By Harsha Gunasena –
New President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has taken his oaths at Ruwanveliseya symbolizing his way forward. He is the President of all including those who voted against him. He emphasized this at his address to the nation and when he made a brief speech at the Election Secretariat. He also said that he knew he could win with solely the Sinhala votes. I sincerely hope that the new President would have the vision and the strength to neutralize the ethnic disharmony of our motherland which is mandatory to achieve an economic growth.
In respect of the presidential election, although there were opinions expressed that there can be a second count of preference votes of the candidates other than the first and second, it was an easy victory for Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Anura Kumara Dissanayake was blamed for contesting separately rather than joining Sajith Premadasa as JVP did in 2015 since it was expected that there would be a division of votes in the pro democratic block paving the way for Rajapaksa victory. Majority of Rajapakse amounting to 1.3 Mn votes were more than thrice of the votes obtained by Dissanayake amounting to 418,000. Therefore, there was hardly any possibility of filling such a big gap with the synergetic effect of campaigning together. Other independent candidates would have realized that there is hardly any possibility in Sri Lanka to emerge as a third force under the current political scenario. In 2010 presidential election which was held after the end of the war, Mahinda Rajapaksa claimed victory without the support of the minority parties. Same thing happened in this instance as well.
In the presidential election 2015 all the minorities supported Maithripala Sirisena. North and East mainly occupied by Tamils and Muslims; West coast where Christians are; Nuwara Eliya and Kandy where there is a concentration of Upcountry Tamils and Muslims; Urbanized Colombo and Kandy; and his base Polonnaruwa supported Sirisena. The rest of the country supported Rajapaksa. However, Sirisena obtained a considerable number of votes from the rest of the country in order to secure the victory.
In this presidential election Tamils and Muslims supported Premadasa. There was a slight division of the votes of upcountry Tamils. Christians of the west coast voted for Rajapaksa and Premadasa lost even Colombo and Kandy. Many expected his appeal towards the poor supported by considerable work he has done towards them would fetch adequate number of votes from the rural areas for him. It did not work. Also, there was an expectation that he would fetch considerable number of votes from the members of the castes suppressed by the social system. It also did not work.
The present government imposed certain taxes on the rich in order to increase government revenue which was a necessity and as a result the rich may have voted against Premadasa but for the vast majority of the rural population, the main issue may have been the national security and related issues connected to nationality.
Nation state is a recently developed concept. India was able to adopt it at the time of the independence due to the foresight of the leaders of the Indian independence struggle. In Sri Lanka among the majority Sinhala Buddhists the term nationality is confined to identify their own ethnocentric group. They consider the members of the other ethnicities as outsiders.
However, history teaches us a totally different story. Over centuries in Sri Lanka there were no clashes between Sinhalese and Tamils as ethnic groups. The clashes were among the kings and princes. They were concerned about their power and not the ethnicity. In Elara’s army there were considerable number of Sinhalese. Magha, who ruined our civilization in 13th century, was not a Tamil. Sinhala kings got support from the Pandyans to attack Chola invaders, both were South Indians.
Sinhalese and Muslims lived in Sri Lanka with harmony over a millennium. Muslims served as officials in the administration of the state as well as of the Buddhist monasteries during the time of the Sinhala kings. They were settled in the Kandyan districts by the kings in order to save them from the European invaders. Roman Catholics were saved from the Protestant Dutch by the Sinhala Kings.
This situation was changed with the Buddhist revival in the late 19th century which was aimed against the hegemonic Christian authority prevalent at that time and unfortunately it worked against the other ethnicities as well. That was the beginning of the ethnic disharmony of this country.
This is reflected in the election results as well. In all the districts voting percentage had gone up compared to 2015 presidential election. In Jaffna,Vanni, Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Digamadulla districts voters have given more votes to Premadasa compared to Sirisena in 2015. In Trincomalee and Digamadulla districts there were two predominantly Sinhala electorates, Seruwila and Ampara respectively. In those two electorates, which were won by Rajapaksa, voters gave more votes to Rajapaksa compared to 2015 election. However, in Kalmunai electorate in Digamadulla, there was a shift of votes from UNP block to Rajapaksa from 2015 to 2019. Voters did not give any respect to their ethnic candidates such as Shivajilingam in the North or Hizbullah in the East. In Nuwara Eliya majority of Premadasa was reduced compared to 2015 due to the fact that Thondaman was with Rajapaksa. Premadasa lost the majority Muslim electorates Harispattuwa in Kandy and Beruwala in Kaluthara. In Kandy, Premadasa managed to secure a reduced majority in the electorates Patha Dumbara, Hewaheta, Mahanuwara, Udunuwara, Gampola and Nawalapitiya but he lost the district.
In the West coast all the Christian majority electorates were shifted towards Rajapaksa except for Negombo and Wattala. Premadasa got a reduced majority of those two electorates compared to 2015. This is mainly due the Easter Sunday attack. Premadasa maintained the majority in the electorates of Colombo city but he lost the suburbs. He lost the district as well.
Rest of the country dominated by the Sinhala Buddhists was for Rajapaksa. His majority was increased compared to 2015 election. Voter turnout also was increased in all the districts. Therefore, the division of the ethnic line was clearly visible in this election.
This is not healthy for the country. Gotabaya Rajapaksa said at the Election Secretariat that he is mindful that he is the president of all the citizens of the country and not only of the people who voted for him. This is the only way forward. The Opposition Leader said they may have to change even the constitution referring to the 19th amendment. 19th amendment was a temporary move and the intention was to have a new constitution altogether to address the problems of the center as well as the periphery.
National security is best achieved by creating an atmosphere for all the communities to live in harmony and not by strengthening the military. If the people are concerned of national security, they should be mindful not to create tensions among the ethnic groups. Results of the presidential election in 2015 revealed a dividing line among the different ethnicities and by the results of this election it was established. It is the duty of all of us led by the new President to neutralize this trend without being too late.