17 November, 2018

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WikiLeaks: “Race Is Neck And Neck” Rajapaksa’s Chief Pollster

“In a one to one meeting with Polchief, President Rajapaksa’s chief opinion pollster and close advisor Sunimal Fernando said their polling figures less than a week before the presidential election indicated the race statistically was a dead heat.” US ambassador Patricia A. Butenis wrote in a confidential cable to Washington.

Rajapaksa and chief opinion pollster and close advisor Sunimal Fernando

Rajapaksa and chief opinion pollster and close advisor Sunimal Fernando

Colombo Telegraph found the cable from Wikileaks database. It was classified as “CONFIDENTIAL” by the ambassador Butenis. The cable written in 22nd January, 2010, under the name “ RAJAPAKSA POLLSTER SAYS RACE IS NECK AND NECK”, further says “ undecided voters were at an unprecedented 17 percent, with six percent leaning toward Rajapaksa and eleven percent towards Fonseka. Fernando said the President was doing very poorly in the East, mainly due to the corruption issue, but surprising well in the North. In the Western region, which includes Colombo and its suburbs, Fonseka had been doing well in the city (75 to 25 percent) but recently had begun to slip following television interviews and Rajapaksa’s position was stronger in the Colombo suburbs.

Read the full cable;

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 COLOMBO 000047

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INSB

E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/22/2020
TAGS: PGOV PREL PREF PHUM PTER EAID MOPS CE
SUBJECT: RAJAPAKSA POLLSTER SAYS RACE IS NECK AND NECK

COLOMBO 00000047  001.2 OF 002

Classified By: AMBASSADOR PATRICIA A. BUTENIS.  REASONS: 1.4 (B, D)

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: President Rajapaksa's chief opinion pollster
told us their figures and those of the opposition all showed
the presidential election to be very close.  Undecided voters
were at an unprecedented 17 percent (six or seven percent
this close to the election date was more the norm), with six
percent leaning toward Rajapaksa and 11 percent toward
Fonseka.  Fernando said the president was doing poorly in the
East, mainly due to the corruption issue, but surprising well
in the North, where many Tamils were grateful to be free of
LTTE terror.  In Colombo and its environs, the president was
gaining on Fonseka.  Both candidates were jettisoning
negative messages and focusing on economic prosperity.
Fernando observed that election violence -- which he
attributed to both camps -- hurt Fonseka and helped Rajapaksa
because when voters got jittery they tended to stick with the
leader they knew, despite his faults.  END SUMMARY.
TOO CLOSE TO CALL
-----------------

¶2. (C) In a one-on-one meeting with PolChief, President
Rajapaksa's chief opinion pollster and close advisor Sunimal
Fernando said their polling figures less than a week before
the presidential election indicated the race statistically
was a dead heat.  Fernando said he was friends with the chief
pollsters for the UNP and for SLFP(M) leader and Fonseka
advisor Mangala Samaraweera, and that the polls of all three
-- which he claimed were the only reliable opinion polls in
the country -- indicated a close race, with the opposition
pollsters showing Fonseka slightly ahead and Fernando showing
Rajapaksa slightly ahead.

¶3. (C) Fernando was disappointed that his original plan to
query 25,000 voters nationwide had taken much longer than
anticipated, partly due to technical glitches.  "For 1.5
million rupees (about 14,000 USD) we could have had the
proper equipment," Fernando complained, "but those idiots
(running the president's campaign) turned it down."  The
delays in completing the survey meant that the results
stretched across different time periods and thus were
potentially inaccurate.  Nevertheless, he was confident that
his results were not far off from reality, particularly given
the overlap with opposition results.

REGIONAL DIFFERENCES SIGNIFICANT
--------------------------------

¶4. (C) Fernando said the president was doing "very poorly" in
the East but "surprisingly well" in the North -- both regions
with large Tamil populations.  He explained the difference as
due to different expectations and economic-development
levels.  The Tamils in the North had until recently been
terrorized by the LTTE and were grateful to be liberated.  In
the East, the war was a more distant memory and economic
questions overshadowed.  There were many road and other
development projects in the East, but many of the contracts
were going to firms from outside the region due to
corruption.  The locals liked the roads but resented the fact
that the contracts went to non-locals, and thus they were
anti-Rajapaksa.  With the North still a war-ravaged region,
such economic considerations did not come into play.
Moreover, Fernando argued that the Tamil National Alliance's
(TNA) announcement supporting Fonseka had backfired in the
North, where many Tamils believed the TNA and India used them
for their own purposes and did not really look out for their
interests.  Rajapaksa, at least, had eliminated LTTE terror.

¶5. (C) In the Western region, which includes Colombo and its
suburbs, the general had been doing very well in the city (75
to 25 percent) but recently had begun to slip following

COLOMBO 00000047  002.2 OF 002

television interviews.  Fernando said the general generally
spoke quite well but interspersed his remarks with extremely
crude attacks on Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, and
this coarseness turned off many Colombo sophisticates.
Fernando said his wife was a member of a "very snooty"
ladies' bonzai tree club that had earlier all been for
Fonseka but were now evenly split.

¶6. (C) Fernando said Rajapaksa's position was stronger in the
Colombo suburbs, home to many newly prosperous business
people who resented the snobbish attitude of the Colombo --
and generally UNP-leaning -- elite, were particularly strong
Buddhist-Sinhala, and had been JHU (Buddhist monk party)
supporters in the last election.

VIOLENCE HELPING RAJAPAKSA
--------------------------

¶7. (C) Interestingly, there was still a large segment of
undecided voters -- 17 percent (a more normal figure so close
to the election date would be six or seven percent).
Fernando said that about six percent of undecided voters were
leaning toward the president while 11 percent were leaning
toward Fonseka.  As the election approached, the campaigns
were adjusting their strategies.  Fonseka, he said, was
focusing less on Rajapaksa corruption, which many people saw
as mud-slinging, and more on a positive economic message.
Rajapaksa, too, was giving less time to patriotic themes --
which Fernando's polls said interested few voters -- and more
to his own economic-prosperity message.

¶8. (C) Fernando said that while the overall figures for
election violence -- which included trivial matters such as
ripping down opponents' posters -- were attributable more to
the ruling party, the serious figures on assaults and
killings could be attributed to both camps.  (NOTE: Our
impression is that while opposition forces have engaged in
serious violence, pro-Rajapaksa forces have probably been
engaging in it more.  END NOTE.)  Fernando argued that the
increase in serious violence by both camps was on balance
more detrimental to the Fonseka candidacy.  This was because
Fonseka was an unknown entity, and when people became rattled
by news of violence, they became nervous about change and
tended to stick with the leader they knew.  Moreover,
according to Fernando -- and we have heard this from other
supporters of the president -- many people were concerned
about the potential of Fonseka becoming a military dictator
if put in the position of president.

COMMENT
-------

¶9. (C) Fernando's reasoning that election violence helped
Rajapaksa is worrisome.  Fernando himself seems to us a
decent man and appeared to be offering this observation as
only that.  Others in the Rajapaksa camp, however, may take a
more pro-active view and very well may be stirring up
violence as a way to scare undecided voters to stick with the
devil they know, despite his faults.  We took the opportunity
of the meeting to pass on our concerns about violence, as
well as the importance of a free and fair election, and to
note that relations with the U.S. and the rest of the
international community could be affected adversely by an
election that went poorly.  We believe Fernando will pass
this message to the president.
BUTENIS
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Latest comments

  • 0
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    Computer Gilamrat!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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      Dear E.Commissioner, We suffer for more than 8 years for not being a backborn for you to stand against this brutalism. the future of you and your family may have protected. but you have thrown 22.24 millions lives into hell. we have feed you from our tax money for more than 40 years. is this the repay you have given for paople in this country.

      • 0
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        READ THE ARTICLE IDIOT!

      • 0
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        EC has worked many years after his retirement age, as such he is unable to handle pressure in this challenging job. Further, he could be a victim of so called VVIPS considering his age and gentleman qualities. Why government wanted to keep him in his position with repeated requests from him is highly suspicious and questionalbe. oh, this is the reason!

      • 0
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        You know what guys, you all should not blame this innocent man, because he was under the threat of MR, Basil and specially from Gota. When the second statement he publicly announced about the 2010 presidential election results his wife was kept at president house and was threatened him to go and make a statement to the public that the election results are true and there was no malpractices had been taken place. And also he was asked to withdraw his previous statement that he will not step into the EC office hereafter and will retire from the post of EC. Who does not think about his wife’s life at a situation like this and why should that innocent lady pay for this dirty things. That’s why he made that second announcement even without his consent. Then he was asked to stay in the post until the General Election is over. May be he was given some lump sum the way he (EC) acted according to their wishes, but I don’t know about that.

      • 0
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        There were serious breaches on the fateful day of the Presidential election:

        1) Election Commissioner was not at the election Secretariat at the time ballots were counted.

        2) According to the Swiss journalist she has seen Mr Basil Rajapakse at the secretariat.

        3) Counted results were sent via Email from the counting centres to the secretariat. (Not by fax signed by representatives of both candidates)

        4) Some centres carbon copy of the counting results were not given to the opposition party.

        If I understand the comments above it appears that EC was under some kind of pressure. Truth is like a rubber ball that is pressed under water. It will bounce to the top sooner or later. When it does, those who exerted such pressure on EC will be found naked in front of the whole world

      • 0
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        The EC knows exactly which side of the bread the butter is in and he played his game accordingly – so that a super-comfortable retirement is assured for him and the extended family.

      • 0
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        That Disanayake EC was nothing but a snivelling, backboneless , coward who has destroyed the future of this country.
        He will be cursed by future generations and his children may wish they had been killed on that fateful day, in the cause of bringing out the truth !
        This time is Mahinda Deshapriya??? he also same. he call to Basil – Basil Ayye, Basil Ayye. so this country is finish.

    • 0
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      Hey Lnkamithra, what Lali asked is related to the subject. don’t say Idiot to her/him

    • 0
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      Don’t insult the great victory done by MR….It is ridiculous,,still tellin about the computer gilmart..Close to the election SF behaved like a wild cat..main reason is that for his defeat….anyway MR was was ahead,,,,but gap was widened by SF’s gonpart..
      we really hate SF was in same stage with Mano Ganeshan and Rauf Hakeem,,,,Those are the people who help LTTE till last moment…And SF said Mahinda and Gotabaya nothing done for finishing war….even Navy Chief,,,Karannagoda….those comments made him a joker…
      At the beginning of the campaigne ,people having some ,,,,,confusion…but Fonseka’s gonpart talks(May be due to inexperience in politics) make MR’s victory.

  • 0
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    2005 Rajapaksa won on a less than 2 per cent majority. This time, the gap was more than 17 per cent and 2 million votes. how it happened. this cable shows even a less than a week what Mahinda’s position. so it is clearly rigging.

    • 0
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      If you have commited an injustice to poor sri lankans ,you will experience the consequenses as DittaDhamma Vedaneeya Kamma” .May be leukemia for your beloved once etc.Suffer and DIE.

  • 0
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    Wikileaks you are so fortunate. White wane can’t send behind you. But care full white plane will send Mahinda.. If it happens immediately contact KP. He will teach how to settle case

  • 0
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    Please read this part!! “Nevertheless, he was confident that his results were not far off from reality, particularly given the overlap with opposition results. “
    so they changed the strategy. the strategy was COMPUTER FREUD. :(

  • 0
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    oh dear dear. this is Basil!!!! Sunimal says ; ” In
    the East, the war was a more distant memory and economic
    questions overshadowed. There were many road and other
    development projects in the East, but many of the contracts
    were going to firms from outside the region due to
    corruption. “
    Basil the one who did /doing this. “Nagenahira Udanaya”. Mr 10%

  • 0
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    I agree Jayantha, it is about Basil. ( Mr 10 %) Sunimal said “There were many road and other
    development projects in the East, but many of the contracts were going to firms from outside the region due to
    corruption.”
    Thank you Mr Sunimal!!! you knew Basil is corrupt. thank you for informing US ambassador.

  • 0
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    That’s why they rigged the votes. 2million !!

  • 0
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    We wish more people come out and reveal the extent of corruption by the current administraton. The whole “conspiracy” theory is becoming a little old and most will be happy to gain some momentun from people-power.

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    Election commissioner, you have ruined the whole country, you are a liar. We only hope there will be fair justice on you by our legal system! Thota hena hatha gahapan me kala aparadayata. Thawath karapan.

  • 0
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    Ranil fool please please read this. Till Ranil in politics Sri Lankan will losse all the rights we got during last 2500 years. Go to UNO with this facts.

  • 0
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    If you can please publish this from all web site.and internationally.I cant understand why delay publish this story.

  • 0
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    Mr. Fernando is very experince postyer no doubt but he is not prophecy corruption is not only Srilanka every where in the world. Question is why US Ambassador involve Srilanka internal affairs.

  • 0
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    I am also really surprised when I saw the final result. Myself and my friend James Magrath (Deputy Campaign director of Australian Liberals, who also worked as a campaign strategist for Fonseka in this election) were talking about the situation and we know it will be a tight contest. PTI Reporter (Press Trust of India) friend personally told me that race is neck and neck according information he gathered inside govt source and Fonseka heading over Rajapaksa by 0.5%. We were really surprised when we saw the final result.

    • 0
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      All the SF’s advisors are from foreign country…You know the heart beat of Sri Lankan real villagers…they are the most dedicated for the victories in the country….so u can,t guest about the results from Austrailia….try to understand how real sri Lankan people thinks.

      • 0
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        I think you are wrong, pollsters know the type of strategy to find the pulse of the voters. We are just professorial campaign strategists. these guys hired to work in many election campaigns around the world for many presidential and general elections in many countries. James mastermind the Maldives President Nasheed’s victory as whole world knows about that. Even Sri Lanka president also hired a campaign team from India and they did the polls (It is an Australian hq firm). we are friends but working for different candidates. Today India has over 1000 million population (many village people )and polls never goes wrong and exit polls right after the election before the counting comes to media will correctly tell the final result. In a polls they take the sample of 1000 participants with the error of margin 3%. Every leaders in many countries hires well known strategist to run their campaign.

        Bell Pottinger runs PR for Sri Lanka. No one can deny that cause we have many friends in the top ranks of that firm.

  • 0
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    Another anti sri lankan web is born. Is it Sarath Fonseka gang, JVP or UNP I wondered.

  • 0
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    I love wikileaks, see, through that we come to know who leaks what. For me sunimal is an offender and a traiter because he shared the confidential facts that he obtained due to his possition. I dont think that he did this with the knowledge of the president for whom he works. I personally want to see every cable that has been sent over the years so that we can understand who real traitors are. Who really betray the country and it’s leaders.

  • 0
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    Tamils are happy they were liberated from LTTE . this is the only good thing you learn from this cable because that’s the only fact based on Patricia Butane observations. this so called sunimal fernando’s opinion is less trustworthy as he appears to be somebody hanging around embassies for living.(he cant be prseidents adviser if he gives in critical information so easily and loosely )

  • 0
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    Hey SOL, read this!!Sunimal and Mahinda and the prediction that came true; RELATIONSHIP: Sunimal Fernando has enjoyed a close and unbroken relationship with Mahinda Rajapaksa which now spans almost four decades.Starting as an older party colleague of the young and popular Member of Parliament from the Deep South his relationship with the future President has evolved and matured through the years to that of a trusted political aide and adviser. THIS IS DAILY NEWS man! :) read!
    http://www.dailynews.lk/2006/11/24/fea01.asp

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