By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“We must remember they got their majority vote from Eelam…” Mahinda Rajapaksa[i]
During election season, the UPFA tried to win enough Sinhala votes by inciting minority phobia – and failed. Post-defeat, what the severely-truncated UPFA continues to beat this racist tom-tom, in the hope of making a quick comeback.
Ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa led the way by informing supporters in Medamulana that he was defeated because Northern, Eastern and Plantation voters voted against him. That is the truth, but not the whole truth. Mahinda Rajapaksa lost not just because he failed to gain the support of minority communities. Mahinda Rajapaksa lost also because he failed to retain the support of the majority community.
Eric Hobsbwam warned that “bad history is not harmless history”[ii]. Mr. Rajapaksa and his hardcore supporters are deliberately trying to fabricate a bad history about the 2015 election. Theirs is a dangerous exercise because their aim is to regain political relevance by creating an unbridgeable divide between majority and minority communities. They want to create a wave of fear and hatred and ride it back to power.
Mahinda Rajapaksa did not have the support of North, East or Plantations, even in 2010 or 2005. Yet he was able to win; he won in 2005 thanks to the Tiger-imposed boycott; he won in 2010 because most Sinhalese voted for him in appreciation for winning the war.
Mahinda Rajapaksa lost in 2015 not just because he lost the minority vote. Mahinda Rajapaksa lost in 2015 also because a large chunk of Sinhala voters who supported him in 2010 voted for the Opposition in 2015; and because an absolute majority of first-time voters voted against him.
The voter-shift from Mahinda Rajapaksa to the Opposition happened all over Sri Lanka, including in every single district outside of North and East. Without that massive shift, Maithripala Sirisena could not have won, even with minority support.
In voting out Mahinda Rajapaksa and voting in Maithripala Sirisena, the really existing ethno-religiously pluralist Sri Lanka asserted itself over the imaginary ethno-religiously monolithic Sri Lanka. The defeat of Mahinda Rajapaksa was not a Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim enterprise, but a Lankan enterprise. Hopefully it will serve as a reminder to all political leaders that race-baiting is not only opprobrious but also counterproductive.
2005, 2010 and 2015
In all districts outside of North and East, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s average vote declined between 2015 and 2010 – indicating a substantial-erosion in his voter base.
Mahinda Rajapaksa suffered a far greater setback in postal votes. Postal voters are police and military personnel and government employees engaged in election duties and essential services. Though exact figures are not available, the absolute majority of postal voters are Sinhalese.
In 2005 and 2010, Mahinda Rajapaksa won the postal votes by huge margins. In 2015 he was defeated in postal votes as well. This is an even clearer indication of the erosion of his support among the majority community.
As the statistics clearly prove, between 2010 and 2015 Mahinda Rajapaksa’s voter support eroded across the length and breadth of Sri Lanka, including in his own Hambantota. The loss of Rajapaksa electoral-magic was not just a North-East-Plantation phenomenon, as the former President claims. It was truly a Lankan phenomenon.
The votes lost by Mahinda Rajapaksa in the districts outside of North and East were gained by the Opposition, as the massive increase in the Opposition’s total and postal votes, between 2010 and 2015, clearly demonstrates.
An even clearer picture of the erosion of the Rajapaksa support-base emerges when Mahinda Rajapaksa’s performance in 2015 is compared with his performance in 2005.
In contrast, the Opposition performed better in 2015 than it did in 2005 in most of the districts outside of North and East. These included all districts of the Southern province, with massive leaps forward in Matara and Galle.
Mahinda Rajapaksa’s losses, not just between 2010 and 2015 but also between 2005 and 2015, were Maithripala Sirisena’s gain. Without those losses, the Opposition would have failed and the Rajapaksas would have prevailed.
Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated in 2015 because he failed to gain minority support and because he failed to make up for that loss by retaining enough of the Sinhala votes he won in 2010 or even in 2005.
Mr. Rajapaksa’s dangerously faulty election analysis is an inevitable by-product of his retrogressive and reactionary worldview: Sinhala-Buddhists are the sole owners of Sri Lanka; minorities are not co-owners but mere guests. In his eyes he was defeated by ‘minority-guests’ and not by ‘Sinhala-hosts’. Therefore, in his eyes, his defeat is an illegitimate one. This racist interpretation indicates why Mr. Rajapaksa did not work towards reconciliation and a consensual peace post-war and why he allowed BBS et al to terrorise Muslims and Christians. Rajapaksa-security depended on the majority fearing minorities and minorities fearing the majority.
Divide and rule was indeed the Rajapaksa way. That is why their loss is the country’s gain.
[ii] Identity History is not enough – On History