| by Upul Joseph Fernando

( October 17, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) By all indications, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, has all of a sudden got a great liking for the Northern Province (NP) Chief Minister, C.V. Wigneswaran. This could either be a political ploy, something he is very adept at, to drive a spanner into the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) machinery or an 'insurance policy' ensuring the support of the TNA at a future Presidential election.

There is no doubt Rajapaksa has learnt a valuable lesson from the just concluded Provincial Council elections – nationalism is no longer a vote-puller as it used to be. He declared Provincial Council elections at a time when there was vociferous opposition from two main nationalist parties in United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA), the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) and the National Freedom Front (NFF), towards the devolution of land and police powers to the Provinces, meaning the Northern Provincial Council (NPC).

Magic wand of ultra nationalism

At the very outset when elections were declared, Wimal Weerawansa threatened to pull out of the government if it went ahead and held the Provincial Council elections to the NPC without removing police and land powers.

Not to be outdone, the JHU also pulled out from the special Parliamentary Select Committee appointed by the government, to study and report on powers and functions of Provincial Councils, just before the elections. The land and police power issue was the main plank on which the JHU and the NFF based their campaign to win representation for their respective parties in the Provincial Councils, hopeful that the magic wand of ultra-nationalism would win them enough seats that would help them put pressure on the government.

At the 2010 Presidential Election, this clarion call of nationalist parties aligned to the government earned good dividends. They won in several electorates they contested with a significant vote count. But this time around, they failed miserably in their effort to draw the nationalist vote they thought was theirs for the taking. With the defeat of Prabhakaran and the end of the war, that nationalist magic wand has started losing its magical powers, much to the chagrin of the JHU and the NFF.

The TNA's election victory in the North, and Wigneswaran's ascent to the Chief Ministerial position, was considered by them to be another chance to reignite the waning nationalist fervour among the electorate. TNA's policy statement and Wigneswaran's adulation of Prabhakaran as a hero among the Tamil community, were considered the fuel they needed to stoke the nationalist fire again. It was with this renewed vigour that Champika Ranawaka demanded the government to arrest Wigneswaran prior to the election. But Rajapaksa and the UPFA did not use the Northern Provincial Council's land and police power issue, as a platform to win nationalists' support. If the electorate did not accept the government's policy of holding the Northern Province election without any change to land and police powers under the 13th Amendment, the JHU and the NFF would have got their candidates elected to the Councils they contested, delivering a message to Mahinda Rajapaksa and the UPFA. But they failed miserably, losing even the only seat Weerawansa's Party had won at the previous election in the Central Province.

Election results a telling blow

In another sense, this election was also important to the ultra-nationalist activists of the ilk of the Bodhu Bala Sena (BBS), as this was the first election the country faced after the wave of anti-Muslim activism stoked by religious bigots. Especially the JHU, which was the creative force behind the BBS, should have swept the entire Sinhala vote in predominantly Muslim constituencies. But sadly, for them, it was not to be.

This election result delivered a telling blow to nationalist activism and enriched Mahinda Rajapsaka with a new found wisdom, that nationalism and nationalist rhetoric cannot grant his wishes at the next Presidential Election. The lesson he learnt was that it would be more in his interest, where his political fortunes are concerned, to depend on the minority votes in the country.

Up to the 2005 Presidential election, it was felt with more or less certainty that, the minority vote at a Presidential Election was crucial to win the election with a 50+% vote. It was Rajapaksa who changed this myth by polling 50+ from the Sinhala electorates, with the active support of the JHU and the NFF. In 2010, it was repeated once again, with Rajapaksa securing a majority with the Sinhala vote alone.

Opportune moment

It should be noted that I predicted in a previous column in this series, that the TNA with an easy electoral victory in the North would change this pattern once again. It has now come true. This is the most opportune moment for the TNA to make a deal with Rajapaksa to obtain the full quota of devolved power under 13A+. Rajapaksa would like nothing better than to have a TNA-backed candidate at the next Presidential election.

Mahinda Rajapaksa knows well that even if TNA extends its support to him, the Tamil voters would not vote for him. But if the TNA could prevent the Tamil vote from going to a common candidate at the next Presidential Election, he would be a happy man.