Friday, 9 April 2010

Parliamentary Election 2010 Sajith Premadasa – Man of the Match

There is nothing surprising in that it was the government that won the parliamentary election. It was not even an achievement, even though the number of seats won by them was unprecedented. The result was a foregone conclusion after the January presidential elections. As I have pointed out on earlier occasions in this newspaper it’s not necessary to get two thirds of the votes cast, to get two thirds of the seats in parliament, because of the bonus seat system. So there is nothing heroic on the government side in this election. All the heroics on the governing side were acted out at the presidential election. Hence we have to look for a man of the match in this election on the side of the opposition.
The man of the match at yesterday’s election was undoubtedly Sajith Premadasa. When the UNP was failing to retain what they had in every other district, Sajith managed to stem the decline in the Hambantota district, retaining the two seats that the UNP had in 2004. What is remarkable is that Sajith managed to hold steady in a district which is the home of the Rajapakse clan who have a tendency to sweep everything before them. Besides, this district has several mega development projects including the Hambantota harbor and the Mattala international airport and to hold steady amidst such a whirlwind, was no mean achievement. This is the highpoint in Sajith’s career and his coming of age as a politician. That Hambatota did not slide backwards is entirely his achievement. Everybody knows that there is no UNP in the Hambantota district other than Sajith. Dilip Wedaarachchi, the other UNP parliamentarian is Sajith’s protégé and he has no independent political existence without the former.
What needed careful watching at this election was the success or otherwise of the Tamil National Alliance which contested under the ITAK (Tamil State Party) banner. As I pointed out in this newspaper, the TNA went to the parliamentary polls on a platform that closely resembled the separatist agenda espoused in the infamous Vadukkodai resolution of 1972. It was at this election that the Tamil parties in the TNA had put out a manifesto stating their position for the first time in decades. What needed watching was whether this kind of agenda still held an attraction for the Tamil people of the north, after the end of the war.
TNA burnout?
At the time of writing, all the results for the Jaffna district have not come in. But the trends are clear. In eight of the eleven Jaffna electorates, which included Kayts, Vadukkodai Kankesanthurei, Manipay, Kopay, Uduppidy, Point Pedro and Chavakachcheri, the percentage voting was extremely low at 20-25% at the very most. So what we see here is that the trend that we first saw at the Jaffna Municipal Council elections, where the majority of the people simply do not come out to vote is now more or less a permanent feature of northern politics. One contributory factor of course is that a proportion of the registered voters in Jaffna are not physically present in the north. Until a new electoral register is prepared for the North and the Vanni, we will never know what the real voting population of Jaffna is. However, one thing that we can say with some certainty is that the number of voters actually present in Jaffna can’t possibly be as low as just 20-25% of total registered voters. Even if we assume that a quarter of the number of registered voters in Jaffna district were not physically present in the district or had gone abroad for good, it still shows that the vast majority of the existing population of the north is indifferent to politics and especially to TNA style politics.
None of the mainline political parties in the south have been active in Jaffna during past quarter of a century or more. Only the pensioners in the north would have any experience of voting for a mainline political party or seeing a mainline political party campaigning in their areas. The various manifestations of the TNA is the only political entity most northern voters have ever known. Even in such circumstances, we see that of the eight electorates mentioned above, it is only in Chavakachcheri that the ITAK has got over 50% of the vote. If the position taken by the ITAK in their election manifesto was popular, one would expect at least the majority of those who do go to the polling booth in the North to vote for the ITAK. We do not see this happening. In Kayts a stronghold of Douglas devanada, the ITAK got only 18% of the votes cast. In Vadukkodai it was just 35%, in KKS 43% Manipay 43% Kopay 47%, Uduppidy 44%, Point Pedro 38%. These look like the percentages the UNP got at past elections, in their long slide downwards. It would appear that these inconclusive percentages for the TNA have come to stay. Readers will remember that at the Jaffna Municipal election too, the TNA got only 37%, with 34% in Vavuniya. In contrast to the TNA which commanded a monopoly over northern politics, the UPFA and their northern allies have not been doing badly at all. What we see here is a mainline political party making some headway in the north. In Kayts, the UPFA got the kind of percentage they can expect in Hambantota, with 71%, and in other electorates like Kankesanthurei, the UPFA got 39% as against 43% for the TNA. In Manipay it was 43% for the TNA and 33% for the UPFA. In Point Pedro the difference is just 4 percentage points with the TNA getting 38% and the UPFA getting 34%.
Not bad at all for a mainline political party which just one year ago, could not even think of campaigning in these electorates. Of course if the UPFA was making some headway in the north, it’s because of the efforts of Douglas Devananda. But then Devananda is not a transient – he has been a long term partner of SLFP led governments since 1994. The question that we have to pose is, will the UPFA continue to make headway among the Tamil population in the coming years? This now seems quite possible. If you take an electorate like Kalkudah in the Batticaloa electorate, the UPFA won the district getting 34% of the votes cast (something like the proportion the TNA got in some northern electorates.) And mind you, in the Kalkudah electorate, the voter turnout was quite good, at around 55%. It was the same in the Batticaloa district as well where the UPFA came on top with 39% of the vote as against 36% for the TNA. (the voter turnout was 60% in the Batticaloa electorate) Do these figures indicate that the TNA is facing burnout as a political organization?
The biggest shock
The UNP has done better than expected in the Colombo district. They have managed to get 7 seats, when there was a distinct danger of falling to just 6 because of pressure from below – the DNA led by Sarath Fonseka. We predicted quite early on, that the DNA stood a chance of getting two seats in the Colombo district because of SF, but the UNP has surprised us by their resilience. Perhaps both the UNP and the DNA should be congratulated for being able to restrict the government to just 10 seats in the Colombo dist., when they were widely expected to get at least 11, and possibly 12.
The first election results to come out were from the Matara district, where the UNP has got only two seats as expected. It now turns out that the whole drama that we witnessed in Matara in the run up to the southern PC elections last year were in vain. When Matara UNP district leader Justin Galappaththy was suddenly ousted by party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and replaced by Sagala Ratnayake, we pointed out that is was to ensure the re-election of Ratnayake to parliament. Given the decline in the UNP, the number of MP’s was going to go down from three to two and with Mangala Samaraweera contesting, there was room for only one more – it was either Ratnayake or the district leader Galappaththy. Usually UNPers give a preference vote to the district leader as well, and it was to give this advantage to Ratnayake that Wickremesinghe ousted poor Galappaththy from the district leadership and gave it to Ratnayake. Well those moves failed to save this Wickremesinghe protégé, who was ousted by the newcomer Buddhika Pathirana. This election has not been too good for Wickremesinghe loyalists. What happened to Vajira Abewardene, the district leader of Galle and principal defender of Wickremesinghe in the party, was a very surprising turn of events. Vajira kept increasing his vote at every election since he came into parliament for the first time in 1994. Even when the UNP was losing, Vajira kept increasing his preference vote. Just as Sajith is the man of the match, Vajira’s defeat is the biggest shock in this election.
As for Mangala Samaraweera’s election from Matara, this should be welcomed by the UNP, because Magala is the only individual in the entire UNP set up, who has the experience of serving as one of the top three or four ministers in a government. The UNP is fast turning into a party that has nobody with experience (not to mention talent) in governance. One begins to wonder whether a section of the UNP vote bank has gone bonkers after having been out of power for too long. First, we saw Colombo District UNP Provincial Councilor Sagara Senaratne, a man with energy, drive, money and a following, failing to get re-elected at the last WPC elections. Senaratne was along with Duminda Silva and Dhanasiri Amaratunga one of three young UNP politicians in the Colombo district, who could get a crowd of young men together at short notice, but the voters decided to drop him. Now they have dropped Vajira Abeywardene. Then In Matara, Mangala Samaraweera, who has done so much for Matara town and the district, has come second to Buddhika who has never wielded power and has obviously not done as much for the district as Mangala. The UNP should launch a countrywide project to do a sample psychiatric evaluation of their voters to see what’s wrong.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

General Election 2010: Left Parties can re-emerge a major force

General Election 2010: Left Parties can re-emerge as a major force

Communist Party leader Dew Gunasekera told The Island that the majority of their candidates could secure parliamentary seats despite a low key campaign.
The left parties are confident that they could re-emerge as a major force in Parliament at the April 8 General Election. Contrary to assertion by a section of the ruling coalition, the left parties could comfortably overtake both the National Freedom Front (NFF) and the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU).
Communist Party leader Dew Gunasekera told The Island that the majority of their candidates could secure parliamentary seats despite a low key campaign.
According to an agreement worked out with the SLFP, six CP nominees are in the fray in Anuradhapura, Nuwara, Colombo, Galle, Matara and Hambantota Districts. The LSSP nominees are contesting in five districts, namely, Kalutara, Kegalle, Galle, Moneragala and Polonnaruwa. Both parties have fielded candidates in Galle. Ven. Baddegama Samitha (LSSP) and Chandrasiri Gajadeera (CP) are likely to be among the winners.
Gunasekera said that in addition to th eleven candidates fielded by the CP and the LSSP, the Left party alliance includes Vasudeva Nanayakkara (Ratnapura) and Ranjith Navaratne (Kurunegala). Responding to a query by The Island, he said that the Left Party  Alliance supported the candidature of MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardene (Colombo) and another MEP nominee, Sisira Jayakody (Gampaha).
Gunasekera and Tissa Vitharana are National List nominees for the CP and LSSP.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Q+A: Sri Lanka's parliamentary elections

(Reuters) - Sri Lanka's opposition on Monday vowed to deny the ruling coalition a two-thirds majority at this week's parliamentary election, to thwart the president's plans to win the power to change the constitution.
Campaigning for the legislative polls was due to end after Monday, a day on which police recorded the first campaign-related fatality of this election season.

Here are some questions and answers about the election:


A total of 7,620 candidates representing 36 parties and 301 independent groups are vying for 225 seats. Of that group, 196 will be elected directly to parliament, with the remaining seats filled by parties based on their total vote percentages. Parliament can be an effective check on the presidency, but Rajapaksa's United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) is expected to retain its majority. Election monitors from the Commonwealth and some Asian countries are expected.

As at every election, all parties are offering jobs, increases in government handouts and rural and agricultural development plans. They differ little in substance.


His ruling alliance has its eyes on winning a two-thirds majority in the 225-seat legislature to give him the votes to amend the constitution to his liking.

It's hard to say since there is no reliable polling data.

But history is against him: only once has any political party got more than 50 percent of the parliamentary vote since Sri Lanka adopted a proportional system of representation in 1978.

Rajapaksa got 57.8 percent of the votes against challenger General Sarath Fonseka's 40.2 percent at the January 26 presidential election. Taking those figures as a guide theoretically would give Rajapaksa's alliance roughly 120-125 seats and the combined opposition about 100-105. But turnout will play a role, and analysts say lower turnout favors the president's candidates.


A diverse group of parties had backed Fonseka to try to capture the anti-Rajapaksa vote, and their cohesion has evaporated since the general was arrested February 8 on charges of politicking while in uniform.

Fonseka is nonetheless running for a parliamentary seat in the capital Colombo and most likely has the votes to win. The Supreme Court most likely would have to decide if he could retain his seat while in jail.

The two big parties behind him, the main opposition United National Party (UNP) and the Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), share only one thing now: a pledge to free Fonseka if they win a parliamentary majority.

The main Tamil coalition, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), also backed Fonseka but struggled to get its voters out.

The Tamil Tigers used to dictate who was elected in areas they controlled, so the TNA this time around is going to face competition from other Tamil parties and will likely lose some of its 22 seats.

Overall, analysts expect Tamil parties to get around 20 seats, roughly proportional to the size of their minority population.


Unlike previous elections, the Colombo Stock Exchange has generally shrugged off political noise given that even at its loudest, it is a huge improvement on the uncertainty and volatility nearly three decades of war brought.

The market is up 5.3 percent since the January 26 polls -- part of a surge that has seen it gain 152 percent since the end of 2008, when it turned from a multi-year low on optimism the government would defeat the Tamil Tigers.

After the victory in May, foreign investors began selling shares to book long-awaited profits and were net sellers last year for the first time since 2001. This year, they have sold a net of 13.2 billion rupees ($115.7 million) worth of shares.

Market players say Sri Lankan treasury securities, particularly those of 18 months' maturity or shorter, remain in demand from foreign investors. The rupee currency's relative strengthening and the end of the elections should boost foreign demand, traders say


The Center for Monitoring Election Violence has said there had been over 340 violent campaign incidents, including Monday's death. Most of the violence has been intra-party. Taking no chances, the government is deploying nearly 80,000 police and soldiers to ensure orderly and safe voting.

(Editing by Ron Popeski)