Colombo, Elections, Politics and Governance

Outcome of presidential elections in Sri Lanka: Is there anything to analyse?

On the day after elections, I sat in the afternoon to write this amidst phone calls and text messages inquiring and informing about “strong” rumours on “result rigging” by the Rajapaksa regime. All rumours, spinning wildly in the world of the all knowing urban middle class, who had “access to inside information”, but knew nothing about of how an election is conducted and the results are released.

Their “inside” information, was not the information that was available in the districts outside Colombo, where President Rajapaksa was heavily voted for. In those districts, the Opposition political activists, the UNF, the JVP, the SLMC and the DPF counting agents in counting centres who sat through the night along with thousands of public servants who manually counted ballot papers and knew how the voting had been in their own areas, resigned to their abodes in accepting the declared results.

If there had been any manipulation(s) thereafter in Colombo, those who toiled in the districts and knew their district results, would have turned their district towns into wild and angry Teherans, even without the Colombo based UNF – JVP leaders. They would not have taken such altering of their victories lying down. There were no such uproar in those districts after election results were declared over the air waves, despite their leaders rejecting the results.

The issue is here in Colombo, where the stalwarts, the king makers, the political aspirants and financiers who wanted a stake in State power and hence a president in their bid to form a government, who felt dislocated from their keenly woven dream of sucking into power. Obviously, they were badly shaken and shocked. Obviously too, they needed some excuse to cover their almost “certain victory” that turned into a frightening defeat within just 24 hours.

That defeat of the Common Candidate, Gen (rtd) Sarath Fonseka, who could only poll 4.17 million and 40.15% votes as a Sinhala war hero, needs very little analysing. He could not muster even the total and the percentage vote that Ranil W (4.7 million and 48.4%) could muster in 2005 November. General (rtd) Fonseka had 1.4 million votes in excess (700,000 new votes plus the 700,000 Tamil votes that went under the LTTE boycott) to poll from, than when Ranil contested the 2005 presidential elections.

Added was the JVP / Mangala factor that opposed Ranil then, but aligned strongly with Gen (rtd) Fonseka this time. Instead of Ranil who was accused as anti – Sinhala for his slogan on power sharing in a united country, here was a Sinhala war hero, who could not poll as much as Ranil the liberal did.

Thus the final results of this 2010 presidential elections and its outcome can be summarised and listed as follows, without long analyses and autopsies.

  1. The UNF-JVP led alliance with SLMC, DPF and Mangala S in it and supported by a TNA faction and some CWC deserters, with all its political contradictions and the JVP calling its Common Candidate an A-political Candidate, was not seen and accepted as having a clear political identity and a political leadership.
  2. The Common Candidate’s image was consciously promoted and established as a strong and brave military leader to claim credit for the war victory and that created doubts about democratic promises by others on his campaign platform.
  3. There was no difference between Rajapaksa’s claim for Sinhala leadership and Gen (rtd) Fonseka’s claim for a Sinhala leadership and the rural people believed in the Sinhala “political” leadership they were familiar with?
  4. The claim that the JVP is a powerful campaigner and could influence the rural voter, was exploded as a myth with President Rajapaksa steam rolling the Common Candidate in all Sinhala rural areas. The JVP was proved an impotent Narodnik group that can only mobilise their cadres on agitational assignments and as having no cordial influence on and trust with, rural life.
  5. The advantage of having minority leaders in this ad hoc front was not used to its advantage, with JVP given unnecessary and undue importance. If the actual consensus reached with TNA’s Sampanthan was publicly campaigned for, that held plenty of democratic promises (disarming all para military groups, for instance) not only for the Tamil polity, but for the Sinhala and Muslim people as well, that could have been politically argued for and would have activated more Sinhala and Tamil votes. Keeping that consensus underground and denying such consensus, allowed the Rajapaksa campaign to project Gen (rtd) Fonseka as one whose cheating the Sinhala people.

All of them remind me of a very creative parable put to me by an elderly Tamil gentleman residing in Colombo, a week before the presidential poll. He asked me, if I was accused of a murder for passing that place and the judge sentenced me to death, whom would I throw my wrath on ? On the judge, or on the hangman, he asked. For the Tamil people, the wrath was on the judge, for the hangman had to do his job. But for the Sinhala people, they wanted the judge who had the power to decide on their fate.

What nevertheless is the end result ? Sri Lanka is left without a politically viable Opposition, to live with a refurbished regime that can now act as it wishes. The mandate the Rajapaksa regime received, using or rather abusing all the State power, now gives them a license to drive at full speed and go beyond where they stopped for the presidential election.

Thus all rhetoric about challenging the election results, instead of calling for stringent methods to curb any abuse of State media and State resources, are negative approaches to their own failure in projecting a political alternative to the Rajapaksa candidacy.

This very narrow approach by the main opposition in challenging this regained strength of the Rajapaksas, is once again shooting astray. It proves the inability of the main opposition to act politically in gearing for the future. It proves the opposition leadership can not assess and decide on its own politically and that it is depending on the JVP which has no influence even on the rural polity.

One need to understand that if the JVP has any political clout, it should have definitely totalled much more than the 243,342 votes it polled from all the PC elections. One need to accept that the JVP could not impact on the rural vote, even at this presidential election and thus has to be left alone to fend for itself.

The main opposition UNP and the other minority parties and their leaders need to understand that what went wrong was their politics in choosing and rallying round a wrong candidate and dropping important issues like the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and reforms in education, health and transport in a market economy. All that have to be put to right well in advance of the parliamentary elections before April this year. That is, if the opposition UNF wants to be a strong parliamentary opposition and also for the people to be democratically safe.

If the main opposition fails in this responsibility, it would fail the people in Sri Lanka, who by their own choice mandated a family regime to live with a far more autocratic and dangerous rule, hereafter. That in the presence of racist politics and in the absence of alternate democratic politics.