By Kusal Perera –
President Rajapaksa is already on his campaign journey up North. He boarded the Yaal Devi train that reached Jaffna after a 24 year lapse, handed over pawned gold jewellery to 25 individuals in Jaffna (MoD says they have identified 2,377 such owners who had pawned their jewellery to LTTE banks) to mark such handover, toured Delft island to check development, opened 03 “Mahindodaya Technology labs” in Delft, Kayts and Karainagar schools, visited Nagadeepa temple and Amman kovil in Jaffna, doled out 100 million rupees to 1,250 displaced persons in a ceremony at Iranamadu, gave out 20,000 land permits in Kilinochchi, handed over 02 “Mahindodaya Technology labs” to Kilinochchi Hindu and Waddakachchi MV and more were promised on development. Abolition of the Executive Presidency he said, will be only possible if “Eelam” is given up totally (Wouldn’t know by whom and didn’t know the Executive Presidency is a Sinhala extremist counter to Tamilean issue).
Though a presidential poll is only speculated and his third time candidacy is now dumped in controversy, he had begun his campaign to at least retain the 18 p.c the UPFA polled 01 year ago at the NPC elections. He spent 03 whole days in North and he does it his way, the only way he knows despite the fact it failed even in Uva PC elections this time.
Unlike his closest stooges, President Rajapaksa knows quite well, this time as in 2010 January when he rode the waves of Sinhala patriotism, the Sinhala voters will not carry him along. He therefore has to count minority votes as important in a coming election, for him to ride home safe. If one counts what the Rajapaksas lost at the Uva PC elections, the decline in Sinhala Buddhist vote is clear. In 2009 August, Moneragala an over 90 p.c Sinhala Buddhist district gave the UPFA, in essence the Rajapaksas, a stunning 81.3 p.c and the whole Uva province a staggering 72.4 p.c of the votes polled. But not this time.
That same people in Uva changed tracks this time. The UPFA lost 21.2 p.c of its votes, sliding down to 51.2 p.c. On district basis, 20.4 p.c of the Badulla voters and 23.0 p.c of the Moneragala voters had left the UPFA ranks when results were announced. Losing over 21 p.c of the votes in a predominantly Sinhala Buddhist rural society, is no small defeat for the Rajapaksas. With all their hard line Sinhala Buddhist arrogance in governance, the common thinking in Colombo is, Sinhala South as a rule decides for Rajapaksa. Disproving this myth, 21 p.c of the rural Sinhala Buddhist vote left the Rajapaksas, even without the UNP offering alternatives or substantial promises during Uva elections.
It’s not just Harin that made 21.2 percent of the Uva voters to desert the UPFA and the Rajapaksas. There were other serious and major reasons for the widening gap between the Rajapaksa regime and the Uva voter. They did not leave the Rajapaksas because this regime is less Sinhala Buddhist now than it was in 2009 May. In fact the Rajapaksas are far more racist than they were, when the war was concluded. They have consistently denied space for reconciliation and Tamil political grievances and runs militarily controlled provinces up North and in the East. They have denied the Tamil voter who elected the Northern Provincial Council with an overwhelming majority to have a functioning provincial council. All of it is being placed in the Sinhala South as safeguards for a “unitary” Sinhala State. In the South, they have allowed a rabid Sinhala Buddhist extremist gang to violently oppose Muslims and Christian communities, with very visible State sponsorship though undeclared. Yet brutalisation of the State for Sinhala Buddhist dominance has not been able to hold the Sinhala Buddhist constituency in favour of this Rajapaksa rule.
Why have these very open Sinhala Buddhist rule failed to retain the Sinhala Buddhist voter with the Rajapaksa regime? A Sinhala regime that boasts about massive infrastructure projects as “development” in effect should keep the Sinhala Buddhist voter with them. Yet in reality they have failed. Priorities of the Sinhala Buddhist constituency have now changed to that of a secure and a decent life. Sinhala Buddhists have not been spared of continuously increasing cost of living where every consumer item carry around 40 p.c as government taxes within its price. Sinhala Buddhists are forced to accept a regime that is awfully corrupt and is controlled by a few whose wealth can never be assessed or will be declared. Can even a Sinhala Buddhist society imagine a Sinhala Buddhist whose monthly income was only Rs.1,250, who gives up employment and takes to full-time politics, telling a Magistrate, he is currently paying his wife a monthly maintenance cost of Rs.12 lakhs for separation ? Such is the “small time corruption” in this Sinhala Buddhist regime. Sinhala Buddhist politics obviously has no relevance now.
Again and on top of it, despite the bragging, this Rajapaksa regime defeated “Tamil Tigers” and brought peace to a country that was warring for 30 years, bombs would not go off in trains and in Pettah anymore now and the Central Bank will not be attacked again, there is a growing sense of insecurity in society. Crime and lawlessness has overtaken life everywhere. Breakdown of social values, accelerated loss of a collective conscience, growing rate of child abuse and murder of children, increased rate of suicide among youth, rape and murder of women, extortions, custodial killings and growing crime have left a total loss of faith and trust in law enforcement and the judiciary. Politicised, inefficient and corrupt too, the judiciary and the police create a synergy that pervades society with a sense of insecurity, a threat to life once again. This time, in almost every village in the Sinhala South.
The Rajapaksas are therefore assessed now for what they do not provide the Sinhala majority to earn a decent living in a civilised society. They are assessed on their disregard of people and misrule that turns the Sinhala Buddhist voter into a “protest voter”. That explains in short, why voters from the UPFA ranks in Uva made an exodus in big percentage. Why, Sinhala Buddhist hype and the unitary Sinhala State is no more a valid option. Uva people cannot be alone in such judgement of this Rajapaksa regime to leave Sinhala Buddhist slogans aside. Frustrated they are not looking for another Sinhala Buddhist leader. They now want answers to their threatened and condemned lives. They have realised Sinhala Buddhist triumphalism is not going to give them answers to issues that create mayhem around them. That change, as Uva shows, runs close to or over 20 p.c and that is a massive shift against the Rajapaksa regime.
What is the UNP doing to win them over? Absolutely nothing. Latest news reports say, the UNP is waiting for a “Joint Opposition” to decide on a Common Candidate. And what will this “Common” (?) Candidate offer the people? Probably the hacked promise of “abolishing the Executive Presidency” and getting back to a parliament. The only possible compromise among them and not necessarily the need of the people. Promise of a parliament that completely failed twice here from 1948 to 1972 and from 1972 to 1978. A parliamentary system that delivers nothing to the post WW II British people and in India, a Lok Sabha that gets richer at every election with criminals; 34 p.c of its MPs facing criminal charges in the present parliament (2004 – 24 p.c and 2009 – 30 p.c). Getting back to a parliament therefore is no guarantee the next government will be different and clean in ruling the country.
There is no seriousness too in how the UNP leadership is calculating a victory. The grand old party that was formed 66 years ago for national unity, does not think nationally anymore. Most Colombo based key players think the UNP should play for the Sinhala Buddhist vote. Think harping on corruption is more important than programmes and reforms. What ails the UNP is their frustration in not being able to access State power since late 1994. They are in a mighty hurry to grab political power “by hook or by crook”. Most therefore including General Secretary Attanayake therefore believe a collage of different Sinhala personalities, including even the BBS and whatever their baggage would provide a large platform to attract enough Sinhala voters to win elections. Few dozen hacked politicians on a large platform, calling themselves leaders do not constitute broad unity or a grand alliance among people. The call for grand alliances and joint oppositions are old fashioned strategy. Today, most leaders collected into such alliances don’t have people. They have only a party label. They can fill the decorated stage, but not the polling booths.
Broad unity, a grand alliance or even a joint Opposition can have only one single political definition in present day Sri Lanka. Today, when the Sinhala Buddhist constituency is showing a 20 p.c departure from racist politics, a broad unity or a grand alliance is one that should bring PEOPLE, Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim people together and not rustifying leaders looking for platforms. Such alliances can only be achieved with a clearly spelt out programme giving space and winning trust of all ethnic and religious communities. Unless the UNP works on such strategy, they will not be able to gain 40 p.c from the 17 districts outside North and East. It is now necessary to gain 40 p.c from the Southern constituency, which is not an impossible target, with around 20 p.c of the votes dropping out of this regime’s worn out Sinhala Buddhist project.
Therefore if the UNP is now willing to leave aside all unprincipled alliances and project themselves as a political party serious about the future of this country and comes up with a programme with far reaching reforms that would effectively address lawlessness, would lift the judiciary into efficient and clean functioning, would propose a more reasonably fair development policy framework with livelihood to rural youth and women, a more rational approach to education, health and commuter transport, they would certainly have 40 p.c. from Sinhala South, given the gap the Rajapaksas keep widening between them and the Sinhala Buddhist voter. The balance 11 to 12 p.c. vote will have to come from North and East Tamil people who now have a strong, single common voice and the Muslim people who are now almost rudderless suspecting their own leaders. That needs a UNP candidate who would be seen and accepted by the Muslim people with trust as one who would not allow the BBS types to roam free. A candidate, the Tamil people could accept as one, with whom they could at least sit for serious negotiations.
Harin in Uva proved another factor that is important. A leader is not one who “follow the people”. But one who would lead the people and dares to challenge the status quo. UNP now needs such a national LEADER with such grit and determination. Not one who gets into compromises for survival. A leader who could reach, not only the deserting UPFA Sinhala voter but those in the North and East too. The minorities. That’s the “Common Candidate” who could make the difference at an election. Inability to grasp this changing scenario, the perennial Sinhala thinking in a marooned island, is what holds back the UNP this time too in winning an election. Their hesitancy in standing firm with a programme.