“President Rajapaksa’s chief opinion pollster – who is a good contact of the embassy on other issues – shared with us the first findings from their initial survey. These initial responses indicated that potential voters had little interest in the symbolic issues” US Embassy Colombo informed Washington.
The Colombo Telegraph found the leaked cable from the Wikileak database. The cable classified as “CONFIDENTIAL” and signed by the US Ambassador to Colombo Patricia A. Butenis on December 26, 2009.
The cable recounts details of a meeting US Ambassador to Colombo has had with President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s chief pollster and his close advisor Sunimal Fernando. Under the subheading “PRESIDENTIAL POLLSTER SURPRISED BY GOOD FIGURS” the ambassador wrote “Only about 10% cared about the president’s creation of a ‘patriotic society’ after the war or his willingness to stand tall against the west. Also, many voters saw the Rajapksa family as corrupt (85%) and the president himself as corrupt (80%). Despite all his faults, the pollster claimed, many voters still saw Rajapkasa as a man of action and a man of his word and would vote for him over Fonseka.”
Placing a comment she wrote “the pollster prides himself on being one of the few figures in the president’s circle who gives him objective information and is not a yes – man… we find interesting the very high negatives for the president on corruption and apparent lack of voter interest in Rajapaksa’s standard patriotic issues, which could eat away at the president’s positive figures as the campaign progresses”
Read the full cable
C O N F I D E N T I A L COLOMBO 001145 C O R R E C T E D COPY - ADDED PASSING INSTRUCTIONS SIPDIS DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INSB RELEASABLE TO: UK, CANADA, AUSTRALIA, SWITZERLAND E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/15/2019 TAGS: PGOV PREL PREF PHUM PTER EAID MOPS CE SUBJECT: SRI LANKA: ELECTIONS UPDATE NO.2 Classified By: AMBASSADOR PATRICIA A. BUTENIS. REASONS: 1.4 (B, D) FORMER CHIEF JUSTICE APPEARS TO SUPPORT FONSEKA --------------------------------------------- -- ¶1. (C) Former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva spoke at an event organized by UNF member Mangala Samaraweera on December 15, criticizing the concentration of powers developed through the executive presidency under Mahinda Rajapaksa. Fonseka was a "surprise" guest at the event, and local media published photos on December 16 of Silva shaking hands with him. Some observers have said Silva is a possible pick for the office of prime minister if Fonseka were to win the election. PRESIDENTIAL POLLSTER SURPRISED BY GOOD FIGURES --------------------------------------------- -- ¶2. (C) President Rajapaksa's chief opinion pollster -- who is a good contact of the embassy on other issues -- shared with us the first findings from their initial survey. Admitting that he earlier believed the contest was going to be very tight, the pollster told us he was surprised at how well the president appeared to be doing. 1,000 responses had come back for the Central Province (a total of 25,000 responses would eventually be received from the entire island). These initial responses indicated that potential voters had little interest in the symbolic issues. Only about 10 percent cared about the president's creation of a "patriotic society" after the war or his willingness to stand tall against the West. Also, many voters saw the Rajapaksa family as corrupt (85 percent) and the president himself as corrupt (80 percent). Despite all his faults, the pollster claimed, many voters still saw Rajapaksa as a man of action and a man of his word and would vote for him over Fonseka. The figures showed Sinhala voters preferring the president over Fonseka 83 to 17 percent; Tamils 65 to 35 percent; and Muslims 60 to 40 percent. As the pollster put it, "voters seem to prefer the tested man, with all his faults." He said he was at first reluctant to share the data with the president because it seemed too good to be true. ¶3. (C) The campaign had hired a small Indian firm that specializes in high-tech paperless surveys. Surveyors were sent to selected respondees with cell-phone-based electronic devices, which also had GPS components. The latter allowed the pollsters to track where the surveyors were at any given time and to ensure that the surveys were, in fact, being done properly. For example, each survey should take 18 minutes. If a surveyor was in a house for 12 minutes or less, he was not paid and that household was removed from the sample. ¶4. (C) COMMENT: The pollster prides himself on being one of the few figures in the president's circle who gives him objective information and is not a yes-man. He said he understood these figures were preliminary and that anything could happen between now and January 26. He does not appear to be trying to mislead us but he could still be falling victim to wish-fulfillment group-think within the president's circle. We find interesting the very high negatives for the president on corruption and the apparent lack of voter interest in Rajapaksa's standard patriotic issues, which could eat away at the president's positive figures as the campaign progresses. END COMMENT. BUTENIS
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