| by Upul Joseph Fernando

Did it weaken in the battle against UNHRC?

( September 24, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) It was confusion most confounded, in government circles, on the penultimate day to the Uva Provincial Council polls. Even President Mahinda Rajapaksa looked confused as intelligence reports indicated that the UPFA would not secure a landslide victory as witnessed in the recent provincial polls. Mahinda planned the Uva polls as a prelude to his plan to conduct an early presidential election. He also planned to embark for New York for the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) last Sunday, with a resounding victory in Uva in his bag, to tell the world that the people in his country were with him. He would have thought that if he had to go there after a defeat in Uva it would be humiliating for him.

The result was different

Mahinda won Uva. But not the way he wanted. Having used the full force of the State's resources, Mahinda campaigned with deep commitment in Uva in the run up to last Saturday's poll. He visited villages and hamlets. Alas! The result was different to what he received from other provincial polls. It was neither a resounding nor a landslide victory. Now, he is there before the UN not in the frame of a popular leader, as it was in the past. Already the international media has reported that Mahinda's popularity was on the decline following the Uva polls.

There are indications that Mahinda is trying to use the opportunities available, during his stay in New York, to benefit his plans to hold an early presidential poll. He also wants to disprove the Opposition charges that the world had distanced Sri Lanka and display to the country that the world leaders whom he meets are with him. Mahinda intends to exchange a few pleasantries with United States President Barak Obama at the banquet hosted by the latter and participate at an event conducted by the Clinton Foundation, in a bid to meet Hillary Clinton. After several attempts, he has managed to get an appointment with Indian Premier Narenda Modi on the sidelines of UNGA.

Return from New York

Mahinda will return from New York to commence his presidential election plans. He plans to visit the Pope while returning from New York or later in a bid to muster the Catholic vote at a presidential election. However, those within the government are of the view that it would not be advisable to go for a presidential election in the wake of the outcome at Uva where the Opposition came almost neck to neck. The glaring example is the Badulla postal vote. At previous elections, the ruling party garnered a remarkable majority in postal votes. That was an indication that public servants, armed forces and the police were with the government. From 2004, the State sector employees strengthened the hands of the government. The UPFA secured 8,810 postal votes in Badulla this time. The UNP obtained 7,274 postal votes. This result indicates that there is a difference of opinion among government servants about the present government. Generally, it is the public servants' votes that indicate any change of government.

Let us now examine the status of the Sinhala Buddhist vote base. The government has lost the Muslim vote base by trying to protect the Bodu Bala Sena. Rauff Hakeem too lost the Muslim vote because he extends support to the government. The government cannot expect a huge portion of the Sinhala Buddhist vote in Badulla as Saturday's result clearly manifested that the Sinhala Buddhist vote would be divided between the two major parties. At the 2009 provincial poll in Uva, the government secured 72.39% and it declined to 51.21% last week. At the 2009 PC poll in Uva, the government obtained 81.32 %. At the 2010 presidential election it declined to 69.01 %. Last week it plummeted to 58.34 %. Accordingly, the quantum will further reduce at a future presidential election. When analyzed, this decline is likely to affect the President at a future presidential poll. Furthermore, though the government obtained 72.39 % in the Uva PC polls in 2009, the President secured only 57.88% countrywide at the last presidential election. In that backdrop, the indication of the present 51.25% in Uva is a clear manifestation that the total percentage the ruling party candidate will get at an early presidential election would further drop.

Cannot be compared

The government itself says that the 2009 Uva polls cannot be compared to the 2014 Uva polls concluded last Saturday. The reason is that the Uva PC polls in 2009 were held in the immediate aftermath of the war victory. The government was at the peak of popularity at that time. Prior to 2009, a provincial poll in Uva was held in 2005. Chandrika was the President in 2004. The coalition led by her emerged victorious securing 58.99%. At the local government polls in 2011, the ruling party obtained 53.72% under the leadership of Mahinda. It had reduced to 51.21% last Saturday. Usually, at a national poll, like the presidential election, the Opposition votes increase. The UNP secured only 25.81% from Badulla in 2009 at the PC polls. It increased to 44.55% at the 2010 presidential election.

Vote bank will be reduced

In such an analysis, it is obvious that Mahinda's vote bank will be reduced and the Opposition will increase its vote bank at a future presidential election. Then, how could Mahinda top the required 50%? Mahinda must give serious thought before he embarks upon an early presidential poll. However, Mahinda must be thinking that going ahead with a presidential poll is wise before the next UNHRC meet in Geneva next March. Be that as it may, Mahinda must realize that any further delay will only affect his vote bank.

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