, freak popularity. Here the Rajapaksa regime is being rejected by the same people who came on the streets 04 months and 03 weeks ago to crown them as glorious victors. There could be only one other option for this regime now. Go for a quicker elections before it could be too late. One they could still manipulate, when the popularity is a waning 60% plus for now. Unfortunately for them, the fall seems far worse if delayed than Humpty’s fall, with no king’s soldiers any more to put them together.