By Vishwamithra1984 –
“Close elections tend to break toward the challenger because undecided voters – having held out for so long against the incumbent – are by nature looking for change.” ~Ron Fournier
Once again the country or at least the Colombo social circuits are eagerly whispering about the ‘Common Candidate’ syndrome. I may be pardoned for calling this a syndrome as it is quite obvious that those who are intricately involved in the process and those who are waiting in the wings to wear the badge of the ‘Common Candidate’ are truly obsessed with the concept.
But what the reader must be made aware of is that a system that was introduced by the then leader of the United National Party (UNP), J R Jayewardene, as a constitutional mechanism to perpetuate itself in power for all time is now spelling its own decline, resulting in a decline in its voter banks and in its asset bases in manpower, cash and other ingredients which are essential for running a reasonably well-coordinated election campaign. As a result of this swift dwindling of assets, the UNP has reversed itself to play the role of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) of twenty plus years ago. This fundamental shift in status of the UNP has caused it to resort to the same tactics that the SLFP had to adopt then in the eighties and nineties- to assemble other political parties as a single opposing unit to challenge the incumbent and be its leader.
However, the composition and the policy content of the UNP are such that mustering the rest of the Opposition around itself is much more difficult for the UNP than it was for the SLFP. The UNP is a capitalist party; its economic policies are based on free market capitalism and liberal democratic values. And its representatives invariably came from that class of people against whom the vernacular-educated classes could be easily rounded up and motivated to oppose its policies, its representatives and its general approach to politics and power play. The leadership struggle that has got the UNP bogged down in the last few years is more a direct consequence of these external factors than any other internal dynamics. It is true that Ranil Wickremesinghe, the current leader of the UNP, is extremely unpopular among the majority of voters in Sri Lanka, especially among the Sinhalese Buddhists. But those in the Opposition who oppose the UNP leadership would still oppose it even if Ranil is not the leader. The opposition to acceptance of the UNP leadership mainly emanates from the Jathika Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and it’s quite understandable in the context of the UNP economic policies as well as its ruthless suppression of the terror campaign that was engineered by the JVP in the late eighties. But in the context of ‘regime change’ mere opposition to the Rajapaksa rule is not adequate.
Although the current President enjoys tremendous acceptance and popularity among the Sinhalese Buddhist majority in the country, he too must be mindful about the incumbent-fatigue factor that has set in among the voters. That alone, despite the ever-so vibrant personality that he portrays to the outer world, must be giving him many a sleepless night. However much the governing coalition tries to discard this incumbent-fatigue, it is proven all over the democratic world that it could spell disaster unless the incumbent is well-fortified against any and all opposition.
But first, let us look at some statistics:
Let us assume that there are only one hundred voters (100) and hundred valid votes would be cast at the next Presidential Elections. If the demographics hold valid, of the 100 votes, 74% would be Sinhalese Buddhists and the 26% would be the Tamil/Muslim minorities. Taking into account the extreme unpopularity of the Incumbent among this sector, the votes are likely to be distributed in the following manner:
Incumbent (MR) – 10%
Anti-Incumbent – 90%
I am basing this assumption on the manner in which voters behaved at the last Presidential and Provincial Council Elections. In 2010, at the Presidential Elections, General Fonseka obtained no less than 75% of the Tamil votes in the North and that was much before the last Provincial Council elections in the North. Since the last Presidential Elections, much has changed both in the field of racial relations as well as on the religious front. The emergence of the ultra-racist Bodhu Bala Sena (BBS) organization and its frontline speaker Galagodaaththe Gnanasara Thero, have driven the minority parties further away from the incumbent party. Aside from the Tamils who seem to have been sidelined as second-class citizens in the country, the open campaign of the mayhem that was brought upon the Muslim community that was run on a well-coordinated manner, has antagonized the Muslim community to such an extent that even a measly 10% vote might be interpreted as too much for the ruling powers.
Now, coming back to our calculations, 10% of 26 votes gives the Incumbent 3 votes while the balance 23 goes to the opponent.
Now let us look at the 74% of the Sinhalese Buddhist component. For the Incumbent to retain the Presidency, he has to obtain another 47 votes from the 74% of the total valid vote base. That amounts to 64% (sixty four percent) of the 74 votes. That, under any circumstances, is a very tall order. If the Incumbent, for example, gets only 63% or less, then he loses by getting only 3+46=49 or less, while the opponent will get 23+27=50 or more.
If anything, this simple mathematical calculation proves one premise. Defeating the incumbent is within the realm of possibility. Now let’s see what the incumbent has to do to obtain 50% + majority of votes:
- He has to see that he gets more than 10% of the non-Sinhalese Buddhist segment.
- He has to get more than 63% of the Sinhalese Buddhist vote.
- He has to improve on his overall 58% which he obtained in 2010 against General Fonseka. (However, this 58% is from the total of 100% while we have been dealing with another set of figures of 74% of the Sinhalese Buddhist vote. In other words, the incumbent has to obtain a much higher % in order to obtain 50%+ in the total poll))
Look at the 2010 results and how the incumbent fared:
Given the current dissatisfaction of the voter and the disillusionment that follows and if thus all the pieces fall into right slots, the Opposition has a fighting chance of displacing the Incumbent. There is no chance that the Incumbent would maintain the percentages that he obtained in the districts of Jaffna, Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Ampara and Colombo. But it is easier for the Opposition to lose than for the Incumbent to win or it is more difficult for the contender to win than for the incumbent to lose. In such a confused context, the essentials that the Opposition needs to do are much more difficult and only a shrewd leadership, patient bargaining and skillful negotiating could achieve that purpose. For the Opposition to have this fighting chance, both the JVP and the Democratic Party of General Fonseka must be on the same side of the fence. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaranatunge’s inclusion in the same coalition would only add further strength and above all, the UNP cannot be found in disarray as to who the Common Candidate is. Unleashing of Buddhist monks into the remote villages of the land on an unprecedented scale as was done during the 1956 Bandaranaike campaign needs to be done.
The Tamil National Alliance and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress must also contribute their best and look after their own districts and pockets quite closely. The half-hearted contributions from the UNP bigwigs as was evidenced at the last Presidential Election campaign cannot be tolerated. Then Venerable Sobhitha Thero’s mission may be accomplished. If not, we will inevitably be saddled with another plight of another term with the present Incumbent.