An analysis of the 2015 General Election
The fifteenth parliamentary election on Monday was clearly a referendum on deposed President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s political comeback. Everything ranging from President Maithripala Sirisena’s actions towards the election, behaviour of various ethnic groups and political parties to campaign themes seemed to have been centred on the possibility of Rajapaksa’s assumption of premiership after the election.
It was the minority communities- Tamils, Muslims and Christians- who were decisively instrumental in ousting Rajapaksa from office in January in the presidential election. Despite the gradually plummeting support base for Rajapaksa among the majority community since 2013 he could have survived the last presidential election, if he had stolen another 200,000 votes from his main contender, Maithripala Sirisena.
However, his vacillation in handling some sensitive issues in respect of minority religions in the previous three years cost him around half a million Muslim votes. With that alone, he would have won the 2015 presidential election. It was clear that not only Muslims but Tamils as well as Christians voted almost en masse for Maithripala Sirisena at the January 8 presidential election, leading to the collapse of the Rajapaksa regime considered by many as invincible.
Rajapaksa could have prevented this defeat had he not been vacillating in issues such as the Halal insignia. He should have either totally banned it or explained and convinced the majority community that it was also a commercial device even for non-Muslim businessmen. He neither banned beef in Sri Lanka as demanded by some groups in the country nor did he explain to them the impracticability of banning it.
The end result was that he failed to bolster his sagging support base among the majority community while alienating the minorities almost totally. Rajapaksa now says that the alienation of minorities has been a Norwegian and American conspiracy.
It has been the same minorities who had been instrumental in Rajapaksa’s defeat in the just concluded general election. The eight districts where Rajapaksa had the upper hand at the election were Sinhalese dominated.
This alienation of minorities had been such that even A.L.M.Athaullah of National Congress (NC) and M.L.A.M.Hisbullah of All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) who would have entered Parliament with their strong personal vote bank in Akkaraipattu and Kattankudi respectively had to bow out as a result of their candidature under the UPFA. Hilariously, they had to stress on the people of Digamadulla and Batticaloa throughout the election campaign that a vote for them would not mean that Rajapaksa would become the prime minister!
The same fate befell a king of the hills, Arumugan Thondaman. His party the CWC was not able to get even 3000 votes from the Haputale division dominated by Tamils of Indian origin, thanks to his affiliation to the UPFA. The UPFA further alienated the minorities this time with its subtle racist propaganda that included a Tamil Ealam bogey.
President Maithripala Sirisena would have been in a fix had Rajapaksa not contested. Then he would have to lead the UPFA against the very UNP that voted him to power. But with the latter’s entry into the fray, he was able to show his gratitude to the UNP by his ambushes and guerrilla attacks on the Rajapaksa camp.
Another area the Rajapaksa factor had a bearing on was the dismal performance by the JVP. Anura Kumara Dissanayake, the JVP leader was correct when he said that his party expected more at the election. True, indeed the party deserved more than 15 seats given its performance in the agitations against corruption in the recent past. But again the Rajapaksa factor had intervened. The majority of voters who wanted to vote for the JVP were more concerned about scuttling Rajapaksa’s comeback, a target the JVP itself set for them and voted accordingly, dashing hopes of the very party.
In a way the same contention could be applied to the present situation faced by Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka’s Democratic Party (DP). There was an interesting parallel between the fates of the DP and the new party (Crusaders of Democracy) led by senior journalist N.Vithyadharan and consisting of former LTTE cadres including a bodyguard of the late LTTE supremo Prabhakaran. They got nowhere. Interestingly and ludicrously people both in the North as well as the South had voted for those who had used combatants of both sides of the war for their political ends while humiliatingly defeating the real combatants on both sides. This raises the question as to what really patriotism means in politics.
The Rajapaksa factor would have been important had the UPFA bagged more seats than the UNFGG had gained, but less than the absolute majority. Then the king makers would have then been the TNA and the JVP, two parties that had vowed not to join any government after the election. However, in such a scenario both parties would have changed minds with the hopes of dashing the prime ministerial hopes of Rajapaksa.