Mahinda Rajapaksa, after losing the presidential election, making his now infamous from-the-window speech blamed it ‘on the Tamils’. It was a crass, knee-jerk conclusion which was racist and a complete disavowal of his own and significant flaws. He has since sobered up.
Maybe the United National Party (UNP) will also sober up soon. It’s to their advantage to do so. Right now, it is apparent that the UNP is punch-drunk and even more incoherent than usual. ‘Even more’ because lack of clarity on multiple issues has been the hallmark of the UNP-led regime.
While some dismayed UNPers have called for Ranil Wickremesinghe’s blood, others have looked elsewhere to find reasons for the defeat. For example, Wickremesinghe’s closest political associates have pointed the finger at President Maithripala Sirisena. The UNP couldn’t really implement its economic policy, they argue.
So one might say that there is some self-reflection happening. What is strange however is that some stalwarts are blaming the defeat on the Government not putting Mahinda Rajapaksa, his brothers, sons and close friends behind bars. This means that either people didn’t want the Rajapaksas incarcerated or that was a non-issue for them or else they rewarded the Rajapaksas because, damn it, the UNP-SLFP yahapalana regime didn’t put them behind bars.
It’s as if a trail of broken campaign promises didn’t count. ECTA didn’t matter, neither did the sale of Hambantota. Constitutional jugglery starting from the flawed 19th Amendment which allowed for a bloated Cabinet didn’t count. Attempts to smuggle in a federal constitution was a non-factor. Nepotism starting with the President with the Prime Minister and several Cabinet ministers were forgotten. And no, the Central Bank bond scam just did not happen. This is what these people want us to believe. The truth is that the professionals and academics as well as staunch believers in the good-governance pledge got disillusioned with the regime pretty fast.
Still, Mangala Samaraweera and others will not believe it. Indeed, they believe the UNP won. According to him, 6.1 million people (55.3%) had ‘marched to the polls and voted against a return to the Rajapaksa rule’. He says that whereas Mahinda Rajapaksa commanded 5.77 million votes in January 2015, he couldn’t even muster 4.95 million votes this time.
The numbers are correct. The interpretation silly. Sorry, stupid. Reminds one of that old line about falsehoods and forces me to add to it thus: ‘There are lies, damned lies, statistics and Mangala Samaraweera’.
Let’s apply Mangala’s logic to his party and that of the President. We could conclude that roughly 7.4 million and a whopping 9.5 million marched to the polls to vote against the UNP and SLFP/UPFA respectively. How Mangala interprets the following facts only he would know, but these are numbers that ought to rouse the UNP from its deep stupor.
The UNP vote declined from 5.1 million in August 2015 to just 3.6 million on February 10, 2018 which is a loss of around 1.5 million votes. The UNP’s vote share fell from 45.7% in August 2015 to 32.63% or more than 13 percentage points. So, following Mangala, we can say that 77.37% have rejected the UNP and 86.62% have rejected Maithripala Sirisena and the SLFP/UPFA. Happy?
If you take out the areas where the vast majority of voters are Tamils, the numbers should terrify the UNP. The UNP lost the following districts which the party had secured in August 2015: Colombo, Gampaha, Kandy, Matale, Trincomalee, Puttalam, Polonnaruwa and Kegalle. The party retained Nuwara Eliya (down from 59.1% to 37.3%), Digamadulla (down from 46% to 26%) and Badulla (down from 54.8% to 32%). Where the UNP lost, it lost badly, securing around 25% of the vote. The ‘national’ figures are obviously boosted by the returns from strongholds where too there’s a decline in popularity indicated.
The coalition that defeated Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2015 is no longer together. If they were, then one could not only add what each got but it is likely that they would have polled more than they actually did. This is undeniable: the UNP, SLFP and JVP contested SEPARATELY. It is ridiculous to operate as though 2018 is 2015 and that the parties are united. They are not.
If this election was, among other things, a battle for the ownership of the SLFP then the party has gone to Mahinda Rajapaksa, one can conclude. Using Mangala-logic, it can be argued that in subsequent elections the majority of those who voted for the SLFP/UPFA is more likely to go with the ‘pohottuwa’ than the ‘aliya’ not least of all because the UNP has all but ended the marriage with the President’s party. Even if one were to split the SLFP/UPFA vote equally between the UNP and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), the latter would gather close to 50% in some districts and well over 50% in most.
If the numbers are used to apportion district gains assuming it was a General Election, then with the bonus seats coming into play the SLPP would have secured a majority of parliamentary seats. If the system used at the February 10 election was employed, the vast majority of electorates would have been won by the SLPP. Perhaps using such frames Mangala could calculate who marched for what and where they ended up. Perhaps following the dictum ‘it’s good to hope for the best but expect the worst,’ Mangala could extrapolate this result onto the outcome of a general election where the SLFP/UPFA voters would vote for the SLPP en masse. That would sober everyone up.
As things stand, only those in the UNP, who are in denial would find consolation in Mangala’s thesis on the local government elections. I have no issue with delusion if it helps alleviate pain. What’s not pardonable is the distraction and deliberate fudging of political reality.
The UNP-SLFP regime has been proven to be incompetent and found to be corrupt. It was a vote of no-confidence on the regime; going even by Mangala’s Arithmetic more than half the total number that voted rejected the UNP-SLFP Unity Government. The numbers in Parliament no longer reflect the sentiments of the electorate. It is a travesty of justice to operate as though the people do not count. It is immoral to take refuge in the 19th Amendment’s provision for Parliament not to be dissolved before March 2020. The numbers can be found to introduce a special clause to facilitate dissolution.
The mandate has been lost and although Mangala and others feign to be at a loss to comprehend what has happened the fact has not been lost on the people. No mandate. No legitimacy. It is time to figure out a civilized exit strategy.
Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer. firstname.lastname@example.org. www.malindawords.blogspot.com