19 November, 2018

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Behind The Numbers: A Closer Look At Voting Trends In Jaffna

By Gibson Bateman and Rathika Innasimuttu

Wigneswaran

Introduction

A recent article[1] has questioned our analysis[2] of the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) election results. While thoughtful, the piece – published on Colombo Telegraph – is misguided and reflects a lack of understanding of both the current political context in the north and Tamil people’s ideological mindset.

The thrust of the argument presented is that the real story behind TNA’s victory has little to do with past UPFA performance. Rather, it’s principally a product of a significant increase in voter turnout since the conclusion of war. It’s true that voter turnout has increased since Jaffna Municipal Council elections were held in 2009. But does that argument hold up under further scrutiny? Is that the main reason why TNA won last month? Or is there more nuance to this narrative than meets the eye?

Behind the Numbers

In the Jaffna Municipal Council election in 2009, 22,280 actually voted,[3] but there were only 100,417 registered voters. In the 2013 NPC election, the number of registered voters for Jaffna polling division has been listed as 28,610.[4] It is important to note here that the Jaffna Municipal Council boundary is larger than Jaffna polling division, which includes an extra nine polling sub-areas from Nallur polling division. If we do the math right, the figure for those nine polling areas can be calculated as approximately 20,454 people. [This figure is deduced by subtracting the Nallur Pradeshiya Sabha registered voters (20,012[5] people) from the registered voters of the provincial council Nallur polling division (42,466[6] people)]. This means that a more realistic number of registered voters for the Jaffna Municipal Council election would have been around 49,000. (That figure includes registered voters from Jaffna polling division (28,610), plus the approximate number of voters from nine Nallur polling stations, which amounted to 20,454 people, in 2009). This produces a much smaller pool of registered voters than official statistics suggested in 2009 – bringing the approximate voter turnout for that 2009 election to 47%. (The boundary lines for polling divisions for provincial council and local authorities elections are not exactly the same; this needs to be taken into consideration).

What’s more, the precipitous drop in registered voters from 2010 to 2011 – from 630,548 to 374,343 – is extremely curious. Where did all those people go? Why is the number of registered voters in 2011 and 2013 far fewer than in 2010? A drop of nearly 200,000 cannot go unnoticed.

One plausible scenario suggests that the number of registered voters in the Jaffna 2010 parliamentary election included scores of voters who simply were not there. Indeed, certain electoral analyses have lacked context and nuance because they omit the questions of migration, displacement, death due to war and disappearances.

Readers should also pay attention to the bulk of people – approximately 10,000 UPFA supporters – who voted for UPFA in both parliamentary and local authorities elections, yet didn’t go to the polls on the 21st of September or voted for TNA. What does that show? It reveals a clear dissatisfaction with the government and their current policies.

More on the Interpretation of the NPC Election Results

Other conclusions that some people have drawn from NPC elections are also cause for concern. While TNA has undoubtedly inspired some people to vote for it through political campaigning and messaging, it’s hard to say whether TNA’s eventual selection of Mr. Wigneswaran was perceived an example of party cohesion and unselfishness. Moreover, the recent infighting over ministerial posts and the inability of TNA’s leadership to handle that process efficiently doesn’t inspire much confidence.

Sure, the TNA was able to finally agree on Mr. Wigneswaran as Chief Ministerial candidate, but the party has been plagued by infighting for years – over a range of issues including the way decisions are made and whether TNA should register as a separate political party.

Even the eventual selection of Mr. Wigneswaran didn’t occur without several lengthy deliberations and a selection of candidates designed to appease hardcore ITAK elements, rather than on merit – which has resulted in a very difficult situation for the leadership post-election.

Besides, there was widespread speculation that Mr. Wigneswaran wouldn’t even carry the preferential vote, which would’ve further undermined his credibility within TNA. (In some of our discussions with community members, these sentiments were expressed repeatedly in Jaffna on election day). This was also concern for many youth groups, as they actively campaigned to send a pro-Wigneswaran message across on September 21st – which worked.

Let’s not forget the last days of the campaign by the TNA. We witnessed the party’s chief ministerial candidate – a person who had little patience for the LTTE throughout a celebrated legal career – venerating the LTTE’s former leader as a “great hero.” He toed the LTTE line because he had to get the highest number of preferential votes.

What was clear amongst Tamils was that they wanted to send a signal that they are united, that they have a common enemy and that that that enemy was and remains the government – an administration that is mainly interested in propagating an Extremist Sinhala Buddhist ideology to appease the Southern voters, playing the Sinhala Buddhist card to win elections and staying in power forever.

More recently, a member of TNA has reinforced these sentiments. In an interview with BBC Tamil Service, Mr. Siddharthan – who managed to get the 3rd highest  number of preferential votes  in Jaffna – has mentioned, “since people of the north voted against the government of Sri Lanka, many members of the TNA feel that the Chief Minister in waiting should not take oaths in front of the president.”[7]

Another argument posits that TNA’s success in the 2011 local authorities election helped facilitate an increase in voter turnout during the NPC election. It is perhaps too generous to claim that, since TNA has become more active in local governance, it’s easier for the party to get people to the polls. In fact, TNA’s participation in local governance would adversely affect its chances in forthcoming elections if local governance bodies led by TNA are widely perceived to be poorly managed and unresponsive. A recent study on local governance[8] expounds upon the prevailing sense of disappointment that community members have with their local government bodies and local elected officials.

It’s simplistic to claim that having power within Pradeshiya Sabhas, Urban Councils and Municipal Councils will inevitably lead to more political support for TNA. Indeed, as the report recently published on Groundviews notes, “local governance in the Northern province leaves much to be desired.”

Conclusion

The results of the NPC are a big defeat for GoSL and should be read as such. However, claims that – with our previous piece – we have interpreted the NPC election “solely as a referendum on the government’s post-war performance” are factually incorrect.

Rather, in our conclusion, we emphasized the following:

The NPC election results are a big victory for TNA. However, they are also a reflection of how dissatisfied people are with the present administration’s policies – meaning that the outcome of this election is a much a referendum on UPFA as it is an outright victory for TNA.

The broader point – that an increase in voter turnout over successive elections helped propel the TNA to victory – is well taken. Nonetheless, a closer look behind the numbers suggests that – by failing to factor in displacement, migration, death due to war and disappearances – the increase in voter turnout is not nearly as high as previously thought. From 2009 to 2013, it has increased from 47% to 64%. More importantly, an increase in voter turnout is not the principle reason behind TNA’s recent victory, not even close. What choice did Tamil people have? They didn’t want to vote for UPFA, nor do they consider UNP a viable option. Maybe if TNPF had contested things might have been little different. If EPDP had contested alone, perhaps they would have picked up a couple extra seats.

Further, while it’s true that the reasons for increased voter turnout might be “multi-layered,” the fact of the matter is that UPFA’s post-war strategy – viewing reconciliation solely through the prism of economic development and the construction of infrastructure – has antagonized the Tamil community.

In the Northern Province, the equation has changed. TNA is no longer in opposition; they are the rulers. And if they don’t perform, they could face severe consequences in forthcoming electoral bouts – just as UPFA did this time around. Solid political leadership is about sacrifice, unselfishness and putting constituents ahead of party.

Indeed, if the TNA doesn’t get its act together, put people of the North and East first, and quit bickering over powerless portfolios, then it’s is time for an alternative Tamil political party to emerge.

Tamils have been waiting long enough for a brand of politics that promotes inclusion, pragmatism and evenhandedness.  They shouldn’t have to wait any longer.

*Gibson Bateman and Rathika Innasimuttu are founding members of The Social Architects (TSA). Follow TSA on Twitter @soc_arch.

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Latest comments

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    Chief Mininister Vinigesekara,

    Well summarized below.

    1. “Further, while it’s true that the reasons for increased voter turnout might be “multi-layered,” the fact of the matter is that UPFA’s post-war strategy – viewing reconciliation solely through the prism of economic development and the construction of infrastructure – has antagonized the Tamil community.”

    2. “In the Northern Province, the equation has changed. TNA is no longer in opposition; they are the rulers. And if they don’t perform, they could face severe consequences in forthcoming electoral bouts – just as UPFA did this time around. Solid political leadership is about sacrifice, unselfishness and putting constituents ahead of party”

    History show this.

    What happened to the UNP,LSSP, SLFP, FP,UPFA, JVP ETC. ETC. supports this hypothesis.

    Economic development needs to follow peoples dignity.

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      Nothing at all new here..
      Hope Gajendra Ponanmbalam and his troop of morons and those who are protesting oath taking at the Presidents house within the TNA, learns from having turned up its nose at contesting the Eastern province in 2009..
      Had the TNA contested in the East back in 2009 and won – so much could have been done for minority rights and devolution – if TNA had actually contested in the east! Instead the corrupt clowns Pilliyan and Karuna were allowed to run the show in the East all these years with even more corrupt Muslim politicians..
      Now TNA must work with the Muslims in the east as well and make an an alliance for devolution of power!

    • 0
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      Social architects need to learn some social analysis!

      a little knowledge is a dangerous thing,
      drink deep or taste not of that pirean spring..”

  • 0
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    Sacrifice, unselfishness and putting constituents ahead of party. Sound words that should constantly keep reverberating in the hearts and minds of ALL the victorious candidates!

    Indeed it is sad to see them bickering over a handful of utterly powerless portfolios! One wonders as to why they stood for election at all? For mere perks and positions? What a shame!

    Let them not make the people feel more sorry that V. P is no more!

    Sengodan. M

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    Gota’s hardline policies resulted in all the development votes that mahinda expected going to waste.This shows that the two brothers can’t be president at the same time going in opposite directions.One has to shut up and do his duties while the other does his.

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    Although there is understandable difference of opinion in all human group endevours, the kind of internal division of the TNA as suggested in this article is new to readers like me. It is in the interest of the TNA, the Tamil people who elected them, and the country as a whole for the TNA to set aside petty differences and work for the common good, and in the process, set an example to the Sinhala leadership in Colombo. This article puts it well when it says that “Solid political leadership is about sacrifice, unselfishness and putting constituents ahead of party”. The TNA will do best to remain a moderate and democratic party and should gain national status by, among other methods, forging relations with like minded Sinhala parties, and fielding a common candidate for the presidency, who I hope would be a Tamil. The TNA has nothing to gain by making the same mistake as the Sinhala government continues to do, by acting in ways that polarize communities, when in fact the attempt should be the opposite.

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    “What was clear amongst Tamils was that they wanted to send a signal that they are united, that they have a common enemy and that that that enemy was and remains the government – an administration that is mainly interested in propagating an Extremist Sinhala Buddhist ideology to appease the Southern voters, playing the Sinhala Buddhist card to win elections and staying in power forever.” – Perfect !!!!!!!!!

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    Nothing new here! Please write something about the need of TNA members to work as a TEAM and prioritize the northern people’s development over their EGOs and greed for posts, position and ministerial perks – and stop behaving like the scum of the earth Sinhala politicians in the south.
    TNA members needs to make working for the people rather than fighting among themselves for positions and perks the PRIORITY. TNA members newly elected need to learn to work as a TEAM and should grow up – put the past in a box and stop fighting for post and positions and work in the TEAM to SERVE THE PEOPLE THEY CLAIM TO REPRESENT.
    All the ENDLESS pathetic infighting and delay on appointing the ministers means that the real job to be done to start work to have people centered development is being DELAYED and it is people on the ground SUFFER. It is the Tamil people who live in the northern Province who were most affected by the war that will suffer if the TNA does not have a working relationship with the no doubt awful Colombo regime.
    The hot air diaspora should SHUT UP and stop being a barrier to moving on while living comfortably overseas and living off the conflict in Lanka. WIgneswaran knows the Rajapassa regime well and will handle them well without the interference of the Disapora which is part of the problem and NOT the solution.
    The TNA is a mess because it takes two steps forward and ten steps back each time it moves because of the hardline Tamil Diaapora.. This is the case with the Jews in Palestine as well. Diaspora is the most hardline with living far away. The Tamil politicians and Diaspora like their Sinhala counterparts are sorry to say the SCUM OF THE EARTH – only interested in positions and perks and hot air grandstanding!

  • 0
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    “approximately 10,000 UPFA supporters – who voted for UPFA in both parliamentary and local authorities elections, yet didn’t go to the polls on the 21st of September or voted for TNA”.

    How did you get this information?

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    The TNA has won the election amidst considerable obstacles. But the party in its present form nor in the past when it was part of the TULF or as the Federal Party was it part of any ruling coalition in Colombo except for short period in between 1965 and 1969 when Senator Thiruchchelvam was minister of local government under then UNP regime. Apart from this experience the party has always been in oppositon. So actually running an adiminstration will be entirely a new experience. It has been easy for the party all this while demanding for political rights but one heard of very little on economic policies especillay on issues focused on the North and East. This is where The TNA will need to show that it has capability to addresss the needs of the community keeping in mind the present economic strategies of the Rajapakse adminsitration and also trends unfolding in the global economy and its impat locally.
    Righ now there is an interesting debate going on about economic issues with interested individuals like Ahilan Kadirgamar, Saravanamuththu and Kumar David giving their views. This is the type of debate that is needed now. Many of the candidates of the TNA who were elected are former adminsitrators and accademics. They will certainly have a good understanding of the local issues. The hope now is that the TNA will roll up its sleevs and address the people’s needs instead of bickering over portfolios.

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    If government or other parties want the votes of the Tamils they must engage the ordinary law abiding decent Tamils. They are all recruiting murderers kid nappers and stooges within and out side Sri Lanka. they will only fend the Tamils away from these parties. A doglas KP Karuna and the rest actually helped the TNA.

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    TNA component parties need to stop this eternal quibbling over ministerial posts, symbolism and get down to work. The people have suffered long enough. They need some relief.

    Do not fall into the trap of asking for things that will not be given and making excuses. Make do with what is availble and the goodwill generated. CM Vignesweran is someone who is familiar with all sides of the story. He knows how the system works.

  • 0
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    Very good article, hope infighting stops soon.

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    Tamil Lawyers’ Association has condemned Vigneswaran for taking oaths before the president.

    At least some Tamils understand.

    Wait and see how Rajafucksa uses a tiger to kill tigers.

    Vigneswaran has done a Karuna Amman.

    • 0
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      Wigneswaran did the right thing.

      but, Tribalists are confused.

      So, everybody will see the out come ?

  • 0
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    Tamil voters vote for non-racist parties when cornered.

    • 0
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      Fathima (Lorenzo)
      You are right thats why Tamil voters voted for the TNA

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