17 October, 2018

Blog

Mahinda Rajapaksa Would Have Lost A Presidential Race On 10 Feb

By Gehan Gunatilleke

Gehan Gunatilleke

Few would have predicted the results of Sri Lanka’s local government elections in 2018. With the benefit of hindsight, we must now try to understand what happened and why. There are three lessons to be learnt from the results – one lesson for voters, one for the coalition government, and one for Mahinda Rajapaksa himself.

A lesson for the voter

In the United States, spiteful supporters of Bernie Sanders have themselves to blame for Donald Trump. Sri Lanka is no different. Sri Lankan voters must learn that perfect is often the enemy of good. Many were jaded by the current government’s inefficiencies and failures. Many among them may have chosen to cast a protest vote or not to participate in the local government elections at all.

A comparatively low turnout at local government elections is to be expected. Some early reports indicate a 65 percent voter turnout – almost a ten percent drop from the August 2015 general elections. Regardless, voters should have known that the recent elections meant so much more. These elections were not just a litmus test for government popularity; they were a test of the voter’s resolve to oppose tyranny. Any drop in voter turn out reflects the unforgivable inertia of many who failed to see this significance.

Genuinely opposing the current government was no justification for a protest vote or boycott either. When faced with a Hobson’s choice, it is always better to grudgingly pick the less harmful opponent. For cynicism is better than absenteeism. Those who chose not to cast their lot with imperfect beasts have now to contend with monsters.

A lesson for the coalition

The local government election results are not materially different to the results of the January 2015 presidential election. The ballots cast in favour of the UNP, SLFP, ITAK and JVP comfortably eclipsed the votes the SLPP received. Mahinda Rajapaksa received 47 percent of the national vote in January 2015 – the last election his undiluted brand was tested. His personality cult received less than that percentage on 10 February 2018. Despite all this government’s monumental failings, had a common candidate run against Rajapaksa on 10 February in a hypothetical presidential race, that candidate would probably have won. The result affirms the necessity of a continued coalition. Rajapaksa’s opponents must surely learn that they cannot defeat Rajapaksa unless they unite, and motivate their supporters. This local government election is a bitter reminder of that reality.

Yet the ground this coalition gained at the August 2015 general election has been lost. Why then did the coalition lose ground? Is it because it failed to advance the people’s mandate for reform? In reality, the coalition simply failed to create a sustained appetite for one. This coalition must remember that the only thing that (barely) unites most Sri Lankan voters is their distaste for Rajapaksa tyranny. The people’s mandate in January 2015 was to oust the incumbent. Perhaps they were impressionable beyond that simple mandate. If that were the case, it was up to the coalition to transform this collective distaste into a clear post-election reform agenda and deliver results. For example, voters did not necessarily vote for the abolition of the executive presidency; they voted for the removal of a repressive president. But they indicated support for such abolition, which the coalition should have decisively acted upon. The vital characteristic that this coalition singularly lacks is fortitude. Now, it must pick up the pieces, and interpret the results (wards and all) in its most optimistic light. As at 10 February, a slim majority in Sri Lanka still rejected Rajapaksa. That sentiment may not sustain this coalition for much longer unless it abandons divisive politics, and inspires its supporters to believe once again that they made the right choice in January 2015.

A lesson for Rajapaksa

Mahinda Rajapaksa’s achievement at the local government elections was exceptional. He may believe that it was his Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist message that won him his victory. But there is another perspective he ought to consider. He lacked the state machinery he had in 2010 and 2015. He even lacked the usual party machinery. Yet he succeeded. This result demonstrates the strength of his charisma and the power of his personality. Mahinda Rajapaksa is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most popular politician in Sri Lanka today. If he is capable of doing so well without the aid of a repressive state apparatus – the kind he relied on in 2015, and still lost – then he might ask himself, ‘do I need to rely on such methods in the future?’ When he permitted minorities to be abused, they came out in droves to vote against him. They still may. He could ignore them and hope to recapture the SLFP voter base to complete his return to the helm. Yet a large part of that one-dimensional strategy relies on the continued inertia of coalition supporters. This is why Rajapaksa cannot be certain about winning a national election in the future. If there is one lesson Rajapaksa may need to learn from January 2015 (and strangely, even the local government elections of 2018), it is that he still fails to command the confidence of a majority of Sri Lankans. One might therefore hope that his unlikely victory this February prompts him to consider the value of a more moderate course. His followers will surely not abandon him. For he alone can afford to be moderate without fearing backlash. If he, or his proxy, desires to win a national election in the future, it will surely have to be on a platform that has appeal beyond nationalist politics.

The local government elections of 2018 will have implications for voters, the coalition, and Rajapaksa in the coming months. These implications – like the elections – may be difficult to predict. Yet lessons from the last three years ought to inform the thinking of each of these actors. The voter must surely be more pragmatic. The coalition must surely be more courageous. Rajapaksa must surely be more moderate.

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Latest comments

  • 7
    8

    Would have lost means would have won.

    • 3
      2

      Real Basta.

      You are one hell of a BS carrier.

      • 0
        1

        I think it’s foolish to just talk about percentages and make all the assumptions based on only that………….unless one wants to console oneself.

        I consider the greatest achievement of this government is the limiting of the presidential terms to 2 ( it should have been limited to 1) ………and the non-violent political culture it has ushered in and the peaceful way the election was conducted – like in any other “first-world” country (let’s be honest here; if we can :))

        I have always written that I prefer the weak governments the previous proportional system produced (2010 was an aberration; soon after the war-victory ) because weak “consultative” governments have always limited the damage usually done to the country. Can anyone name a single good thing that a strong Lankan government has done after a landslide victory (I may have overlooked something?)

        SLFP/Bud has always won the Sinhalese heartland (look at any “election-map” in Wikipedia) and with this result – and the changed first past the post system – it would have been a landslide for Mahinda in a parliamentary election. The “fringe” minorities do not matter.

        Mahinda can never be the president again but he can be the Prime Minister. And he can be a very strong Prime Minister under the new “enhanced-power” parliament. Even if Ranil becomes the president he would be a weak president with the curtailed presidential powers.

        JR was a cunning/shrewd operator ………..the way he set up his system – however detrimental the “system” was for the country – to concentrate power in his hand for the 12 years of his reign.

        The imbecile Ranil has just handed power to his enemies with the first past the post system – he has forgotten why JR introduced the proportional system in the first place.

        • 2
          0

          Continued

          I’ve said this before ………3 extraordinary figures – Black Swans out of the ordinary; if you will – have emerged in recent times to the great determent of the country – Prabakaran, Mahinda and Ranil ……..one in a millennium ……….terrorist, a con-artist and a weak incompetent buffoon of a leader of a major Lankan political party.

          One has bitten the dust; two to go.

          Then what waits around the corner? In Lanka, your guess is as good as mine!

          I would have better luck trying to predict what Chimps would do ……………. Bedtime for Bonzo

  • 7
    12

    Agreed. On a Presidential scale RW or whoever the UNP’s candidate will win. The UNP base of about 35% never changes. Add to that the Tamil Eelam votes and Dravida Muslim votes; he or she gets past 50% plus 1. So perhaps Born again Rosy can be the first UNP female to be the President? She respect all religions and has successfully converted people like Duli and Hema already. We need someone with a good Christian centre as our guiding light. SLPP or SLFP can NEVER win the Presidential elections anymore. Tamils and Dravida Muslims of Sri Lanka will never vote for them.

    • 6
      2

      BornAgain

      Please don’t expose your nakedness.

      There’re right thinking Muslim & Tamil people in Sri Lanka who’re always ready to cast vote for the right person irrespective of political party, race, creed etc.

      Remember it’s UNP’s racial faction in 1983 humiliated innocent Tamil people in Sri Lanka; that played advantageously for LTTE to gain overseas support for their cause.

    • 1
      0

      BoringAgain:

      “God chose you to be saved and live with him together in heaven or Peelam for eternity”. Please don’t go back to politics and drugs..LOL. You should only concentrate on vying with Muslims in converting process, and report your daily achievements to god in your daily personal briefing..LOL

      God will save you from BBS, because he has chosen you to be born again.

  • 9
    4

    Whatever result of this election is .MR can not be appointed for a third term …
    People do not know all what he i did during his second term ..
    All sort of corruption and looting of public money ; killing and injustice all prevailed…
    It was his cohort did it all..
    People will never forget it .
    His popularity is gone done from 47% to 44% now ….
    If there is a good candidate for next election he will never come.back.

    • 4
      4

      Lankan No 1

      Presidents are not appointed in Sri Lanka; they’re elected.

      Nobody knows all what others do.

      So the president MS & the PM RW came to power to prosecute them, but they failed because most probably they’re more corrupt than MR & his cohorts.

      Wise people forget it unless they’ve been prosecuted & found guilty.

      Don’t you know that popularity fluctuates?

      A good candidate is not enough, a better candidate (than any other) is a must.

    • 3
      1

      Lankan No.1 – If the white van era comes back you will hardly see “good candidate/s” in the not too distant future!

  • 7
    1

    So many incorrect assertions.

    The question on the percentages.
    You have tried to bring comparisons between General elections and PC elections.
    The general elections always draws a higher voter turnout and higher vote participation and the PC elections always draws a lower turnout. The PC elections in 2011 drew a 60-65% turnout, which is the average for PC elections.

    Your view that this PC election should not be used as a protest vote by the people is incorrect. Yes, the PC elections are about the PCs. But this government suppressed and delayed this election for 3 years, which is undemocratic. Also, the people was raising their voices against this government all around this country. This was evident in the huge may day rally by the JO, which had a 100,000 turnout of people. The people kept giving red signals and expressing their disgust towards the direction this government was heading. But non of those signals were taken seriously. So the People had to make this election a protest vote.

    You cant gauge this election with a general election or a presidential election just by looking at the percentages. And you seem to be harping the tune sung by the UNP these days that the SLPP didn’t garner over 50% of the vote. That is not how the PC elections work. This is first past the poll. Which means, its not the percentage that matters in this one, but which party gets to win/or gets elected to the respective ward.

  • 10
    1

    extrapolating the results of a provincial council election to a presidential election is in itself fallacious…….adding up the votes of the losers and arguing that the SLPP lost is childish and illogical…for example how can you deduce that all of the remaining 55 percent would have voted for a common candidate?????would’nt some of the SLFP,JVP and TNA votes have been garnered by rajapakse???….considering that the percentage of votes that the UNP received has dwindled from 45 percent to 32 percent in 2018 means that they are the actual losers of this election

    • 0
      0

      Yes indeed. This is “if you are not with me you are against me” stuff. How on earth could you add the “others” as anti MR votes?

  • 8
    3

    so called liberal posh western appeasing idiots

  • 7
    1

    Which means JVP is also with UNP now? So much so for the good governance people.

  • 6
    1

    No Gehan, that is utter nonsense. Because, this was not a Presidential election. According to your argument MS would have got only 4.4% or maximum 13.12% percent of the vote. That is not true, is it? If this was a presidential election Gehan there would have been only two viable candidates, one Neo-liberal, the other Nationalistic. For the former to harness the minority vote he/she would have to run on a platform offering nothing less than a federalist Constitutional Reform (and that too is only if the minorities believe the hypothetical Neo-liberal candidate’s platform to be more than hypothetical), on a Federalist platform the Neo-liberalist will lose vote of the majority which would swing to the Nationalist candidate, and the latter would win.

  • 5
    1

    The constitution does not permit MR to contest the presidential election.

    Therefore, it is not worth a discussion.

    However, RW must come out positively and act according to the promises given in 2015. Specifically, take action against people who robbed this country in the name of development.

  • 5
    1

    Aiyo Sirisena and now an arrogant man talking garbage.

    So here is a comment from a friend in Kalutara District. Hope Ravi and RW acolytes read this column. ARROGANCE is something seen in RW’s inner circles a lot. FRCS CABAL= Former Royal College Student CABAL.


    I was talking to a mason from ratmalana today. Asked him why some UNP voters who voted in 2015 general elections , did not go to vote this time around , based on his watta people.He surprised me by mentioning Ravi K s name , saying that people are fuck mad with him for the pompous way he took everybody for fools , in his cover up story regarding the apartment rent he got from alosious. my mason and his family watches TV in the watta they live in and knew all about bond scam !. I think if he just admitted and said Sorry they may have had more sympathy !!.

    After all sri lankans know the rajapakses are rogues but pretty cool with it.

  • 7
    1

    FRCS cabal=Former Royal College Students Cabal. ARROGANCE ARROGANCE ARROGANCE

    Why did a close relative of Ranil’s become High Commissioner to Britain? What are her qualifications? Political science degree? Why has she not protested banned Eelam Tamil terrorists waving a banned flag? We shouted when MR appointed his cousin the light fingered man to USA and his ethically challenged nephew to Russia and Ukraine, why can’t we talk about this lady? Elite Colombo 7 English speaking Walawwey haamu. Yahapaalanaya ammagey redda.

    • 1
      0

      She’s a very successful businesswoman and elegant . Show me please,any rival candidate?

  • 3
    0

    Thank you. Meanwhile, will the victors manage the local authorities and do what can be done through them and strengthen the local level? I think that this is important and an opportunity that Sri Lanka can lose again. As the Oxford philosopher said, everything is what it is, not something else. If the local level is “sacrificed” for national level, we are heading in the wrong direction. The winners of the election might do well to indicate clearly that they will work hard to pay more attention and to improve the conditions at the local level, by doing what can be done there.

  • 5
    0

    Not many writers highlight the influence of the language/religion-divide in voting. Gehan Gunatillake has ignored this bane.
    SLPP spent money and exploited this.
    The LG elections should have been on local matters. Had the elections been staggered as they used to be, the results would have been different.
    Holding the elections in a single day was to test as to who has the bigger monitory clout.

  • 5
    4

    I agree with the essayists logic.The LG results do not reflect a Victory for MaRa.
    One to One on an all-island basis MaRa would not have won!

    • 5
      1

      UNPers and supporters are traumatized. They had read what was on the wall for a couple of years, but benied it. lived in cuckoo land, self important, egoistic and uttering big IFs. They still do the same again, full of denials and still claiming IF, this happened then that would have happened. Even I supported the emergence of yaha paalu government, MS-RW pact, hoping and praying it was the solution to an acute Sri Lankan problem, nepotism, corruption and incessant robbing of national assets coupled with total neglect of the citizens and burdening them with taxes. How wrong I was, when I realized my mistake 18-months down the line when FCID team was disbanded and the very protectors and saviours elected turned out to be criminals themselves. We never know what would happen with the voting public. and we try to be clever and read tea leaves after the event. This analysis above is a waste of time, if not classifed just academic. Peoples opinions and behaviour could change from one moment to another, and no one can predict in what emotional mood they go to cast their votes. Just accept the fact that UNP and SLFP have been sidelined and SLPP has emerged as the current tidal force that charismatic Mahinda will surely develop; he is still physically and mentally very strong and he knows the vast majority of sinhala people and a good proportion of other ethnic groups are on his side. I pray and hope for that he will in future work for the betterment of the nation, now that he may have learnt his lessons that it was corruption and criminal activities that brought him his temporary downfall and discredit.

    • 3
      5

      Plato

      I see your point. However isn’t it a futile exercise to analyse the recent local government election results?

      Dr Mahinda Rajapaksa (LLD + PhD X 3) is still a SLFP MP but campaigned against his own party for another. I don’t understand many things lately this is one of them.

      Sirisen being another Sinhala/Buddhist saved the saviours of this island once again from foreign menace, Demelas and long arm of the law.

      Can you get Dayan deported to North Korea, by any means necessary?

    • 0
      0

      Yes indeed. This is “if you are not with me you are against me” stuff. How on earth could you add the “others” as anti MR votes? Moreover, there are people who did not vote. What would they do in future? Would Pohottuwa fade away or blossom? Given the state of SLFP/UPFA would Pohottuwa attract these voters?
      It is NOT prudent to extrapolate.

  • 5
    2

    This election has given us a very good idea of what has been evolving for some time now and what would happen next. The winner is Basil and the looser is Gota. From the time Gota was the Defense sec. this competition has been there. To start with Basil is the one with 10% built MRs foundation from the begining. He organised the protest march and gradually brought MR to the fore front. He collected money and made MR win elections. Gota who ran from the country came back when every thing was set, to a comfortable position (when the going gets lettle tough he runs to the US).

    At the opening of the Racecourse (by Gota) there was an incident where a mobike soldier spade accross without any warning. This became a big news, I assume this was Basils work to show that he can work within the forces which was under Gota. Basil started SLPP with the hope of shifting the entire support base of SLFP which has happened. In the mean time Gota declared that he will be the next president (he mentioned with the blesings of MR)

    Basi was quiet working his way. Gota did not apppear on stage in the last May day which was organised by Basil. Gota and Namal were completely out of SLPP platform. Now MR is trapped in SLPP agenda. Next presidential election Basil will be the SLPP candidate, MR will not have a choise than to support Basil. (one may recall Basil prevented the MR-MS patchup efforts before elections, and released a press statement saying he did not interfere with negotiations). MR is caught with his pants down. Gota has realised that the game is over for him and said that he is a US citizen and cannot take up PM post. (Gota already with DayanJs help proclaimed he is the next presidential candidate)

  • 1
    4

    I think Gehan Gunatilleka summarized this local government election results very clearly. The political leaders should understand that the country first and party or individuals second. As far as people are concerned they should consider country first, the race or language or individuals come second. The political parties should compete in elections in a specified committed costed policies and programs. It is sad that we still have two failed leaders continue to compete to run this island. Ranil Wickremasinghe failed many times and he has to leave the politics. Similarly, Mahinda Rajapakse who lead twice (10 years) and lost twice should have left. UNP and SLFP are two major political parties in this island for six decades. Both parties were elected to rule the nation but how one can say he sold this country to West and other saying he sold this country to China? Similarly, Tamils and Muslims speak different language and lived in different region of this island. Can you say this island belong to Sinhalese only or can you say the devolution to North East will divide the country? Both UNP and SLFP put forward similar devolution proposals but in the elections how can you say that other party is going to divide the nation. Both UNP and SLFP fought against LTTE for past 30 years. Both contributed in defeating LTTE but is it right to claim one person to the victory? The culture of politics have to change.

  • 2
    1

    While the thoughtful scrutiny by the author is mostly laudable, his overstretched hope of the leopard changing its spots is laughable. It is ok for him or any others to hope that MaRa may present himself as a moderate but deepen within his veins MaRa is what he has always been and will always be. The rarest of rarest opportunity was right there in front of him to heal a bleeding nation. All the huha and his piety drama with an array of phony promises were laid bare when he showed and proved that he will always be that phony person.
    The people were rightly fed-up with the Ranil Maithiri combine. It was business as usual and there can be no surprises MaRa has been the beneficiary of protest votes or those who may have come to the tail-end of their patience with SL politicians. What an unfortunate island SL is.

  • 3
    0

    IS this CRAP articles, an sttempt to divert the public attention from the corrupt govt practices. PM is a leader of gang of thieves, Sri lankan airlines is lising money during the both govts. BOC had bad loans billions worth. SOBE lost 50% of the profits they had last year. Maithripala Sirisena is a Lame duck president. It looks people elected president is weaker than the elelctorate elected MP appointed as the PM. The ex president who garnered a strong protest vote for the govt thinks he is presidential material now. What a Joke. YOU people are fooling the public. Sri lanka media is responsible for helping politicians to destroy the country.

  • 3
    0

    Deprecating MARA’s LG win won’t help any analysis getting anywhere .
    Out of 340 local councils , he has captured 239 and that is the talk of the
    town of ordinary dwellers .Why waste time even imagining ” Mahjnda’s
    president race” that he can not stand for ? We are now changing to First-
    past – the post . The norm before proportional voting was UNP lose in the
    general election but the majority of votes were casted to the party
    Island wide which won’t help grab power . That is the situation here now !
    So why a false satisfaction ? The psychology here is , if not for the kind of
    coup of My3 Ranil and the other few and hitherto unproved allegations
    against him , HE WOULD HAVE WON LAST PRESIDENT ELECTION . AND
    THIS IS THE MESSAGE OF THIS LG RESULTS ! The truth instead is that
    Ranil’s UNP , I mean Ranil’s UNP is still gloomy without clear direction !

  • 4
    0

    Dear Born Again -There is no such Muslims as Dravida Muslims as you have stated in your comment. Please be informed that the Muslims are Ceylon / Sri Lanka Muslims commonly known as ‘Marakkala’; Muslims of Indian ancestary; Malays and Memons.

  • 2
    0

    The many of the arguments of the writer are baseless and biased from the very beginning. He does not show any objectivity in analysing data. The writer just wants to get a self-satisfaction by asserting himself that Mahinda will not win in a future presidential election. He assumes that the 13% of votes for the SLFP and the UPFA will just go for the UNP candidate in a future election. That vote will be divided in a future presidential election where a strong proxy of Mahinda will be contested. The behaviour of the voters will depend on the election and the popular trend of the day will give some added advantage to the candidate. The voter turnout is also high in this election in particular in the Sinhala dominated areas. Demoralized voters will be mainly found in the north and eastern provinces. They will not come en masse in a future election as they cast vote in January 2015. He altogether forgets that the UNP cannot bring a common candidate any more seeing its failures. He should be reminded that you cannot compare apple and oranges.

  • 3
    1

    To me this is mostly a type of written masturbation exercise for self satisfaction (which many yahapalanistas attempting to do in public discussion forums and domains since the elections). Not sure whether the writer got an orgasmic feeling after completing this piece.

  • 1
    0

    Though the yahapalanistas could not predict it, Basil Rajapakse predicted SLPP win quite accurately. He said at the inception, he is targeting to win at least 200 local bodies and towards the end of the campaign predicted to win between 225-250 local bodies. He was certainly not looking at an astrology chart. Yahapalanistas can spin any type of yarns but the truth is they did not have a clue (small correction…..MS knew what’s going to happen. That’s why he continued to postpone elections. Though the arrogant RW and the bad mouthed Rajitha et al thought the split in the opposing camp would deliver a handsome win to UNP on a platter) .

    • 0
      0

      Exactly. They banked on the split and failed badly.

  • 0
    0

    Gehan, how could you add “other” votes and say that those are anti-MR? Mangala also made this silly assertion. This is “if you are not with me you are against me stuff”. How about the people who did not vote? Would they vote in future? How about people who did not like SLFP and voted JVP and/or vice versa.

  • 2
    0

    Does the voting show that Ranil will win the nest presidential elections (or even parliamentary elections ) ?

    Does it show that Sirisena will win the next elections ?

    Mr Gunatilleka I think this is mere speculation if not dreaming. When it is one man vs another, Ranil Vs. Mahinda ( if Mahinda can contest) where do you think majority Sirisena and JVP votes will go ?

    On the basis of 10 February has Ranil ( or a Ranil led UNP ) a chance in hell of doing politics in this country any longer ?

  • 1
    1

    Gehan Gunatilleke, your education appears to have thought you nothing.
    You appear to be a typical follower of the Tie/coat group with vested Western interest.

    Remember different situations require different strategies.
    Do not compare apples & oranges and these results with a non existent Presidential election.

    This is not a vote for Mahinda.
    Masses showed dissent & a Vote against the governing of the country by Yahapalanaya and their deceit.
    This is a damn good lesson to the Yahapalanaya for hoodwinking and the broken promises to the Masses.
    Yahapalanaya can not fool all the people all the time & You Gehan I am sorry to say you have decided to get cheap popularity curry favour or identify with the bankrupt UNP who has let down the Masses with a hidden agenda or burrowed idea.

    Evaluvate the current situation and not appear as an educated clean suit Dick head.

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