Colombo Telegraph

What Did Sri Lankan Voters Just Say?

By Nilkamal Gunewardena

Nilkamal Gunewardena

Sri Lankan voters have given a mandate to UNP led UNFGG to continue with the Good Governance culture which was ushered in January 2015 and the party received 5,098,927 votes (45.66%) and UPFA 4,732,669 (42.38%) won 106 parliamentary seats and 95 respectively at the General Election held in August 2015, TNA received 515,963 (4.62%) and 16 seats JVP 543,944 (4.87%) and 6 seats in the 225 seat legislature. Decline in UPFA vote base at General Election 2015 from January 2015 Presidential election is in excess of 1 Mn. votes (18%). At the 2010 Parliamentary elections UPFA received 4,846,388 (60.3%) votes and 144 seats UNP 2,357,057 (29.34%) and 60 seats, MR was not a candidate at this election.

UPFA was unable to enhance its vote base from 2010 in-spite of registered voters increasing by 956,190 in 2015 and MR being a contestant. UNP led alliance more than doubled its share of votes (116%) in comparison with it’s General Election 2010 vote bank. This is a clear indication that people opted for a change that could provide sustainable economic development and durable peace.

Seven key Electoral Districts comprising Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara, Kandy, Kurunegala, Galle, Ratnapura elect 95 MPs out of 196 MPs and of them, the most strategically important Electoral Districts to influence the electoral outcome of a party at a General Election are Colombo, Gampaha and Kurunegala. Colombo and Gampaha Electoral Districts were won by UNFGG while Kurunegala was won by UPFA. Turnout at the elections was at a high level as 77.66 % of registered voters cast their votes in comparison with previous General Elections. (2010 – 61.26%) which indicates that the public interest in the outcome of the election was equally high.

The vote share for UPFA in 5 electoral districts namely Galle, Matara, Hambantota, Moneragala and Ratnapura exceeded 50% of valid votes as against the vote share for UNFGG in 7 electoral districts namely Colombo, Kandy, Matale, N’ Eliya, Puttalam, Polonnaruwa and Kegalle exceeded 50% of valid votes. Winning Margins of UPFA were considerably slashed at times by more than 20% in some electoral districts.

Extremist Elements in North & South promoting divisive politics based on ethnicity and religion have been trounced. Message conveyed by the voter is not to engage in divisive politics that divide people according religion, ethnicity, region or language as it disrupts social harmony and peace.

Election Commissioner, Police and other stakeholders were able to conduct the election in a peaceful, free and fair manner compared to elections in the past due to the prevailing Good Governance Culture.

Leader of UNP alliance asked people not be divided as winners and losers but to work together as one family and move away Confrontational Politics and to engage in Consensual Politics and thereby create a new political culture.

Postal Votes

Postal voters constitute defense force personnel, police and public servants involved in election duties and essential services during the election period. Majority of Postal votes were cast for the UNFGG and they won 13 electoral districts including Kurunegala and Moneragala, UPFA won 6 and TNA 3 electoral districts. The Postal Voters were strong supporters of MR in 2005 and 2010 elections. It appears that they have shifted allegiance to UNP led group in 2015.

Rejected Votes

We are a country with a high literacy rate. Therefore it is a cause of concern that 4.43% (2010 – 6.92%) of votes cast were rejected. Rejected votes in Southern Province were 2.51% and in the North & East was 6.75%. The highest reject percentage of 9.43% reported was in Vanni Electoral District. Matale, N’ Eliya & Puttalam too recorded reject percentages between 6% to 7.8%. The cause for high reject percentages of votes could be among others due to difficulties in marking preferences, lack of interest or as a symbol of protest.

UPFA conveyed the message to voters from election platforms and at media conferences that a UNP Government would be a threat to National Security as it supports Tamil separatism while the UNP accused the Rajapakse government of corruption and abuse of power during their term in office. Hence this election was a test of strength of the voters concern for Sinhala Nationalism against the concern for corruption and abuse of power.

MR’s policies other than those concerning military defeat of terrorism in the North was a cause of concern to the public due to the break down in law and order, rampant corruption, abuse of power, waste of public funds and nepotism. MR had two thirds majority in the parliament but he did not use it for the benefit of the country, he used it to scuttle democratic institutions and to remove his term limits.

Public have expressed their patience at slow progress of the probes launched to inquire into irregularities of the previous administration as they are aware of the political and institutional barriers faced by investigators.

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR) suffered his 2nd election defeat during this year which may ultimately herald his political demise.

AFP news item that was filed on 18th August 2015 reported that after conceding defeat MR said that dream to become the Prime Minister has faded away. During his campaign he said that he decided to contest the General Election at the request of the public who called over at his residence and those whom met at the various temples he visited. This implies that he had dreamt of becoming the Prime Minister and that was the reason for contesting and not essentially due to insistent the public demand.

President Sirisena (MS) was compelled to give nomination to MR to contest General Elections but he reiterated that MR will not be appointed PM even if the UPFA wins the General Election.

UPFA campaign was focused on getting MR elected and make him the Prime Minister after achieving a simple majority at the elections.

Media Landscape

State media was more balanced than previous elections. Private media ownership / management was heavily politicized favouring a particular party or candidates whom they wish to promote and thus attempting to influence the voters. One private electronic media channel which was a virulent critic of Ranil Wickremesinghe (RW) stopped attacks on him just before the election and then made a concerted attempt to influence public opinion by requesting voters to stay away from the General Election. High turnout of voters at the General Election is proof that all these attempts to influence public were not successful.

Preference Votes

RW received a record 500,566 preference votes. MR received 423,529 preference votes which is 89.3% of votes cast in the district for his party, which is a remarkable achievement.

UNP

UNP emerged as the only truly national party which had elected representatives in all electoral districts at the General Election 2015. Colombo Central, Colombo West and Colombo North constituencies provided 80% of the votes cast to UNP and trounced the opposition. These are areas with minority ethnic and religious groups. UNP won 106 seats 7 seats short of a working majority.

The electoral results reveal that majority of the people have placed their confidence on Good Governance which was clearly evident at the General Elections 2015 by the share of votes received. The change in political culture which was ushered after January elections was epitomized at the General Elections 2015, violence and violation of election laws, inaction by police and election authorities associated with previous elections were absent. It was proof that given the space to perform their duties our Police and Elections departments are capable of exceling in their roles.

S B Navinna, Rajitha, Champika, Arjuna Ranatunga & Hirunika contested from the UNFGG had they remained with UPFA they would have the suffered the same fate as Vijitha Wijyamuni Soysa , Jagath PushpaKumara, Mahinda Samarsinghe who supported MS but contested on the UPFA ticket.

UPFA

Loyalists of MR realized after his defeat at the Presidential poll that they will be marginalized without him and they could not politically survive as they depended totally on MR being a potent political force. They initially launched ‘Bring Back Mahinda‘ campaign in order to make him once again a prominent figure in Sri Lanka’s political landscape and it succeeded to some extent, drew large crowds and they launched ‘Lets Rise with Mahinda’ campaign to make him the Prime Ministerial candidate when the General Election was announced. MR’s loyalists assumed that MS won the Presidential election with Minority votes. MR claimed that the UPFA was confident of winning 117 seats.

Their assumption was based on a very simple formula. MS received 6.2 Mn votes at the Presidential Election 2015 with the support of TNA, JVP & DP which they assumed contributed about 1,300,000+ votes. They also assumed that the public was dissatisfied with interim government of Rainbow Alliance. These factors would result in significant erosion in the vote base of the UNP.

UPFA was also confident that the votes MR received of 5.7 Mn at the presidential election would be intact and perhaps grow at the General Election. Reality dawned on them only when election results were announced and they suffered an electoral debacle where their vote bank reduced by more than one million votes. It was a serious setback to Mahinda Loyalists.

General election became an internal battle within UPFA, MR loyalists Vs anti MR Groups and they lost sight of the common enemy.

UPFA managed to retain its vote base gained in 2010 to some extent, particularly in the southern and north central electoral districts, which suggests that they are a political force to reckon with their brand of nationalism and divisive policies based on ethnic and religious grounds.

At the General Election MR maneuvered to defeat contestants within the alliance who were against him. It is strange that voters supporting UPFA have elected Mahinda Loyalists with serious charges and questionable conduct (public have witnessed their conduct on TV), accused of murder, drug trafficking, bribery etc. in-spite of a civil society campaign not to elect such persons. Is this a reflection of the quality of the voter?

The degree of support garnered by MR & his UPFA loyalists signal that they are not a spent force and that they may be down but they are definitely not out.

JVP

Performance was disappointing. It appears that JVP has performed well in urban areas. JVP campaign strategy of exposing the corrupt acts and the abuse of power of MR regime may have cost them dearly. It appears that people listened to them and voted UNP to make their votes count.

JVP was not able to win a single seat in Galle, Matara, Anuradhapura and Kurunegala Electoral Districts. However was able to win a seat in each of the following districts Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara and Hambantota Electoral Districts.

Kurunegala Electoral District

Since MR opted to contest from this district which has the 3rd largest voter base all eyes were focused on the electoral outcome of this district. Apparently it had little or no impact. UPFA had elected 10 members to the Parliament in 2010 and UNP had 5. At the Presidential Election 2015 MR received 556,868 votes and won the district with a majority of 80,266. Majority was reduced to 32,849 at the General Election and UPFA polled only 474,124 votes. This district is acclaimed to be the region where most number of families of the securities forces reside. UPFA strategists were of the view that by focusing Eelam War would result favourably in tipping the scale on behalf UPFA at the Polls in this district. They were proved wrong. At the 2015 General Election number of UPFA members elected was reduced to 8 and UNP increased to 7. MR challenged RW to contest and beat him! It could be said that MR failed to stamp his authority in the newly adopted constituency and MR suffered his worst defeat.

Presidential Election 2015

UPFA supporters were of the opinion that MR lost the presidential election in 2015 due to votes cast by voters in the North & East. Especially Sinhalese Buddhists are of the view that their votes are more valuable than the votes of citizens in the North & East. It should be noted that a vote cast in the N & E or any other province has the same value in electing a president. There is no majority and minority distinction due to ethnicity of the voter as the person elected is the President of Sri Lanka.

There was a 956,190 increase in the number registered voters eligible to cast their votes in 2015 in comparison with 2010 elections and if N & E provinces are excluded the voter increase is 1,070,063. This signifies a decrease in registered voters at 2015 election in N & E of 113,873 which may be due to displaced persons and loss lives on account of the war.

At the Presidential Election in 2010 MR received 6,015,934 and SF received 4,173,185 resulting in a victory to MR by a majority of 1,842,749. MS had to bridge this gap and get more votes to win at the 2015 Presidential Elections. MR received 5,768,090 and MS 6,217,162 at Presidential Election in 2015 and thereby won the 2015 Presidential Election by a majority of 449,072 votes. MR polled 247,844 votes less than what he did at the 2010 Presidential Election.

It is interesting to note that though there was an increase of 1,070,063 registered voters in areas other than N & E which are MR’s strongholds, MR’s vote bank in these areas shrank by 226,043 in 2015 in comparison with 2010. MS increased his share of votes against what was received by SF in 2010 in provinces other than North & East Provinces by 1,636,933 and the increase in votes for MS in North & East was 407,044. Consequently MS polled 2,043,977 votes more than the votes polled by SF at the 2010 Presidential Election to win the 2015 Presidential Election. MR polled 5,670,713 in excluding North & East Provinces at the 2010 Presidential Election however at the 2015 Presidential Election his vote bank decreased by 226,223 votes in these areas and in the North & East by 21,621. Consequently this resulted in a swing of 2,291,821 from SF’s vote bank at 2010 Presidential Elections in favour of MS and against MR and thereby exceeding votes required to bridge the gap to overhaul the votes achieved by MR in 2010 against his rival.

Core constituency of MR’s vote base is the Sinhala Buddhists and the vote share in Moneragala district which is a stronghold of MR recorded a steady decline in 2015.This was the case in all districts with a Sinhala Buddhist majority.

Contribution to defeat MR at the Presidential Election 2015 from Provinces other than N & E was four times the contribution of voters North & East. It is the Sinhala Buddhists who voted out MR at the Presidential Election!

It is totally incorrect to state that votes of North & East was the cause of defeat of MR at the presidential election. It is a gross misrepresentation of facts.

MR could not garner sufficient votes from the new as well as the floating voters due to Corruption allegations, Abuse of power, Misuse of state media, Poor law and order situation, Lack of independence of judiciary, Wasteful public expenditure, which were significant factors that caused his downfall.

Factors that influenced election outcome unfavourable to UPFA;

  • Inability to attract new and floating votes due to the negative publicity created by the investigations launched on the irregularities and abuses of power, nepotism by MR and his loyalists.
  • Diminishing personal appeal of MR.
  • Antagonistic statements by speakers at election platforms and media conferences.
  • Alienating minority groups.
  • Inability to comprehend political realities and electoral trends without misrepresenting facts.
  • Lack of fresh faces at media conferences and election platforms

*Nilkamal Gunawardana is a retired financial professional

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