Did God speak through the People? - Sri Lanka Guardian

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Monday, February 1, 2010

Did God speak through the People?

Sri Lankan politicians must rise above petty racial politics. Unfortunately one main candidate came into separate agreements with Tamil, Muslim and Sinhala race based parties.
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By Thomas Johnpulle

(February 01, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) This election was the most keenly contested election in Sri Lanka but the result was quite boring. It is said that God speak through people. Ten million adults out of fourteen million cannot be wrong. The combined decision of them is clear for all to see. There are many myths about this election and as it is with all myths, truth does not add up with them. Understanding these myths help get better prepared for the outcome and better strategize for a win in the future. Voting was not confined to facebook and those who emerged victorious in the cyberspace stays within cyberspace! Yet most internet based polls said the incumbent would win; their victory margin varied.

However, some analysts who are divorced from stubborn ground realities expected the reverse. Unable to come to terms with the reality, they jump to the conclusion that the vote was rigged. This is a hilarious assumption. If the ruling party wanted to rig the vote, they would do so in the North and the East. That would give them a triple advantage. Firstly, the voters’ turnout will look good and indications of vote rigging will be hidden in the low actual turnout. Secondly, it will drag the attention of the international community and the international community will be pleased to see the incumbent has won the faith of Tamils! Thirdly, ethnic polarization we saw at this election would not be visible.

Further, if the vote was rigged, total voters turnout cannot be 74% as it is about the same last time. In the case of a rigged vote, turnout percentage should rise to ridiculous levels.

The Nationalist camp was never divided

This was explained in a previous article (Please find it here ). If the Provincial Council Elections are compared against the Presidential Election, this fact can be clearly seen. Some commentators assumed that the large number of absent voters at PC elections comprised only UNPers and they would en masse vote for Fonseka. They are 60%-66% correct. Among the absentees were 60%-66% UNPers and 34%-40% SLFPers. Two key districts are analysed below.
Good reasons were cited for voters to reject all the contestants at the provincial council elections but they made a choice at the presidential poll.

Although there is a big drop in the percentage of votes the Mahinda camp obtained, it still was sufficient to hold on to the lead.

The truth about the Jaffna vote

Many mythical assumptions were made about the Jaffna vote. With over 750,000 registered voters and very strong polarization, these false assumptions asserted that it can tilt the scales along with Vanni and Batticaloa. The truth is that the Jaffna voters register is highly exaggerated. It contains a large number of persons who have either migrated out of the country or have internally migrated to Sinhala majority areas. Security forces carried out a census in Jaffna in 2007 and according to that the total population (including children) of Jaffna district was only 550,000. After the war intensified in the North in 2008 and 2009, a very large number of people left the North altogether. Going by the national average, this means only 350,000 true voters. In other words, if the true number of registered voters who are actually living in Jaffna was taken into account, the voters’ turnout in Jaffna would be close to 55%. It was calculated to be 26% based on a highly inflated denominator.

Such a relatively small number of votes cannot tilt the scales even with the combination of votes from the whole North East unless the hype that was seen just a couple of months ago at provincial council elections was totally annulled.

The silent majority

It is true most artistes, especially the popular ones, supported one camp this time. It is also true that a large value of public property was used for the election campaign. However, these eclipsed the strength of the silent majority. The vast majority of Sri Lankans keeps away from campaigning, rallies and other election related activities. Therefore election outcome cannot be predicted based on the turnout at political rallies. A political party with a stranglehold on unemployed graduates and trade unions mobilized them right throughout the country. Election violence that was trumpeted all over the media didn’t deter them at all. This showed a very rosy picture of their election rallies. In a clear display of this strategy a top politician of this party from the Gampaha district was detained in Vavuniya, more than 200 kilometres away from Gampaha on the election day along with a large number of unemployed youth.

Tamil National Alliance (TNA) was not very active in campaigning but little campaigning achieved remarkable success. Their rallies only attracted a few thousands but hundreds of thousands of voters supported them at the election. It is another case of the silent majority in the North and the East. Heavyweights were all on the government side in Nuwara Eliya, but the silent majority of that district voted the other side.

There is a group of people who used to miss out on elections as they are duty bound on the election day at every election. Armed forces personnel are particularly important in this regard given their numbers. This time a higher number of them registered themselves for postal voting. Postal voting is a truly silent affair and it was sizable.

A Toothless Elections Commissioner

The Elections Commissioner did a commendable job. All those who wish to see democracy remaining in Sri Lanka must facilitate him. However, he could not do his duties, completely, due to severe restriction of his powers. This must be rectified appropriately. It is not just about the ruling party abusing state resources. It should also cover the ability to ban opposition parties accepting money from international sources under various alleged agreements that are harmful to Sri Lanka.

Above all, the relevance of the executive presidency must be reassessed. Most intellectuals are of the view that it is not relevant to Sri Lanka. Instead of curtailing powers, it should be totally scrapped while empowering the electorate. When stakes are not as high as in the case of the all powerful executive president; electoral battles of the electorate will be much less intense. Half hearted solutions and visibly “independent” committees or commissions cannot resolve this as time and time again it has been proven that there are no “independent” persons in Sri Lanka, especially among those who are willing to take part in the political process.

Holding elections at the correct time is another definite requirement. Undue elections not only cost billions, but also twist the outcome of those elections and subsequent elections.

Sri Lankan politicians must rise above petty racial politics. Unfortunately one main candidate came into separate agreements with Tamil, Muslim and Sinhala race based parties. These agreements were exclusively for the betterment of these individual racial groups only, and to the detriment of others. Race should not be used as a political bargaining tool. Instead it is the nation that should be at the heart of political choices. Nation includes people of all races without emphasizing racial demarcations. Wasn’t the US election held this way?

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