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.

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