Photo via Japan Times, AP Photo/Sanka Gayashan

“We must remember they got their majority vote from Eelam…”

Mahinda Rajapaksa[i]

During election season, the UPFA tried to win enough Sinhala votes by inciting minority phobia – and failed. Post-defeat, what the severely-truncated UPFA continues to beat this racist tom-tom, in the hope of making a quick comeback.

Ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa led the way by informing supporters in Medamulana that he was defeated because Northern, Eastern and Plantation voters voted against him. That is the truth, but not the whole truth. Mahinda Rajapaksa lost not just because he failed to gain the support of minority communities. Mahinda Rajapaksa lost also because he failed to retain the support of the majority community.

Eric Hobsbwam warned that “bad history is not harmless history”[ii]. Mr. Rajapaksa and his hardcore supporters are deliberately trying to fabricate a bad history about the 2015 election. Theirs is a dangerous exercise because their aim is to regain political relevance by creating an unbridgeable divide between majority and minority communities. They want to create a wave of fear and hatred and ride it back to power.

Mahinda Rajapaksa did not have the support of North, East or Plantations, even in 2010 or 2005. Yet he was able to win; he won in 2005 thanks to the Tiger-imposed boycott; he won in 2010 because most Sinhalese voted for him in appreciation for winning the war.

Mahinda Rajapaksa lost in 2015 not just because he lost the minority vote. Mahinda Rajapaksa lost in 2015 also because a large chunk of Sinhala voters who supported him in 2010 voted for the Opposition in 2015; and because an absolute majority of first-time voters voted against him.

The voter-shift from Mahinda Rajapaksa to the Opposition happened all over Sri Lanka, including in every single district outside of North and East. Without that massive shift, Maithripala Sirisena could not have won, even with minority support.

In voting out Mahinda Rajapaksa and voting in Maithripala Sirisena, the really existing ethno-religiously pluralist Sri Lanka asserted itself over the imaginary ethno-religiously monolithic Sri Lanka. The defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa was not a Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim enterprise, but a Lankan enterprise. Hopefully it will serve as a reminder to all political leaders that race-baiting is not only opprobrious but also counterproductive.

2005, 2010 and 2015

In all districts outside of North and East, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s average vote declined between 2015 and 2010 – indicating a substantial-erosion in his voter base.

Table I – Decrease in Mahinda Rajapaksa’s average vote in the districts outside of North and East – 2010 and 2015

District Decrease in average vote 2010-2015
Colombo 18%
Gampaha 19.7%
Kalutara 16.5%
Kandy 18.3%
Matale 13.9%
Nuwaraeliya 22.8%
Galle 12.6%
Matara 11.8%
Hambantota 6.2%
Kurunegala 15.25%
Puttalam 16.6%
Anuradhapura 20%
Pollonnaruwa 36.4%
Badulla 7.7%
Moneragla 10.95%
Ratnapura 12.6%
Kegalle 16.15%

Mahinda Rajapaksa suffered a far greater setback in postal votes. Postal voters are police and military personnel and government employees engaged in election duties and essential services. Though exact figures are not available, the absolute majority of postal voters are Sinhalese.

In 2005 and 2010, Mahinda Rajapaksa won the postal votes by huge margins. In 2015 he was defeated in postal votes as well. This is an even clearer indication of the erosion of his support among the majority community.

Table II – Decrease in Mahinda Rajapaksa’s postal vote in the districts outside of North and East – 2010 and 2015

District Decrease in postal votes 2010-2015
Colombo 19.4%
Gampaha 26.52%
Kalutara 22.6%
Kandy 18.3%
Matale 26.7%
Nuwaraeliya 28.45%
Galle 20%
Matara 16.2%
Hambantota 8.9%
Kurunegala 28.6%
Puttalam 26.4%
Anuradhapura 35.45%
Pollonnaruwa 56%
Badulla 22.8%
Moneragla 25.1%
Ratnapura 18.4%
Kegalle 24.2%

As the statistics clearly prove, between 2010 and 2015 Mahinda Rajapaksa’s voter support eroded across the length and breadth of Sri Lanka, including in his own Hambantota. The loss of Rajapaksa electoral-magic was not just a North-East-Plantation phenomenon, as the former President claims. It was truly a Lankan phenomenon.

The votes lost by Mahinda Rajapaksa in the districts outside of North and East were gained by the Opposition, as the massive increase in the Opposition’s total and postal votes, between 2010 and 2015, clearly demonstrates.

Table III – Increase in the Opposition’s vote in the districts outside of North and East – 2010-2015

District Increase in average vote 2010-2015 Increase in postal vote – 2010-2015
Colombo 21.8% 28.4%
Gampaha 33.7% 56.2%
Kalutara 30.9% 50%
Kandy 24.3% 55.6%
Matale 24.2% 58.9%
N’Eliya 22.5% 57.3%
Galle 24.5% 37.7%
Matara 25.5% 32.5%
Hambantota 15.1% 21.4%
Kurunegala 29% 61.2%
Puttalam 26.4% 53.5%
Anuradhapura 42.2% 90.6%
Pollonnaruwa 71.9% 138.1%
Badulla 10.5% 42.7%
Moneragala 28.7% 58.8%
Ratnapura 25.2% 42.1%
Kegalle 29.1% 50.9%

An even clearer picture of the erosion of the Rajapaksa support-base emerges when Mahinda Rajapaksa’s performance in 2015 is compared with his performance in 2005.

Table IV – Comparative performance of Mahinda Rajapaksa in the districts outside of North and East – 2005-2015

District 2005 2015 Change
Colombo 47.96% 43.4% -9.5%
Gampaha 54.78% 49.49% -9.7%
Kalutara 55.48% 52.65% -5.1%
Kandy 44.3% 44.23% -0.2%
Matale 48.09% 51.41% 6.9%
N’Eliya 27.97% 34.06% 21.8%
Galle 58.41% 55.64% -4.7%
Matara 61.85% 57.81% -6.5%
Hambantota 63.43% 63.02% -0.7%
Kurunegala 52.26% 53.46% 2.3%
Puttalam 48.14% 48.97% 1.7%
Anuradhapura 55.08% 53.59% -2.7%%
Pollonnaruwa 52.61% 41.27% -19.7%
Badulla 45.18% 49.15% 8.8%
Moneragala 56.94% 61.45% 7.9%
Ratnapura 53.01% 55.74% 5.1%
Kegalle 51.02% 51.82% 1.6%

In contrast, the Opposition performed better in 2015 than it did in 2005 in most of the districts outside of North and East. These included all districts of the Southern province, with massive leaps forward in Matara and Galle.

Table V – Comparative performance of the opposition in the districts outside of the North and the East – 2005-2015

District 2005 2015 Change
Colombo 51.12% 55.93% 9.4%
Gampaha 44.23% 49.83% 12.7%
Kalutara 43.2% 46.46% 7.5%
Kandy 54.33% 54.56% 0.4%
Matale 50.25% 47.22% -6.0%
N’Eliya 70,37% 63.88% -9.2%
Galle 40.26% 43.37% 7.7%
Matara 36.71% 41.24% 12.3%
Hambantota 35.23% 35.93% 2.0%
Kurunegala 46.72% 45.76% -2.0%
Puttalam 50.71% 50.04% -1.3%
Anuradhapura 43.62% 45.44% 4.2%
Pollonnaruwa 46.25% 57.8% 25.0%
Badulla 53.11% 49.21% -7.3%
Moneragala 41.65% 37.45% -10.1%
Ratnapura 45.55% 43.01% -5.6%
Kegalle 47.67% 47.05% -1.3%

Mahinda Rajapaksa’s losses, not just between 2010 and 2015 but also between 2005 and 2015, were Maithripala Sirisena’s gain. Without those losses, the Opposition would have failed and the Rajapaksas would have prevailed.

Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated in 2015 because he failed to gain minority support and because he failed to make up for that loss by retaining enough of the Sinhala votes he won in 2010 or even in 2005.

Mr. Rajapaksa’s dangerously faulty election analysis is an inevitable by-product of his retrogressive and reactionary worldview: Sinhala-Buddhists are the sole owners of Sri Lanka; minorities are not co-owners but mere guests. In his eyes he was defeated by ‘minority-guests’ and not by ‘Sinhala-hosts’. Therefore, in his eyes, his defeat is an illegitimate one. This racist interpretation indicates why Mr. Rajapaksa did not work towards reconciliation and a consensual peace post-war and why he allowed BBS et al to terrorise Muslims and Christians. Rajapaksa-security depended on the majority fearing minorities and minorities fearing the majority.

Divide and rule was indeed the Rajapaksa way. That is why their loss is the country’s gain.



[ii] Identity History is not enough – On History