After days and weeks of dilly dallying, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has at last signed the proclamation declaring the presidential election will be held next year. “I am declaring a secret today. I have signed the proclamation calling for the election for re-election for the third time… That is democracy,” Rajapaksa said, addressing a gathering on state television.
Although President Rajapaksa signed the proclamation the exact date of the election is still to be determined. The date, as in the past, is normally fixed by astrologers and not by the Commissioner of Elections. The astrologers fix the auspices date after consulting the horoscope, the 12 planets (sun is included as a planet although it is a star) lunar phases, 27 constellations, 12 signs, 12 houses, transits, progression etc. It is a reflection on third world country politicians who foolishly rely more on distant heavenly bodies than eligible voters.
Thanks to the 18th Amendment President Rajapaksa is seeking a third term in office, two years ahead of completing his second term. He resorted to the same tactic in 2010 when he went for the elections two years in advance of his first term. The current term commenced on November 19, 2010.
After the Uva and Western Provincial Council elections Rajapaksa must have realised the fact that popular support for the United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) was on the decline. Although Uva is a traditional strong hold of the opposition United National Party (UNP), yet the election results must have jolted both the ruling party and President Rajapaksa. Compared to the Provincial Council election held in 2009, 2014 results was a definite set back for the ruling party.
In Uva Provincial Council, though the ruling UPFA remains the largest party with an overall majority of 19 seats, that is down from 25 seats in 2009. The percentages show a larger fall than the seat count. In Moneragala, one of two districts in the province the UPFA vote tumbled from 81.32% in 2009 to 58.34% in 2014. Overall the UPFA vote fell from 71.77% in 2009 to 48.79% a decline of a staggering 22.98%. The following Table shows how the government vote bank gradually shrank in terms of number of votes polled and seats secured between 2014 and 2009.
The UPFA has lost 6 seats in comparison with the number of seats it had in the last Provincial Council. Along with the two bonus seats for securing the highest number of votes in the province, the UPFA has a total of 19 seats with the total number of votes standing at 349,906. The UNP won 13 seats with their total votes numbering 274,773. The JVP has received two seats polling 36,580 votes. The Democratic Party did not win any seats in the Provincial Council.
The main opposition party, the United National Party (UNP) upped their tally from seven seats in 2009 to 13 seats in 2014. When comparing the UNP’s votes with the 2009 election, it is evident that the party has increased its share by145, 629 votes.
Much of that success was credited to the hard work of the UNP’s leader in the province, Hiran Fernando, who gave up his parliamentary seat to fight the election.
Uva Province entails two districts, Badulla and Moneragala. Moneragala is predominantly Sinhala with 95 percent Sinhala people. However, Badulla to a certain extent reflects the demographic composition of the country. 73 percent of the total population in Badulla are Sinhala and the minorities form the rest. The government managed to win only 47.37 percent of the votes in Badulla. In a presidential election the whole country will serve as one electoral unit. Therefore, the government rightly took note of the Badulla results and ethnic politics rather than the provincial results.
Uva is a particularly important province to watch because it is a microcosm of Sri Lanka as a whole. The election results suggested that the ruling UPFA’s hold is weakening. Whether it will be enough to stop a presidential election victory for the UPFA in 2015 remains to be seen.
In two provincial council elections in March this year, the UPFA vote sharply declined. In the Southern Provincial council, a UPFA heartland, their vote dropped to 58.06% from 67.88% in 2009. In the Western Province, which includes Colombo the commercial capital, their vote dropped to 53.35% from 64.73% in 2009? The following table shows Western Provincial Council results held in 2014 and 2009.
Of significance is the fact that in the recently held (March 2014) Western and Southern provincial council elections the government lost 12 and five seats respectively. Hence the haste in holding the Presidential election before popular endorsement drips to an unmanageable and dangerous level.
Colombo is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural city. The population of Colombo is a mix of numerous ethnic groups, mainly Sinhalese, Sri Lankan Moors, and Thamils. Colombo is also the most populous city in Sri Lanka, with 642,163 people living within the city limits. In 1866 the city had a population of around 80,000. According to the census of 2001 the demographics of urban Colombo by ethnicity is as follows:
In the Western Province 46.65% voted against the government compared to 35.27% in 2009. In the Southern Province 41.47% of voters voted against the government compared to only 32.12% in 2009.
In the just concluded elections it appears that a large percentage of Thamils kept away from voting. May be out of frustration and apathy. But there is a reasonable presence of Thamils in the Western Province, Colombo District and Colombo City.
Likewise in the Colombo district there are 2,309,809 people. Out of this Sinhalese number 1,771,319 (76.69%) Muslims 242,728 (10.51%) and Ceylon Thamils 231,318 (10.01%) and Hill Country Thamils 27,336 (1.18%). The following Table 3 shows demographic composition of the Western Province, the Colombo District and the Colombo City.
In the forthcoming presidential elections Thamil votes is likely to influence the out come of the results. As for Muslims more than 50% is likely to vote against the government due to the threat posed by Buddhist fundamentalists like the BBS and JHU. Muslims came under attack by BBS at several places in the south, including Beruwela. The UPFA government failed to protect the Muslims when they came under attack and their business establishments set of fire by extreme Sinhala – Buddhist hooligans.
At the 2010 presidential elections Mahinda Rajapaksa defeated Sarath Fonseka the opposition common candidate quite comfortably as following Table 4 demonstrate:
During the Northern (2013) and Eastern Provincial Council (2012) elections the Thamil National Alliance polled 353,595 (78.48%) in the North and 193,827 (30.59) in the East totalling 546,432 votes. Likewise the SLMC polled 6,761 votes in the North and 132,917 in the East totalling 139,678.
When presidential election is held in January and if Rajapaksa is pitted against a common opposition candidate he will likely lose the election. The Thamil votes and to some extent Muslim votes will tilt the balance in favour of the opposition. All that is required is a swing vote of 8 – 9 7% at the polls.
Uva Provincial Council poll shows there was a swing of 21.14 % against Mahinda Rajapaksa’s UPFA. Likewise there was a swing of 11.38 in the vote rich Western Province.
Mahinda Rajapaksa knows he is vulnerable and so his decision to hold the presidential election 2 years before his term ends. In an interview on November 19, 2014 to BBC Sadeshaya (Sinhala Service) Victor Ivan, political analyst and a senior journalist, says there is high possibility of a defeat at the presidential polls. “If the opposition fails ‘to play well’, there is a higher possibility of President Mahinda Rajapaksa being defeated at the forthcoming presidential election. He claimed that dozens of micro organisations have been established throughout the country against President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Even if the President wins by a close margin, there is a high possibility of another government being established. That victory would weaken the President’s hands rather than strengthening them. I think its best for the President himself, the government and the country if the President loses at the Presidential election.” Speaking further, Victor Ivan said that Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera has taken a brave approach. ‘The Thero broke the egg. Now it is up to the opposition parties to make an omelette before the broken egg goes bad,” he said.
During the last 10 years one saw the spectacle of Opposition UNP losing close to 60 MPs to the UPFA. Now for the first time rats have started jumping from the sinking ship to the opposition. It is reported UPFA Gampaha District MP Wasantha Senanayake is to make a special statement in Parliament after cross over within days to the UNP.
Already Science and Technology Minister and JHU General Secretary Patali Champika Ranawaka and Western Provincial Council Minister Udaya Gammanpila have resigned their ministerial positions though the JHU will continue to remain with the UPFA. Earlier on Monday JHU Chairman Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera resigned from the Chairmanship of the Divulapitiya Divisional Development Committee which comes under the purview of the Economic Development Ministry. The former minister said the JHU was compelled to take this decision because the UPFA Government and the incumbent President had failed to fulfill the promises given to the people. The JHU seems to feel that its voter base is being eroded because of the militant Sinhala – Buddhist BBS eating into it.
These cross over(s) and resignations are bad omen for incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Though it amounts to trickle, it may trigger an exodus if government MPs think that Mahinda Rajapaksa is likely to lose the elections.
It is even rumoured that Health Minister and SLFP General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena is preparing for a cross over and thereafter probably appointed as the common candidate of the Opposition. To stop his exit he is offered the position of Prime Minister, a highly placed government source told Asian Mirror under the strict conditions of anonymity. There were multiple requests from various sections of the ruling party to appoint Maithripala Sirisena as the Prime Minister before the next presidential election – as a radical move to strengthen the party. They were of the view that D.M. Jayarathne, the present Prime Minister, was well passed the age of retirement.
A January election would come ahead of the crucial March session of the UNHRC, where the report of the International Commission of Inquiry full or partial – of the mandate probe into ‘accountability issues’ in the country will be laid on the table. The Rajapaksa campaign can count on not only their political adversaries nearer home – starting with the TNA – but also sections of the international community to come up with off-the-cuff comments that can be interpreted as against the interest of Sri Lanka and the Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist cause, nearer home.
The TNA is adopting a wait and see policy. Party leader R. Sampanthan has said the TNA will study any proposals coming from the government. So far no proposals have landed on the TNA lap. However, one can expect the Thamils to vote for the candidate endorsed by the TNA, but supporting Mahinda Rajapaksa is next to impossible. No opposition common candidate could be worse than Mahinda Rajapaksa and the latter knows he cannot count on the Thamil votes. Mahinda Rajapaksa has always depended on the vote of the Sinhala – Buddhist nationalists, but that vote bank is showing shrinkage. In the past he has deftly played the ‘Sinhala – Buddhist’ card to win elections.
Mahinda Rajapaksa is facing multiple problems nationally and internationally. Nationally there is the incumbency factor going against him. Sinhalese voters must be tired of the rising cost of living, corruption, fraud, nepotism, waste, inefficiency, domestication of the judiciary and family dictatorship. The Rajapaksa siblings have become past-masters at muscling opposition and deterring dissent through selective acts of repression. The killing of Lasantha Wickrematunge is an excellent case in point.
Internationally, in March 2015 Sri Lanka has to cope with the Report of the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka. The increased intrusion into the affairs of Sri Lanka by China under the guise of development, Chinese nuclear submarines docking into Colombo. have strained the relationship between India and Sri Lanka. There is even talk of a Chinese naval base to be built at Hambantota.
It was thought that the possibility of a war crimes investigation or “accountability” could be used as leverage to encourage the Rajapaksa regime to make democratic reforms and begin to promote and protect human rights. Unfortunately, those reforms haven’t occurred and the human rights situation in Sri Lanka continues to worsen.
It is no top secret that the international community, including India, is aiming for a regime change following the Presidential elections in January, 2015. By all accounts India has lost patience with the way Sri Lanka is shabbily treating its religious and ethnic minorities.