| by Muheed Jeeran
Views expressed in this article are author own
(April 4, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Finally the two provincial council elections are over! Winning candidates are celebrating their election victory and some political parties are celebrating the increase in their voter base.
UPFA leaders are stating that the people are with them and they have sent a clear message to the opposition and international community again. However, I am sure UPFA leader Mahinda Rajapaksa is a worried man, after reading the recently concluded election results. He knows he won the election with a landslide, but the results are showing that his power-base is gradually decreasing. It is clear that he has lost his war victory slogan which is the main trump card he had for the past five years to bamboozle the opposition parties in past elections.
The ruling regime campaigned heavily by highlighting the UNHRC resolution as the major subject in their election campaign and urged people to vote for them to send a clear signal to the International Community. But clearly, the majority of voters ignored that plea and don’t give a damn for this regime. Clearly the voters instead of sending a strong message to the world, sent a crystal clear message to Rajapaksa and his regime about the rising cost of living and other national issues he has failed to resolve.
After analysing the final results of the two recently concluded provincial council election, almost 34% of the registered voters abstained from voting. Of these 34% absentee voters, which is equivalent to nearly two million votes, there are voters who might be working as expatriates in foreign countries which I assume is not more than 15%.
Nowadays fraudulent voter registration is not that easy. In past decades, fraudulent voter registration was practiced by extreme supporters of the political parties. However, recent policies by the Elections Commission to deter that type of fraud is very successful. Therefore it is clear that at least 20% of the registered voters have refrained from voting.
Some citizens who refrained from voting have lost their faith in this regime and also they see that there is no strong opposition. On the other hand, some are not interested in voting as they think this is a local election and not very important to them. They have reasons to stay away. But, it’s important to know that the majority have ignored Rajapaksa’s plea based, on his so called “Electric Chair” theory.
As we know, only 34% of the registered voters have cast their ballot in favour of the ruling UPFA party. Also the president failed to maintain his popularity when compared with the last Western and Southern provincial council elections back in 2009. The last Western Provincial Council election held just one month before the war ended and the Southern Province election was held five months after the war victory. Definitely, he was riding on a high at the time and delivered excellent results in those two elections. So clearly these recent election results have given him more worries than the joy of celebration!
In order to garner the votes from floating voters you need innovative and constructive campaign strategies. Floating voters are the decision makers, however they normally don’t exercise their votes in local elections but primarily cast their votes at national elections. Increasingly, it looks like they may stay away from the future national elections as they don’t see a sense of hope from the ruling regime or opposition parties. Unfortunately, at the moment they don’t see any prospects from either side. Chances are high nonetheless, for the oppositions to show the people something positive and constructive in order to get them into the polling centers.
Political leaders always spin the final outcome with different types of theories, rather than accepting their defeat or loss of their popularity. The ruling UPFA regime is stating that they won a landslide and the opposition says that higher abstentions from voting means it’s a vote against the ruling regime. So both sides are not willing to accept a reality which is quite clear. In order to trigger the minds of floating voters into deciding who is the best alternative to govern them in the future, they must see some positive outcome in the recently concluded provincial election results.
Suppose the major opposition parties had formed a United Opposition Alliance prior to this recently concluded provincial election, floating voters would have witnessed the final results as a tight race between the ruling UPFA and the United Opposition Alliance. This would trigger their decision making mind positively and they may take interest in sliding towards an opposition alliance in any future national elections.
Nevertheless, it’s clear Rajapaksa’s regime has received a warning message while the opposition received a positive sign from the voters. Now, it seems the voters are slowly sliding to the opposition side and they want the opposition to become stronger and provide an alternative to this regime. However, if the opposition wants to become the real alternative government in the near future, they must change their stance to attract absent voters and especially the floating voters.
Unity and team work are the two most important pillars that should be adopted by the opposition. The United National Party is the grand old party of this country and the main political party of the opposition side. The UNP still has a considerable voter base, though the party is failing to provide a proper alternative party leader to challenge Rajapaksa.
The UNP can play a major role in a regime change with the alliance of all the other opposition political parties and especially the JVP, the newly formed Democratic Party and other ethnic minority political parties in Sri Lanka. Therefore, they must brace themselves to form a United Opposition Alliance by negotiating with all the political parties which are ready to support democracy and implement good governance. However before this move, they must set their own house in order.
Today the United National Party can be seen as ‘Disunited’ National Party in the eyes of the public and their grass root supporters. That is the crystal clear truth, though their leaders always refute such claims whenever the media raises a question about their internal issues. UNP seniors must accept the fact that the people are fully aware of their party’s current position. Therefore rather than spinning the situation about the lack of internal democracy in order to hide the fact, they must get into real action mode now. As a strategist myself, I always believe that a political party with unity and great team work is the best way forward to tackle a mighty political machine.
The UNP must dismantle the Leadership Council first. Thereafter, they must immediately change the party leadership by bringing in a new leader. At least they should emulate the example of the JVP. They are the smallest political party but their heart is big when it comes to team work and compromise with the front-line members of the party. The latest leadership change is a very good example for the UNP to follow. The JVP elected Anura Kumara Dissanayake as their new leader soon after Somawansa Amarasinghe offered to step down from the leadership. Former leader Somawansa Amarasinghe decided not to retire after serving the leadership chair for more than two decades and he became a team member by accepting the position of international Secretary of the JVP. This is the module mostly followed by political parties with strong internal democracy in the West.
After the declaration of the new UNP leader, the party leadership should play a major role and strategise with all parties for the formation of a United Opposition Alliance. Thereafter this Opposition Alliance should form a leadership council with a team of strong front-line leaders representing all elements within the Opposition Alliance. Consequently, this council should declare a new leader of this Opposition Alliance. It may be someone from within the alliance or an outsider who has charisma and leadership skills to herald a new chapter in Sri Lanka’s politics.
The ruling UPFA’s days are numbered now and it’s time for the major opposition parties to huddle and draw up a political agenda for at least a 12 – 18 month program to get the voters on board with their support to face any future major election.
*Muheed Jeeran introduced himself as an International Political Lobbyist and Strategist.