“The actual vote on the 26th of January is perfectly within this ball-park of figures. So, why was the election victory such a surprise to many people? Why did our newspapers and pundits claim that there was a “neck and neck" range. Why was the issue hyped to a case of immanent regime change?”
By Gam Vaesiya
(January 31, Ontario - Canada , Sri Lanka Guardian) The results of the 2010 presidential election in Sri Lanka are depicted in the color-calibrated map shown here (courtesy: external link). The colours range from deep blue for Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR), to bright green for the opposition contender Sarath Fonseka (SF).
The vote in the North and the East
The strikingly large green areas are deceptive and demand attention. The green areas in the North and the East correspond roughly to the "exclusive Tamil homelands" claimed by the LTTE, and also by the TNA. The later spear-headed the Tamil supported for SF. However, although these green areas loom large in size, they merely added up to about 615,000 votes cast (see attached table). We have included tha nacient names of these regions to emphasize the historical connection of these areas to the rest of the country. The 615K vote from Jaffna, Trinco and Vanni combined is no more than one typical small area in the south, e.g., the Galle district!
Some commentators have claimed that the voter turn out in the North and east is only 20% of the listed voters. However, the voter lists do not reflect the current situation in these areas. The 158,000 votes in 2010, from the Jaffna district, of which nearly 50,000 went tp Rajapaksa, compare well with the 130,000 or so that the TNA polled in the post 2000 elections. Then the TNA members were the only candidates allowed by the LTTE. If the actual resident numbers and voting patterns in Jaffna during past elections (1994, 3.0 %, 1999, 19%, 2005, 0% -under LTTE boycott) are considered, the turn out in the North and East in effectively at the 40-50% level.
Modeling the voting using previous polling data
In Sri Lanka there had been recent provincial polls in most parts of the country. We could attempt to use those data, under the zeroth order assumption that the voters hold onto their basic allegiances, to make a prediction of the outcome of the 2010 presidential election. Such a calculation, using linear response estimates and the provincial-elections data base yield a 61% vote in favour of Mahinda Rajapaksa, with an error margin of plus or minus 4% depending on how the math is done (more technical details will be published
The actual vote on the 26th of January is perfectly within this ball-park of
figures. So, why was the election victory such a surprise to many people? Why
did our newspapers and pundits claim that there was a "neck and neck" range. Why was the issue hyped to a case of immanent regime change?
Rarajpaksa's bid for a second term
The incumbent president had successfully, in 3 years, brought to an end a very expensive war which had dragged on for 30 years. If he were a commission wallah, bent on making money and business, surely his game plane should have been to join up with the Western and Eastern arms dealers, mercantile groups etc., and milk the war for as long as he could! The war-based economy, with its patterns of self-serving NGOs, human-rights vendors, as well as western diplomats using the troubled waters to make a name for themselves, would have all become friends of the regime. Rajapaksa came in with a weak minority government. Instead of following the clear cut path well-trodden by his predecessors, Mahinda Rajapaksa undertook a path which was declared to be utter folly by all the experts, military and civil. An Indian expert claimed that Killiniochchi (Giraanika of ancient times) will become Rajapaksa's Stalingrad. The political opposition satraized that Rajapaksa had confused Alimankada (Elephant Pass) with Pamankada (a suburb of Colombo). However, defying enormous military odds, and enacting parliamentary stratagems based on splitting the opposition using pork-barrel tactics, recreating new foreign friends to defend himself against western interest groups, Rajapaksa and his team played a dizzying game that would have been the envy of any politician faced with such enormous odds.
And yet, the Colombo mercantile class as well as their commentators whose sentiments and sympathies are more well attuned to the interests of western capitals were utterly unimpressed. In their view, Rajapaksa should not have pursued a war against Prabhakaran, irrespective of his crimes against his own Tamils, and against the Sinhalese and Muslims. They are utterly uninterested in the nationalist agenda of the Rajapaksa program. In their view, they are better equipped to push the mercantile agenda of the west in Sri Lanka. Ranil Wickremasingha and the TNA both belong to the essentially right wing, elitist, westernized mercantile class of the country. Clearly understanding that they have no political strength in the country, they needed a disguise to appear in the nationalist garb that has become popular in the Country as a reaction to the secessionist war. They succeeded in recruiting a disgruntled army commander as their front man for the election. Thus the Green regions of the map, showing the voter pattern in many of the urban centers (Colombo, Kandy, Galle) should not be interpreted as a pro-LTTE vote.
It should be interpreted as a pro-western, pro-market vote, directed by those
market players who lost their profiteering enterprises to a new, more nationalist regime. They gambled on the hope that Sarath Fonseka might be able to sway enough voters to their side, to create a "neck-to-neck" race. If the race had indeed been neck to neck, they expected that the resulting mayhem would benefit their future political and mercantile agenda.
This simply did not happen. Unlike in the west, there are no "undecided votes" among the Sri Lankan voters. Indeed, after a very emotional war, it is completely foolish to expect that there would be any significant undecided votes.
The results of the 26th January election, and the agreement with the predictions of our zeroth order mathematical model, confirm that the Sinhalese voted as they normally would, while the Tamils also did what they have done for decades, i.e,
follow their leaders.
The enormous new emergent factor.
However, there is an enormous difference in this election. For the first time in
decades, a Sinhalese leader has garnered 30% of the Tamil votes in the so called
"exclusive Tamil homelands", just a few months after a very emotional and horrific war. This giant first step will become an even bigger reality when all parts of Sri Lanka are more effectively connected by fast rail networks and other communication lines. Sri Lanka is a small country which can be fitted easily between Boston and New York. Modern IT technology can solve the political Gordian knot of language and geographic isolation that had plagued previous generations. A Tamil trader speaking in Tamil on his cell phone to a Sinhalese trader in Colombo or Galle can each converse in their own languages, while the voice chip will do the language translation. A Tamil can live in Mullaitive (Mooladoova) and yet commute to Colombo on a fast bullet train moving at 200 km per hour. It is not divisive constitutional bickering over the 13th amendment etc., that will solve the problems of Sri Lanka. What is needed is the jettisoning of those old oddities and going forward to a new world where very basic priorities hold. These priorities are universal human priorities of jobs, education, health, justice and human dignity which are the same for Sinhalese or Tamils. There is an excellent chance that Rajapaksa may succeed in delivers those objectives, and the voters may well have chosen very wisely.