24 October, 2021


The Feb 10th Election & The Ethnic Gamble That Failed

By Dayan Jayatilleka

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

It is fairly clear at this time, that the populist wing of the SLFP, the Pohottuwa, identified with and led in effect by Mahinda Rajapaksa is going to emerge the largest element within the non-UNP space, and thereby will emerge as the largest single opposition party; effectively, the government-in-waiting, with the most important national election due late next year.

The only question that remains to be resolved is whether the Pohottuwa will wind up “a close second” to the UNP as the most intelligent Yahapalana ideologues writing in English have opined repeatedly in print, or whether (as I think) the Pohottuwa will wind up quite simply, the largest single party, displacing the UNP from that historical role and status.

For his part, Victor Ivan, a leading Yahapalana 2015 champion and public intellectual, has suggested that no party will emerge a clear winner, thereby throwing the political situation into crisis if not chaos.

Whichever of these three scenarios comes right, anything short of a clear win for the UNP, the dominant of the two governing parties, will mean that something has gone very wrong, and irreversibly so, with the Yahapalana Project of 2015.

What was the Yahapalana 2015 Project? It was the trade-in of a successful competitive two party electoral democracy of long standing, in favour of a dubious bipartisan coalition government. To put it very bluntly, Sri Lanka’s successful democracy which had ensured the best possible deal for the citizenry through the competition of two strong blocs, center-right and center-left, was sacrificed for so-called ethnic reconciliation in the form of a new Constitution which would fulfil promises made offshore, to the Tamil parties and Diaspora. Democracy was distorted in order to give the Tamils a new Constitution.

That gamble has failed utterly. What is saddest is that it was not needed. The distortion imposed upon Sri Lankan democracy, that of confiscating Southern democratic opinion by establishing an SLFP-UNP coalition despite a strong 96 seat showing against such a coalition by Mahinda’s UPFA in August 2015. This was followed up by awarding the TNA with 16 seats the post of the official Opposition, ignoring the 50 plus members of parliament who stayed with Mahinda.

Now, that model is about to fall apart. The UNP can remain under Ranil’s leadership and in government, the SLFP can stay in cabinet with the UNP, the parliamentary fiction of the TNA as Opposition can stay undisturbed, but the country and the world will know where public opinion– the citizens, the people– are at. In short, the Yahapalana 2015 model will be held up to the light of public opinion and revealed to be quite hollow.

Three years of Yahapalana and there’s no ethnic New Deal in the form of a Constitution. Now there isn’t likely to be one at all, within the remainder of this government’s term—a government that will be seen from Feb 11th as going downhill.

In the first place, a weakened ‘official’ SLFP is unlikely to run the suicidal risk of supporting a new constitution with Provincial council election a matter of months away.

In the second place, even if it seems, on Feb 10th, that there are a slightly higher percentage of votes against Mahinda’s Pohottuwa than there are for it, it will be obvious that not only are these votes split, but that they won’t add up to a YES vote for a new Constitution because the UNP voters who cast a ballot for their party will not necessarily do so for a federal Constitution or one that smacks of federalism.

In the third place, the Pohottuwa, even with a disenfranchised Mahinda or Gotabaya, or especially with a victimized Mahinda or Gotabaya, will be a sufficiently powerful force to turn any referendum into a Super Brexit by the Sinhala voters.

What’s strange is that none of this need have happened. There were two other options. A new Constitution would have been possible if Mahinda and the JO had been given their legitimate place, the Opposition leadership, and round table negotiations taken place, chaired by the President, as he so successfully piloted the 19th amendment.

Why was this not done? Simply because Yahapalana biggies Ranil-Chandrika-Mangala not only wanted ethnic reform, which is fair enough, but were greedy and wanted Mahinda completely out of the way. More, they wanted their ally the TNA installed as part of the political architecture at the expense of the Southern democratic opposition.

This is the same kind of reason that made JR Jayewardene go for a referendum instead of a parliamentary election in December 1982. He wanted to knock out the ‘radical’ (‘Naxalite’) SLFP wing led by Vijaya Kumaratunga and to strengthen his ally Anura Bandaranaike. It took longer for JRJ’s adventurism to fail because the economy was growing, but fail it did. The equivalent Yahapalana gamble has imploded much earlier.

There was a second way to avoid the ethnic fiasco that the government is now faced with. That would have been to eschew the plan for a whole new constitution and to limit the effort to a more modest reform which would have required only a two thirds majority in parliament, with no referendum attached. With the new Constitution project taking heavy fire from the JO on the charge of federalism and being sniped at by the official SLFP for the effort to decapitate the executive Presidency, the UNP-TNA-CBK plan was coming apart even before the Feb 10th election.

So what remains of it today? The manifest extent of voter disaffection will make Mahinda and his Pohottuwa the center of gravity of non-UNP politics on the ground, at the level of the electorate, with three elections due in two years. The SLFP will go either with Mahinda or with the UNP, or stay with President Sirisena if he dumps the electorally radioactive Ranil. It is very likely that only a splinter of the SLFP will go with the UNP. Overall, the shift will be towards populism. This makes it wildly improbable that a new, non-unitary, quasi-federal Constitution can muster support even within the coalition government, should that government remain. After a setback on Feb 10th and with a Presidential election next year, the UNP itself will probably undergo a shift in a populist direction, away from its current cosmopolitan liberalism.

There is one move left to be made but the obvious question is why it wasn’t made before, and whether the same reasons would prevent it from being made. That is to negotiate with Mahinda Rajapaksa for an acceptable adjustment of the 13th amendment, i.e. to implement that which he indicated to the TNA in 2011, would be acceptable to him.

This move will probably not be attempted, and the real reason will reveal what’s real wrong here. What’s wrong is that (A) the Tamil politicians regard themselves as being way above and beyond the confines of the 13th amendment (B) their Western and Indian patrons and supporters are far too influenced by those Tamil politicians and community leaders in the Diaspora and Tamil Nadu, and (C) therefore the bar of ethno-constitutional reform is set far too high for any Sri Lankan government to comply with and survive electorally.

Thus, after February 10th, the utopian liberal ethnic reform agenda will be back to square one, awaiting the crafting of a common denominator based upon Realism. That, I’m afraid, will probably have to await the Presidential and Parliamentary elections of 2019-2020.     

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 9

    oh Dayan oh Dayan oh!
    Ethnic gamble by UNP and SLFP failed year after year after year for the last 70 years since independence .
    where have you been?

    • 4

      Dr D,

      Why ……the mighty rush? You have waited 60 years hoping for what, I don’t know ……….except for a few months in Geneva and a year in Paris, nothing much has come your way is 60 years; it seems luck is not on your side ……………

      So what is 4 more days …………we’ll all find out.

      I have change sides and am rooting for Mahinda now……………it’s going to be a landslide for him. The great man is still popular with the masses. You don’t need a weatherman to tell ye which way the wind is blowing.

      I’ve already applied for the sole white-van franchise ………….gonna do better than the Avant Gaurd monopoly ……….Gota is one dude who knows business………………

      • 2

        nimal fernando

        I think you have missed large part of his life.

        He was in hiding from JR
        He was with EPRLF (separatists)
        He was in India doing Clandestine work
        He was a minister in Varatharajaperumal’s now defunct merged North East Council (Now he opposes merger).
        He met JR, failed to proselytize, probably licked his boots, beg pardon, …. his father helped him in all these misadventure.
        He narrowly escaped his own burial at Borella Kanatte General Cemetery.
        He worked for R Preamadasa
        He became a war monger
        He refused to work for Chandrika
        He worked for Dr Mahinda Rajapaksa (LLD + PhD X 3) and a closet racist turning into a public racists.
        He is has transform himself a political astrologer.
        He is also a good student of Wimal Sangili Karuppan Weerawansa.
        He drops names
        He churns out million words a month.

        Every dog has his day.
        Please let him bide his time.

  • 1

    ”In the first place, a weakened ‘official’ SLFP is unlikely to run the suicidal risk of supporting a new …………………..……………………..Super Brexit by the Sinhala voters” Thero taking U Turn as all Thero’s past projections have gone through the roof, while massive UNP Victory predicted.
    Secret Solution is only a question of fourth or fifth thought, so we will not go there. But suddenly pushing it as number one, Thero is trying to establish the LG election’s only object is “YES/NO” referendum for Federal Devolution of power. Thero is taking off “Old King is establishing his desirability for Sinhala Buddhists than Ranil” from the equation as it flipped. (As per Thero, this election has no popularity contest of Old King, on which Thero has been banging all these time-Probably this could explaining why Old King staying out of any party affiliation) No Tamil or Muslim believe, either if UNP has all needed 2/3 or if SLFP supports to obtain 2/3, there is nothing in UNP to indicate that it likes to solve the ethnic problem. Neither UNP nor SLFP will be solving the ethnic problem irrelevant of they are winning or losing this LG election. That is the main reason that Tamils are asking for UNHRC and UN interference to investigate war crime and base a solution from that thereof. Thero, is here, herding cows and goats together only to confuse other analysts that if UNP is not solving the ethnic problem after the election, Old Royal could launch a came back that SLFP lost and that is why UNP did not solve the problem. This will help them to step more on SLFP’s back and plug more of its votes in the next election (If they decide to stay alone then too-but unlikely). Or alternatively, this is the precursor for that Blackmailing trying to bring the SLFP under Old Royal control, after election loss.

  • 1

    The real question of first thought is “did Ranil won or Old King won the LG election”. Understandably all political pundits going to add all the parties, other than Slap Party, together with Ranil and compare with Slap party and tell Ranil made a windfall margin victory. We will not do that. Our yard stick is 2015 election result Ratio 6.2:5.8 as Ranil to old King. If Old King satisfies this, he wins. (This is not an election victory, only a “no slip further” Contest in LG). If not he loses. In 2015, New King did not have any plus point for him. So whoever all voted for him did not mean to vote for him. But whoever voted for Old King was with him. So, as long as Old king is able to reach that ratio, he can contend that he won. It is hard to assign a ratio number for Ranil as he was not in the election. Further, in this, North East will be completely out here for UNP. West is split by Mano; up country by Thondaman; but not the Muslims. Though Muslim parties were with Old King in 2015, Muslim mass single mindedly voted to New King (i.e UNP). This is reason that Pundits are going to aggregate all in one side and Slap Party in one side. We cannot go with 2015 election percentages, For Old King side, it is extremely unfair r to expect GLP’s Slap Party winning 48% in this election. Further in and election “1+”: 1 is victory for “1+” candidate. But our conclusion is, in future, UNP will be seen as a Sinhala Party by Muslims, Western Province Tamils and upcountryers. Muslim parties are known to collude only with winning Sinhala party.

  • 1

    Further, as it is unlikely that TNA gets its Secret Solution within the next remaining time, it will not be able to join its Golliahs, the UNP, in the next election also. So, UNP will have to have its Sinhala Voters to claim it victory. So in our equation, we are dropping out the current SLFPyers, Muslims and Tamils to decide who won, in between Ranil and Old King.
    One has to understand the 19A’s relevance of this ratio or percentage, whatever one would like to use, to count the victory. If there is UNP wave, because of Unity Government, it is bound to spill into SLFP to. So this will split UNP votes to SLFP too. So a certain percentage of UNP wave will work inversely to limit UNP victory, but will contribute to Yahapalanaya victory. But certainly there is no GLP wave, so it is not going to help Old King’s number improving. Beyond this Unity Government Wave Effect, there is a way to inflict a serious damage to SLFP and UNP using the 19A in this election. That is all the Joint Comedy Club starting a real party scrapping GLP’s crappy patty. This will bring their number more than the SLFP number in the Parliament. Then the 19A unity government definition will fall. Many SLFP ministers will lose Ministerial jobs. That will make all SLFP ministers and members to join (most probably, not UNP, because singe party cannot provide minister jobs beyond 30 maximum), to the New Party. Unlike SWRD, who had bravely walked out of UNP only with an imbecile named, D. A. Rajapaksa in his, the cowardice Old King fears to test this hypothesis even with many able hands in his side. That could be because of “Once Bitten Twice Shy”; he does not to want to go for ride on 19A which he gambled on 18A.

  • 5


    Dayan was hiding behind EPRLF Pathmanaba’s bum when he was not engaged in clandestine work in India.

  • 1

    Tamil segregationist parties will be the biggest winners. Then they will lay the platform for separation.
    UNP WILL WIN first place. Your prediction of SLPP or Flower Bud or Pohottuwa is WRONG. They will come second. Sirisena and Haal and Rajarata Kudu Dumi brigade will be third amongst Sinhala areas.

  • 1

    Double digit percentage difference in UNP and SLPP voter percentages and UNP will win at least by 10%.

  • 0

    Dayan should write to national newspapers because they have a wider readership. With his gibberish even what support they have will then vanish. Daily a new article against the UNP shows that he is desperate. The only way Dayan can help MR is by being silent. By the way to call themselves JO there should be all opposition parties with them. TNA and JVP are not with them jointly having 20 seats in Prliament.

  • 2

    In other news: All the crooks join hands and sing in one voice:

    PM Ranil Wickremesinghe yesterday asked the political parties represented in Parliament whether they would support amending the Section 81 of the Constitution to deprive a person found guilty of serious crimes of his civic rights.

    “SLFP opposes move to scrap civic rights of politicians”
    “JVP won’t help deprive anyone of civic rights”

  • 0

    If one is found guilty by Court and sentenced over three months on a criminal charge he could be deprived of his Civic rights for 7 years I think ( Needs Legal Advise). The suggestion made by the commission is to deprive them on Civic rights forever , which I think should be done to get rid Rubbish Politicians. (GROBR). &5% of the present Politicians are not aware of this

  • 0

    Dr.Dsyan ,Sir ,I will still treat you with respect,based on reason of my personal views of you.

    But do you not think your Speculation is over the board ?

    Please keep in mind who is still holding the Sukan and he still has the majority in Parliament and a year to go ,please don’t speculate to much and don’t test the patience of a human being ,most humans are unaware the actual power and strength until you agitate them to a point of no choice and feeling threatened can make even the calmest man blow hell fire .

  • 1

    Bravo Dayan. Another incisive analysis!

    I am no longer willing to speculate on how my fellow countrymen will vote, except to say the JVP will not be a major factor.

    But take note of this, many have expressed their regret at voting for the most unprincipled and treacherous political gamble in the last presidential . With a common candidate running against the UPFA and siding with the arch rival party, many crossing, some doublecrossing, and how can we forget the attempt to hijack the constitution by appointing an executive prime minister?

    All I ask is that my fellow voters do not do something they regret, but 70 years of regretful elections and violence means I don’t expect much.

  • 0

    Either way, there is a long road ahead to Progress and for Sr Lanka to develop, or become developed country.

    I am willing to guess that the minorities will stay with President Sirisena who wields the most power here, in order to secure a better deal.

    Minorities plus some SLFP will vote for UPFA SLFP. That leaves swing voters as well as Nationalists to go for the Flower Bud and UNP die hards to go it alone with some minority support.

    So I guess : Flower Bud will be first, followed by UPFA.

    I could be wrong, interesting to see minority vote, it will be away from the cureent govr coalitions

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 7 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.