By Kusal Perera –
We would not be talking of a decent and a free election this 2015 January. Minister Maithripala Sirisena was once heard saying he could even go back to the village in a bus and stay in his old house. But most would not feel comfortable taking such decisions and that makes this election a very decisive election. Especially to those who are in the regime or decide to remain with the regime. A total voting population of around 15 million as of now would decide if they should go or stay back. This presidential election is therefore turning out to be a keenly contested election with a clear division between pro and anti regime sentiments already gaining momentum. At the last presidential polls in January 2010, from a constituency of 14 million, over 74% voted, totalling 10.5 million voters. That same percentage could be expected to vote this coming January, or even go up to around 78%, depending on how the Rajapaksa election campaign is rolled out. IF with less violence, there’s bound to be heavy voter participation.
Keeping a safe margin for all unwanted possibilities, around 70% should vote this time at a minimum. Any number beyond this would be to the advantage of the Opposition and not for Rajapaksa, unless there is a repeat of “Wayamba PC polls” in selected districts. If 70%, it would mean around 10.5 million voters going to polls this time too.
The trillion Yuan question therefore is how will they decide the final results?
If Tamil and Muslim votes in the North-East matter, Jaffna district has around 520,000 votes, Vanni around 205,000, Batticoloa around 240,000 and in Trincomalee and Digamadulla about 90,000 votes. In the 03 districts Jaffna, Vanni and Batticoloa only 26, 40 and 64 per cent respectively, had polled at the 2010 January presidential elections.
In Nuwara Eliya district there are 250,000 votes of which roughly about 30% (75,000) are Sinhala village votes in Kotmale and Walapane electorates.
In whole of South, leaving North-East, there are about 1.2 million Muslim votes scattered and in patches among Sinhala people.
Therefore, if the Minority vote of 2.48 million is counted out and if 60% plus vote at the 2015 January elections, it would be 1.5 million minority votes. This deducted from the previously estimated total poll of 10.5 million (70%), then the Sinhala South would divide 09 million votes between the two main candidates and may be less than 30,000 in total going to other tiny campaigners. That would mean 5,250,000 plus 01 votes to be won to win the elections on the first count for any of the 02 main candidates. Can that be achieved from the 09 million votes in the South alone ? For a clean victory from only the South the calculation is, one needs 58.3% or 5.25 million Sinhala votes.
At the 2010 presidential polls, with war victory still the main deciding factor in the Sinhala constituency and with majority Southern votes plus Eastern Muslim votes also going the Rajapaksa way, he polled 6.02 million (57.9%) votes. Four years down the line, has he been able to retain this voter base? That has the plain and only possible answer “NO”. Very evident it was in Uva PC elections, where the Sinhala population is well over 85%. The exodus there from the UPFA was well over 20%. Since then, Rajapaksa has not been able to manage any of the conflicts within his regime, leaving defections to the Opposition that in every damages his image. The JHU, though with no significant vote base any more, nevertheless demoralises the UPFA and tarnishes his image with scathing attacks that adds new venom to anti Rajapaksa sentiments. So is the defection of young MP Vasantha Senanayake from Gampaha. Even if other defections predicted, including General Secretary of the SLFP Minister Sirisena and Rajitha Senaratne is averted, the damage on the moral of the Rajapaksa regime supporters is severe. Everything his campaign managers do in salvaging the situation, from posters claiming the Pope’s visit will bless his HE Rajapaksa to stoning the temple of Rathana Thero, only adds to the advantage of the Opposition where votes matter.
With all such negatives adding on, leaving the drain off at 20% as it was in Uva would mean, Rajapaksa would only poll a maximum of 4.8 million votes, less almost half a million votes to reach the required 50% plus one.
This therefore means, the 2015 January presidential election will be decided by the 1.5 million Tamil and Muslim votes, if 60% of them go to polls. The role of the TNA thus is important and that advantage is with the UNP Candidate (possibly Ranil W) and not with Rajapaksa. A fact that would also decide how free and fair this election would be, not only in the Sinhala South but also in the North. But this gap of half million votes that President Rajapaksa would be short of is only now, when the race just began. What if it increases with more defections and less interest in supporting a losing candidate ?