24 May, 2022


Taking Stock: Presidential Election 2015

By Lionel Bopage

Dr Lionel Bopage

Dr Lionel Bopage

By far the most important issue for the constituents of Sri Lanka at the last week’s presidential election was about opening a pathway for the formation of good governance. However, simply electing a new president does not create good governance. A president and his/her government should allow, nurture and strengthen good governance by gradually institutionalizing political processes and promoting universal values that are intrinsic to good governance. The new President, Maithripala Sirisena, and his revamped government have embarked on a journey with the proclaimed aim of establishing good governance, although some measures taken so far appear counter-productive and certain pronouncements seem rather utopian.

Nevertheless, I believe, we could contribute ingeniously to moving towards good governance – by engaging constructively, patiently and vigilantly – keeping the momentum of all diverse forces that brought this unprecedented positive outcome for the people of Sri Lanka alive. What follows is a brief analysis to see where we are now before we look at the path ahead for achieving our aims.

Background of the election

The people have taken part in the election campaign overwhelmingly and enthusiastically, though it was not entirely free and fair, nor peaceful or democratic. Participation in the election was very high at 81.5 percent. There was a significant turn out by voters in the north. Despite the partisan interpretation of results by many groups with certain interests, this election can be considered as the first election since the 1990s where a candidate was elected by the participation of the diverse spectrum of communities belonging to Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims. The issues related to ethnic or religious issues, which had been dominating the elections since the 1950s, did not play a major role in this election.

Unfortunately, the election occurred in an environment in which multifarious hurdles were laid against the campaign of the common opposition candidate. The Rajapaksa campaign was heavily racialist and abundantly financed. Almost all state resources including human, material, financial and media were used against the opposition campaign. One of the major issues impacting all other vexed issues in Sri Lanka – the national question – was not discussed at all.

The opposition’s election campaign, which highlighted the incumbent’s authoritarianism, corruption, fraud, waste, family nepotism and politicisation and militarisation of civil administration appears to have been effective in urban areas, but not as effective in the rural areas, particularly down south. The election campaign of the UNP has been more organised, coordinated, and well-oiled and more grass-roots based. The support the common opposition candidate received from Tamils and Muslims increased, due to the authoritarian and mono-cultural approach adopted by the Rajapaksa regime to stay in power.

Election outcome

This election outcome has been and will be analysed in many different ways according to the world outlook of the analyst (including myself), and whose interests and privileges that analyst is trying to safeguard. Already many interested parties including pro-Rajapaksas and nationalists with some from the Sri Lankan left groups have tried to interpret the election outcome through identity politics. While the ethnic breakdown of the electoral outcome may be not-so-important, it should not be under-emphasised. The abolition of executive presidency and appointment of independent commissions are being given priority at this presidential election. There were many other issues highlighted during the election campaign including good governance, rule of law and democratic practices, fight against corruption, cost of living, employment opportunities, and better access to healthcare and education etc. Those on the left also raised the issue of the need to address the national question, but it did not gain much traction.

Despite the support of the Tamil National Alliance in the North and East and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress in the East and elsewhere, attributing the total election outcome just to ethnic or religious identity is an oversimplification. Although the overwhelming votes cast by the Tamils and Muslims of the North and East might have tipped the balance in favour of Maithripala Sirisena, the argument that the election outcome is in support of separatism or devolution of power is misplaced, for the statistical breakdown of the election results shows that 84% of the votes cast for Maithripala Sirisena came from the rest of the country.

The Rajapaksa regime and its torch-bearers carried out a massive all island TV and radio campaign based on mono-cultural nationalistic and racialist propaganda. This could have influenced more racialist thinking Sinhalese to vote for Rajapaksa, while more Tamils would have been influenced to vote for the common opposition candidate. We are also aware that some separatist groups and certain radical groups advocated boycotting the election. That was also an exercise of their bourgeois democratic right. By doing so they effectively forfeited their own democratic right. They may claim that they have collectively convinced about 20 percent of the voters to stay away from voting, though this is disproved by the fact that this time there were more people willing to cast their vote in favour of one of the two major candidates.

I believe the Tamil community needs to be applauded and welcomed for their participation in the election, despite the fierce propaganda of the pro-Rajapaksa elements of the previous regime, and the constrictions placed on the opposition’s agenda of having to maintain the national security status quo, and the unitary nature, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country. My conclusion is that since the 1940s, this is the first election in the history of Sri Lanka, where ethnicity and religion did not play a major role in influencing the outcome of the election.

The immediate future

The President and the new Cabinet has assumed duties. Some secretaries have been appointed. The 100 day reforms program has been launched. The best advice I could provide to this new interim government, is that it should pick the ten most important issues pertinent to each department and Ministry, develop appropriate policy calculi to address those issues and implement them. This will greatly assist in building the confidence of people in the new President and the government. President, Ministers and Ministries need to take decisions in consultation with each other in a participative manner. Deferment of significant issues or vacillation on decisive issues could become deadly for the future.

This is essential because the Rajapaksas and Weerawansas will not stand idle. They have begun to spread the lie that they lost because of the voters in the north and east and the plantations. They are silent on the fact that they got part of their votes because they were able to use state resources to bribe, intimidate, frighten, and cajole some by raising the spectre of LTTE and separatism in the national psyche of the Sinhala Buddhist majority.

The Rajapaksa plot to stay in power using the military and emergency laws was thwarted, thanks to the integrity of Elections Commissioner, Inspector General of Police and the Army Commander – to all of whom we are grateful. This anti-democratic behaviour needs to be given ample exposure among the people and the suspects need to be charged according to the law. Some of the suspects in this regard have gone overseas, probably with the tacit knowledge of some bureaucrats, who have been directly helping them previously. Some of the prominent youth organisations who have been closely working with Rajapaksas and sometimes with Nil Balakaya (Blue Corps) have been trying at all costs to paint a democratic picture of the Rajapaksa’s reign. When required in future, they will no doubt try to help resurrect the remnants of the Rajapaksa regime dressed up in democratic clothes.

There have been many criminal allegations against the Rajapaksa regime including the disappearance of journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda, disappearance of Frontline Socialist Party activists Lalith and Kuhan, assassination of Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge, the massacre of 17 aid workers of Action Contre la Faim, the massacre of five high school students in Trinco, and assassination of arrested criminal suspects mostly in Colombo. There are allegations to the effect that unarmed and peaceful civilians have been killed during strikes, peaceful protests and during the civil war. The Rajapaksa regime openly, unhesitatingly and flagrantly violated the election laws by using violence, intimidation and bribery. Such criminal activities and offences need to be properly and independently investigated and the perpetrators must be brought to justice.


The new regime is taking its first baby steps in opening up a more democratic space for civil society to operate. However, in the implementation of its 100 day program before going for the next General Elections, the new regime is being forced to rely on at least some of the current politicians, bureaucrats and systems of the previous autocratic regime. Obviously, this situation is not in favour of the anticipated journey towards establishing good governance and rule of law. The new President and the regime need to stay vigilant in this regard. Vacillation and marching time will be deadly and tantamount to committing suicide.

The non-violent regime change was mainly a result of the social discontent of the suffering masses of the country including workers and peasants. The non-Sinhala communities have expressed their wish for democratic reform and a way forward to negotiate and resolve issues specific to their communities. If the hopes and expectations of these masses are not fulfilled, then the situation will be conducive for emerging struggles. The first step in the right direction will be for the new regime to take bold measures with the consent of the people to appropriately address such issues in the long term interest of the people and the country.

In the meantime, the remnants of the former Rajapaksa regime will try their best to resurrect the bogey of racialism and nationalism by resorting to the lowest levels of deception. This tendency and the autocratic and repressive nature of the Rajapaksa regime compelled many individuals, groups and organisations to come forward and support the common opposition candidate for overturning the autocratic executive presidential system.

This unprecedented dynamic collective that was not involved in partisan politics, opened the doors for this change of direction. We need to keep this momentum for change alive, through maintaining the peoples’ desire for change, so that any hesitation or vacillation on the part of the new regime can be prevented. Then the new regime will have no option but to implement what they have pledged during the election campaign. Despite the possibility of deferments and vacillations of the new regime, this social collective need to be more organised, energetic and vigilant so as to keep up its momentum for change lively.

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Latest comments

  • 3

    Dr Lionel Bopage

    RE: Taking Stock: Presidential Election 2015

    First, they have to untanhle the Mess sand deceptions.

    Along with that they can introduce Good Governance,

    How did we get here after the war?

    Medamulama MaRa Family Dictatorship and Dynasty,

    They were planning for perpetual rule and dynasty.

    JVP action perturbs Rajapaksas
    WEDNESDAY, 14 JANUARY 2015 10:2

    It is revealed that fraudsters have been highly disturbed as the JVP took measures yesterday (13th) to complain to the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption regarding plunder of public money by Mahinda Rajapaksa, his family and those around them.

    Yoshitha Rajapaksa and Rohitha Rajapaksa, two sons of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, have suddenly obtained general passports in place of the VIP passports they possessed. Namal Rajapaksa had stated he would face any charges against him. It is to prevent those who are around them from being disheartened.

    However, the move against frauds and corruption begun by the JVP but was unexpected by the masses within such a short time, has enlivened the masses but the fraudsters have fallen to a state of despair say reports.

    The new passport number for Rohitha Rajapaksa is N5375169 while Yoshitha Rajapaksa’s new passport number is N5375216. Before this they had VIP passports.

    Rohitha Rajapaksa is undergoing training in NASA in the USA but has been brought down for Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s election campaign.

    Yoshitha Rajapaksa became a lieutenant in the Navy despite not having the necesary educational qualifications. He enjoyed special privileges in the Navy as the son of the President.

    However, with Mahinda Rajapaksa’s defeat at the presidential election Yoshitha Rajapaksa was withdrawn from being an officer of SL Navy in the early hours on the 9th.


  • 0

    Vasantha Raja

    Maithripala Sirisena’s central task within the next three months is to change the discredited Executive Presidential system, and replace it with a cabinet of ministers responsible to the parliament. [Remember, Maithri will still be the president with reduced powers.] To achieve this goal DEMOCRATICALLY he needs a two-third majority in the parliament. Thus, he has begun walking a tightrope for 100 days. This means: he has to please the thoroughly discredited members of the past regime too. Although his balancing techniques keep upsetting some of his followers, he has no choice but to keep the apple-cart undisturbed until the parliament is dissolved in three months. In other words, Maithripala seems to be prepared to eat a bit of dirt for the sake of fixing the main job. After all, his priority is to lay down the legal foundation for a new political culture in Sri Lanka.

    The idea is to protect the independence of the judiciary and the public services, creating institutions dedicated for neutral elections, and also legally empowered institutions to conduct objective investigations into bribery, corruption and human rights abuses free from governmental interference. Independent commissions will be established in each field to achieve these targets.

    Towards the end of April, the existing parliament will be dissolved and new elections will be held under the new constitution with new rules. A caretaker government will supervise these elections. Obviously, Maithripala Sirisena will remain as the President of Sri Lanka, though with greatly reduced powers.
    As I mentioned at the beginning, however, in order to achieve the goals, President Maithripala Sirisena will need a two-third majority in the parliament. Therefore, he has no alternative but to bring in the mortal enemies of good-governance too in order to create good-governance. What a paradox!

  • 0

    Since the new regime is mainly composed of members of the old regime, do you really expect much change? I don’t.

  • 3

    Absolute power corrupts – This is what happened to MR, his brothers, his sons and their other cronies. From what is being unearthed now it is evident they had no respect for any AR and FR of our administrative set up but these only applied for poor public servants.

    Thank God this regime has been changed atleast at this late hour and replaced by some gentlemen politicians. We are confident the governance style will change for the better.

  • 0

    Dr Bopage has forget his own history that very beginning as hard core member JVP, that under leadership PND Wijeweera, alias Rohan, alias Attnayake, how that you advocated racialism and chauvinism by attacking Tamil Plantation workers as fifth column Indian expansions.

    People want decisiveness ,but they also want honesty about your past JVP politics of racialism and chauvinism against POOR TAMIL WORKERS advocated by you. Your past deeds has no accountability racialism?
    We know better than anyone ,when you are working hard, that as JVP hard-core carder, not going anywhere ,but that target was racialism.

    Mr Bopage have to ensure quality of your political writing excellence must be an earned word attributed by others to us, not proclaimed by us about yourself.

    It is the responsibility of real ex-JVP leaders to make sure that words remain attached to the meaning and ideals you represent.

    I think when that happen to Dr Bopage ,we fall into dull repetition ,producing empty versions of what was made before.

    The new version of Dr Bopage political writing this creates a dilemma by not withholding or misleading.

  • 1

    “In the meantime, the remnants of the former Rajapaksa regime will try their best to resurrect the bogey of racialism and nationalism by resorting to the lowest levels of deception”
    Yes time is of the essence

  • 4

    Lionel was the JVP general secretary at one time. He seems to be having a much more balanced and practical view of society now.

    Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt rather than looking into his past.

    Everyone deserves a second chance.

  • 1

    A good analysis of the danger Sri Lanka faces if the bogey of the Tiger is resurrected by the reactionary impulse of the vanquished, as they had attempted absolutely unethical and altogether illegal means of holding onto power when the unfavourable election results were being released.

    Lets hope the authorities take heed of these cautionary words of wisdom.

  • 1

    One of the famous lectures of the JVP was in relation to Indian Expansionism.That was 1971 and young Bopage was an undergrad at the Engineering Faculty Peradeniya.Incaceration in jail and later on with maturity he has proved to be a sound person.Lets not dig the past.Rohana Wijeyaweera led them astray.

  • 0

    Milton nukes Bopage on his past.
    New regime is taking baby steps… my foot. With so many seasoned campaigners in their ranks. they should have been ahead of schedule by now. But they are busy attempting to cage MR & Co.

    There will not be any 100 days program without caging MR & Wimal. That is what they are focused in doing instead of getting down to business.
    Unlike MaRa, Sira is going to be very lonely at the top.

    Gammanpilla states to maintain promises in the 100 day program the country needs 890 billion.
    from where is the money going to come> from Modi or Solheim?

    On the whole, the 100 days is going to be 1000 days if they are unable to bribe the state sector workers & pensioners with that 10,000 & 5,000
    it appears that these guys who have been out of position for sometime are enjoying positions.
    Wonder how the Prez is going to crack the whip.

    Elections won’t be a walk in the park. It appears they know it.

  • 0

    By commenting Dr Jagatah Fernando on view of Dr Bopage past said he…’carry balance view on social issues’ I do not agreed.
    Dr Bopage was Secretary General of JVP until 1983 since 1969.

    More than total 15 years Dr Bopage in JVP leader by anarchist, Chauvinists and racialist politics that the by produced of Bourgeoisie democratic mindset that similar to UNP led politics of anti-Tamil policies since 1977 to 1994.

    How can his views are going to be balance mind?
    Politics is not joke, it decided present and future life and death of Human kind including Sri Lankan.

    I feel and willing an advice views and line of thinking of Dr Bopage and his past acts and deeds remarkable impact and influence of Sri Lankan classes and its democracy , it society.

    What his accountability of Dr Bopage past JVP Terrorism and its adventurist politics result of that to lost of 15,000 youth 1971 and later lost 90,000 Sinhalese youth in 1988/89?

    Can Dr Bopage escape from the punishment of history? Are telling that Dr Bopage is politically innocent?

    I believed that different school of thought an invented the knowledge by FALSE OF HISTORY by your comment!

    The both that racialism and terrorism of these pseudo-historical misperception helped to fuel the fire 30 years war ended by MR 2009 May.

  • 0

    Instead of dealing with my proposals and political thoughts on what the new administration should be focusing on in the immediate aftermath of the Presidential election, Mr W.R. Milton brings up matters that are over 40 years old. In doing so he betrays his ignorance of Sri Lankan history.

    The facts are as follows:
    1. On Indian expansionism – it was a flawed policy followed from Maoist ideology. On being released in 1977, as the General Secretary of the JVP, I helped to remove that policy;
    2. The JVP for all its perceived limitations was never an anarchist organisation;
    3. During the 1971 insurrection unlike the riots of 1958 and 1977 no Tamils were attacked as the thrust of the insurrection was our flawed response to the terrorism launched by the state on the JVP. I have detailed elsewhere the campaign of state terror against the JVP in the form of disruption, intimidation, torture, proscription, incarcerations, and disposal of dead bodies without post mortem examinations; and
    4. On the issue of racialism and chauvinism – I resigned as General Secretary of the JVP in 1984. There were many reasons for this. One of the most important was on the National Question and the chauvinist stance the party adopted towards it. All this on the historical record as evidenced by my letter of resignation from the party.

    So let’s put aside the fallacious comments made by Milton and address the important issues facing our country, issues like how we can ensure good governance. We have a lot to discuss and let us not get distracted by comments of Milton and his ilk.

  • 0

    Dr Bopage’s advice on the ultimate para is commendable. However his analysis that:
    i)” atributing the total outcome just to ethnic relegion identity is
    an over simplification”
    ii)”election results show that 84% of the votes cast for Mathriripala
    Srisena came from rest of the country”

    is rather flawed.The other 16% of the votes cast for him, equates to 980,345 votes. But he won by only 449,072 majority. The other 16% is almost twice the majority! Hence the ethnic identity is not over simplification,but a reality! Let us all work together to keep the sinner away from reappearing as warned by Mano Ganesan recently.

    Tony Francis

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