In an article I wrote in December titled “Majority Of Sinhalese, Tamils And Muslims Are Likely To Deny Third Term To MR“, I claimed that a majority of Sinhalese, Thamils and Muslims are likely to deny a third term to President Mahinda Rajapaksa. This has proved prophetic, albeit, the Sinhalese voters preferred Mahinda Rajapaksa by a narrow margin.
In the same article I predicted” The Thamils will take revenge on Mahinda Rajapaksa like goddess Kannagi for treating them shabbily and robbing them of their self respect and dignity. Thousands of mothers whose children have disappeared after arrest by the armed forces will not vote for Mahinda Rajapaksa. He cannot buy their votes by cheap gimmicks like handing over jewellery, on the eve of an election that rightly belonged to them in the first place” has been proved right.
In Colombo Telegraph there was another article captioned “Mahinda or Maithri? Neutrality the Best Option for the TNA and Thamils” authored by my friend Thambu Kanagasabai. Apparently he is looking at the problem as an academic and not as a politician. There is no difference between boycotting the elections and maintaining neutrality both are revisionist theories too risky to practice. What would have happened if the Thamils boycotted the elections or remained neutral? Rajapaksa would have won the elections and remained in power for another 7 years till 2022. Unfortunately, this was also the stand of BTF, TGTE, ICET, USTPAC and few other Diaspora outfits. Only the GTF asked the people to exercise their franchise carefully, an indirect way of telling the people to vote against Rajapaksa. CTC also came out forcibly asking people to exercise their democratic right to vote.
In a long winding press release the ICET stated “Therefore, regarding the upcoming election, our request is that each Eelam Thamil should act in keeping our long-term goal in mind, and express to the international community a stance based on only the Thamil nation’s existence and security in mind” which ignored the pathetic existence of a majority of our people struggling day to day survival. This was neither fish nor fowl!
TGTE of course took a very pessimistic stand about the elections. In a statement issued by the Hon. Prime Minister of TGTE he said “whichever of the two main candidates wins the election will rule as President of the hegemonic state of Sri Lanka. Thamils can only expect more calamities to befall them than any respite from either of these two candidates.
“If Mahinda Rajapaksa succeeds, the Thamils could expect a worsening of their situation in the short term and perhaps a better one in the long term. If Maithripala Sirisena prevails, there is a possibility of an immediate respite but in the long term a worsening of the situation. On the whole, Thamils could only expect negative outcomes from these elections.” The question is how long the “long term” and how short is the “short term”? One year, 2 years, 10 years down the road?
At this juncture I will like to give credit to Dr. Brian Senewiratne the Sinhalese crusader for Thamil rights. He stated “Being a contest between two Sinhalese politicians to elect what in effect is a Sinhalese president, there has been some speculation whether this is of any consequence to the Thamil people in the north and east – the suggestion being that they should boycott the election as they did in 2005. However, the feeling today is very different. Many Thamils in the north and east want to vote….” Obviously, the learned Doctor was more pragmatist than many leading Thamil activists living in Diaspora.
I have always opposed to the idea of boycotting elections, any elections, and maintained any such boycott will tantamount to political suicide for the Thamils citing past history. This apart boycott of election process is against the spirit of democracy. Political participation of national minorities is a must in democratic process. The ill advised and unwarranted boycott of the State Councils in 1931 by the Jaffna Students Congress led to the formation of the Pan Sinhala Board of Ministers. Later, the boycott by the LTTE the parliamentary elections held in 1994 ended in disaster. By winning lections 9 seats in Jaffna electoral district with a paltry 10,077 votes, Douglas Devananda and his party became a thorn in the flesh or a pain in the neck in Thamil politics for the last 21 years. He served as a Quisling to both the UNP and the SLFP for the crumbs that fell from the master’s table. His boast of federal government at the centre and autonomy at provincial level remained empty rhetoric. Next was the suicidal boycott of the presidential election held in 2005 by LTTE. It was an honest mistake but turned out to be a monumental blunder of giant proportions when the LTTE lost the war. It paved the way for Mahinda Rajapaksa to emerge victorious and become the President by a razor thin majority. Only 8,524 (1.21%) voters in the Jaffna electoral district voted out of 701,938 registered voters.
The TNA which is the authentic (not sole) representative of the Thamil people issued its manifesto on December 30, 2014 declaring unequivocal support to Maithripala Sirisena. There were no prevarications, no conditions, and no foot-dragging. “After earnest consultation with the Thamil people and others in the north and the east, the TNA has unanimously decided to give its fullest support to common opposition candidate Mr. Maithripala Sirisena at the upcoming presidential elections.” Continuing the manifesto stated “The experience of our people has been that the struggle for democracy over dictatorship is inextricably linked to the pursuit of our most cherished values: equality, justice, dignity and freedom. We therefore call on all citizens to turn out in great numbers and defeat the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime by casting their vote in favour of the Common Opposition Candidate Maithripala Sirisena and the Swan symbol.”
It was an open and frank appeal to the Thamil voters to defeat Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime and elect Maithripala Sirisena by voting for Swan symbol. The forthrightness of the manifesto took many by surprise. It was a categorical call end Rajapaksa’s dictatorial rule without taking refuge under subterfuges.
Rajapaksa’s ten year rule was an unmitigated disaster for the Thamil people. It is the tears shed by the Thamil people unable to endure the oppression they suffered at the hands of an unjust ruler that become a file to waste away his wealth and power.
As stated above Thamils did indeed took revenge against Mahinda Rajapaksa with a vengeance. Rajapaksa vented his anger and frustration publically as soon as the two helicopters, courtesy of Ranil Wickremesinghe, took him and his entourage from Temple Trees during the wee hours of January 9 to Medamulana in Hambantota.
Addressing to a large gathering of supporters who came to console him following his ignominious defeat just a few hours earlier he gave an emotional speech as follows:
“The Prime reason for the defeat in the Presidential Election is caused by the Vote banks of the Thamils from North, East and from the Upcountry, therefore, I cannot accept this defeat, which has been caused by the Thamils by voting against me. Therefore, I am not at all accepting this as a defeat. Even now the Power has not gone out of Sinhalese from the government. Because of my defeat, the Thamil community is not going to get any benefit at all”.
But, to any outsider it will be plain Rajapaksa was the architect of his own misfortune. To him Thamil voters did not exist at all. Their problems, trials and tribulations were of no concern to him. He gave the Sinhala army a free hand to grab acres and acres of private lands to build military bases, cantonments, luxury hotels, presidential palaces in the North. He was like the proverbial king residing in his palace thought the every citizen is also like him!
In blaming the Thamil voters Rajapaksa spoke only half the truth. The other half of the truth is he lost support among his traditional Sinhala-Buddhist voters on whom he relied heavily to the exclusion of Thamil and Muslim voters. Like in 2010 he calculated that his Sinhala-Buddhist constituency he assiduously nursed is enough to win the elections. In 2010 he won all 16 electorates in the South with a staggering 1,842,749 vote majority. Rajapaksa polled 6,015,934 (57.88%) votes against 4,173,185 (40.15%) polled by Sarath Fonseka.
A study of the voting pattern reveals that in 2010 too Rajapaksa lost the North and East and Nuwara Eliya heavily. What is remarkable is the high turn out due to some increased political space in the North. In contrast to 2010, however, Rajapaksa lost support in 6 key districts in the South in 2015.
The following Table shows who won and who lost in the 16 electoral districts in the south excluding the 6 electoral districts in the North, East and Nuwara Eliya.
Voting pattern in 16 Electoral Districts in the South in 2015 and 2010 Presidential Elections
To see the table 1 click here
In the entire 22 districts Sirisena won 10 and lost marginally in 12 other districts won by Rajapaksa. Sirisena polled 4,996,446 (48.38) as compared to 5,299,151 votes secured by Rajapaksa a difference of 302,705 (1.26%) votes.
Taking the 6 electoral districts of Northern, Eastern and Central provinces Sirisena secured 1,250,716 (84.27) compared to 468,939 (31.64) votes to Rajapaksa. This gave Sirisena a majority of 781,777 votes more than enough to off set the deficit of 302,705 in the 16 electoral districts plus giving a majority of 449,072 votes.
Voting pattern in 6 Electoral Districts in the North, East and Nuwara Eliya Districts in 2015 and 2010 Presidential Elections
To see the table 2 click here
Compared to 751,671 (68.60) votes polled by Sarath Fonseka in 2010, Sirisena secured 1,250,716 (84.37) votes an increase of 499,145 votes. This is partly explained by increased turn out in Jaffna electorate from 25.66% in 2010 to 74.42% in 2015. Similarly in Vanni electorate the turnout increased from 40.23% in 2010 to 78.47% in 2015. In the north immediately after the war ended in 2009, there were several thousand people who could not vote due to internal displacement.
In the 2010 elections, Mahinda Rajapakse received a total of 6,015,934 votes (57.88%) and Sarath Fonseka 4,173,185 votes (40.15%). A difference of 17.73% points between the two. The total polled was 74.49%/ (Department of Elections 2010).
It could be observed Rajapaksa’s over all votes were reduced from 6,015,934 in 2010 to 5,768,090 in 2015 a difference of 247, 844 votes despite an increase of registered voters from 14,088,500 to 15,044,490, that is an increase of 955,990 voters. There was also a significant 7.02 % increase in the voter turnout from 74.5% in 2010 to 81.52% in 2015.
Although Maithripala Sirisena won 84.37% votes in the Thamil and Muslim dominated 6 electorates compared to 31.64 % to Rajapaksa, Sirisena managed only 48.54% from the balance 16 electorates. Rajapaksa secured 50.64 % in all 22 electoral districts of the country.
While Mahinda Rajapaksa has managed to get 24.32% of the North and East votes, over half of the Sinhala dominated electorate has voted to give him a third term in office.
So Rajapaksa lost the election not entirely due to Thamil and Muslim votes cast against him, but due to decreased support of the Sinhala-Buddhist votes in the 16 electoral districts in the south.
The TNA must be congratulated for their open support and throwing their weight behind Maithripala Sirisena. They could have just asked the Thamil voters to vote against Rajapaksa and not ask them to vote for Sirisena. But they explicitly asked the Thamil voters to cast their vote in favour of the Common Opposition Candidate Maithripala Sirisena and the Swan symbol. The TNA has always from Chelvanayakam days stood for principle “we might lose everything, but let us keep our honour intact” irrespective of the consequences.
Today, the Thamil people living in the North/East as well as in other parts of the island are breathing freely. There is whiff of fresh air blowing through North/East. The military governor G.A. Chandrasri who openly campaigned for the UPFA has already lost his job. Along with him the Chief Secretary Wijayalakshmi Ramesh who took the Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran to the Supreme Curt has been given the marching orders.
On the macro political front the government has promised to devolve more powers to all the Provincial Councils, demilitarise the Northern Province, order a domestic probe into the excesses reportedly committed during the last phase of the so-called Eelam War IV in 2009, and take suitable steps to provide relief and justice to victims of the civil war that tore the country apart for nearly three decades.
The Thamil people are happy they helped Maithripala Sirisena to topple a powerful but corrupt family dictatorship. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s excessive lust for power and intolerance was the cause of his own downfall from power. In many ways his rise and fall mirrors that of another elected dictator and WW II hero Ferdinand E. Marcos of Philippines.