By Kumar David –
Local government (LG) elections should focus on neighbourhood issues and choose robust local candidates. But in over politicised Sri Lanka a national political tsunami has taken over; I have no choice but to follow. To be honest it’s turning out to be an fascinating tournament. The three gladiators in do-or-die battle are Sirisena, Mahinda and Ranil. MR seems hell bent on turning the LG polls into a litmus-test on himself, his fame, and his urge to make a magical comeback. Poroppaya is an enigma; if it fails to come on top in the Sinhala-Budddhist heartland and score big in the South and Ratnapura, Kalutara, Gampaha and Kurunegala districts, the come-back kid is doomed. MR must be amazingly confident of a sweeping victory outside Colombo, Upcountry and Western Seaboard to take this all or nothing risk. His portrait is on every poroppaya billboard, he beams like a benevolent deity behind every candidate’s mugshot, and he shoots for the moon from every platform.
For the yahapalana duo it’s a referendum; or rather two referenda as the two are put to test against different charge sheets. The charge against Ranil is that on his watch the economy buckled and that he is tarnished by the Arjuna Mahendran episode, alias bond scam. It is also said that he surrounds himself with clueless elitist advisors. Friend and foe alike say he has blundered; true or false, that impression has gotten around. When yahapalana boobs, Ranil gets the blame; the one triumph on its scorecard – restoration of democracy – Maithri scoops up the lion’s share of the kudos.
Both have been eviscerated, skinned alive, in the court of public opinion for shielding crooks, corrupt politicos and murders of the old regime and Paksa family. Muslims and middle-classes are livid at the cover-up of Thajudeen’s murder. Wikipedia [wikipedia.org/wiki/Wasim_Thajudeen] read worldwide is distressing. The complicity of apex leaders in coverups is taken as given even by lay UNPers and SLFPers. The Paksas were slick at sleaze, this lot is sloppy. Furthermore, the Paksas were reputed to be resolute doers, the yahapalana leaders are written-off as inept underachievers.
It is said that folks outside cities are less bothered about the whitewash of criminals. Paksas don’t want the whitewash mentioned for obvious reasons; the UNP and Sirisena try to pass the buck to each other. Neither wants attention drawn to their leader’s impotence. What then are the issues which will influence rural and suburban votes?
- Mahinda Rajapaksa’s image as a redoubtable champion of the race still has an effect. Lightly concealed racial animosity is present all the time in Sri Lanka; shameful but true.
- MR and JO are enjoying a field day blasting scams and blunders attributed to yahapalana.
- Ranil is making belated claims that the economy is picking up; can he sell it? Positive data is very recent (GDP growth 5% and exports up by 11% in 2017, likely primary budget surplus in 2018; but debt keeps climbing).
- Sirisena claims to have awoken to the cancer of corruption and says he is sharpening his much-rusted scalpel to excise the malignancy. In desperation he gambles this way and that.
My guess of which stories are selling is: Story (a) is selling to people already prone to that way of thinking; indirectly it affects people fed up with yahapalana’s cover-up of pre-2015 criminals. My grassroots contacts reckon a swing to MR is visible for reason (b). There is a trend to abstain among disillusioned UNP voters. Story (c) per se is not selling yet, but see my next point, it’s significant. People find (d) funny; when did this joker wake up? Aren’t many of his SLFP Ministers corrupt? The latest throw of the dice is that 96 rejuvenated, reunited, reborn SLFPers will rally round the President and form a government. Seriously, this guy is hallucinating!
I have a different perspective on how the economy is likely to influence the UNP vote. The standard gaatha that all chant is: “The cost of living is skyrocketing”; “The economy is down in the dumps”. This obligatory political catechism, is not 100% accurate. There is some money in people’s pockets and in circulation, even the lower-middle and working classes. Be observent and you will see that except for the poorest, there is spending. Data from banks and card companies bear this out.
Interest rates are down, signifying liquidity in the market and confidence in exchange rate stability. Fly-by-night interest rates for the aged are down from 15% to 12%. The analytical faculties and pocket-books of retirees are hard-wired together! My wallet says that prices did not rise by a large amount last year. Inflation stats confirm that the point-to-point 12-month inflation rate has declined slightly. Employment is stable; the common complaint is shortage of labour, not lack of jobs – 500,000 unfillable vacancies in 2017 the Statistics Department reckons. The simple voter does not follow statistics, but he does notice the size of the crumbs that drop on to his platter.
For these reasons my sneaky hunch is that voters won’t punish the UNP as badly as expected on cost of living concerns. The UNP is more likely to suffer setbacks on item (b). Rajapaksa is blasting away at the bond scam, incompetence, bungling and infighting, not economic issues.
Next consider if the UNP suffers a big defeat. Will Ranil have to go as PM and UNP leader even if the yapahalanaya government continues? LG polls change nothing in Parliament, but realpolitik is another matter. If, for speculations sake, Ranil goes, who will take over? Three names will be in the hat – Karu, Sajith and Mangala. Mangala is modern and forward thinking and it will be in the interests of the UNP, as well as others, if the country’s main bourgeois party chooses a bold and progressive liberal as its leader.
It is taken for granted that Maithri’s SLFP, bulath kolaya and atha together, will be third; not a calamity if it holds Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa Districts and poroppaya can’t push it to deposit-forfeiting third elsewhere. Come mid-February what Prez will do cannot be predicted; another enigma that depends on the precise fallout. Though nothing changes in Parliament the LG test foretells the future. Maithri cannot quickly form a government with Mahinda’s bunch; it is not easy to entice 20+ UNPers, uncouth unconscionable creeps though they be, into a JO-Maithri line up. Even if LG results are bad for the UNP and SLFP, I don’t expect a big change; yahapalana will chug on till 2020.
I will conclude with a wish list. I hope voters give the three main parties and their leaders bloody noses. I wish the Sinhalese grow up and reject the chauvinism of JO and Mahinda. The bogus anti-corruption crusader, Sirisena, recently awoken from deep sleep deserves a kick in his NCP butt. Thirdly, I wish an electorate, infuriated with UNP bungling, will open the door for the ULF, JVP and CP to win seats. It will, of course, be exhilarating if Bahu is elected in Colombo.
Compensatory Proportional Representation (CPR): An example
This table is hypothetical. It illustrates, to the best of my understanding, the CPR system to be used for the first time on 10 February. (If I have got anything wrong, shame on the Authorities for not publicising a full and better explanation). I use a big city of 100 seats; 60% First Past the Post (FPP) and 40% Proportional Representation (PR).
The first two data-columns hypothesise electoral outcomes. Now please follow along the first row. Assume Jumbo wins 49 FPP seats and obtains 60% of the total votes. A Non-CPR system will allocate Jumbo 60% of the 40 PR seats (that is 24). It would then have 73 (49+24) in the Council. You can work out the other rows similarly.
CPR calculation is simpler, you start the other way around; the total seats allocated to a party is in direct proportion to its total poll. Hence the second and fifth number-columns are the same (except rounding). FPP seats are, of course, guaranteed to each winner. After that Jumbo, for example, is allocated 60% of the total of 100 seats; that is 60 seats and therefore gets only 11 PR seats.
Observe the substantial difference between the fourth and fifth number-columns – Total seats. The beneficiaries under CPR are list-candidates of parties that don’t get many FPP seats but rustle up a decent total poll (Blossom, Beetle and one for Bell). Such seats are filled strictly in the order in which they were declared on the party list. Sometimes due to rounding, in either system, the total in the Council may exceed the nominal number (100 in this example). This can be more pronounced in CPR. The excess is approved and called an “overhang”.