A regular Daily Mirror reader, who often make useful critical comments on my contributions, wrote a few days back…,
My observation below may or may not have occurred to you.
Sajith spent 20 years in Hambantota moving around with the peasants. During his tenure as Minister of Housing, he constructed a large number of houses for the poor who flocked in their numbers wherever he went. I was shocked that he was trounced in all electorates in the district.
One of the “selling points” of Gota’s campaign was that he converted Colombo from a deplorable situation to a beautiful City which all of us were proud about. I expected him to “walkover” all five electorates in Colombo. Surprisingly he lost all five - plus Dehiwala.
How do you explain this peculiar turn of events? I look forward to reading about this in one of your articles in the “Daily Mirror”
B…’s comments are more than mere observations, he follows it up with insightful thoughts opening up an astute debate on behaviour patterns of Sri Lankan politician and voter during different types of elections: Presidential, Parliamentary PC and LG. To those who are familiar with Sri Lanka politics, the victory of Gotabaya, a man who focused on results rather than means, came as no surprise. His 1.3 million [10%] margin of votes over government nominee Sajith Premadasa proved the fact, majority believed he is the man to ensure island’s security and stability. In this 2019 Presidential election, 83% of registered voters as committed citizens took their civic duty seriously, and cast their vote. I think they did not pay any attention to their own locality, like development of Hambanthota or City of Colombo, rather, focused more at nationalist, ethnic and religio-racial divisions, personal security of the community, while the rest were concerned on national security and threats to religious emotions of the majority and other related issues. Gota’s city beautification and Sajith’s housing projects had little or no impact on the final verdict it appears.
Population in Colombo city limits [an area of 14.4 square miles] consists of 32% affiliated with Islam, 31% Sinhala Buddhist, 22% Hindus, and about 15% Sinhala/Tamil Christians. A unique feature in this minority dominated five electorates mentioned in Bren’s note is the comparison of 2018 Municipal election results with the recent Presidential. At LG polls held 17 months ago, UNP received 46% plus 9.6% [United Progressive Alliance—which supported Sajith] making a total of 55.6% only, but last week Sajith gained an extra 20% making it 74% against Gota’s 26% when in all other places apart from North /East UNP numbers dropped by several percentage points. This fact confirms the affectivity of one of Sajith’s campaign slogans aimed at minorities, the ‘Gota-Baya’ strategy. Also SLPP plus SLFP which achieved 32% [21+11] in Colombo in 2018, was dropped to 26% at Thursday’s poll.
Why Hambantota voter so ungrateful to Sajith?
Cultural influence in determining national politics is a crucial factor that cannot be ignored by anybody. Politicians must realize the reality that they cannot deny or completely deviate from these truths, before they become more rational or radical in expressing their sentiments. Every so-called developed nation in the West, all official engagements are traditionally concluded by an oath allegiance to the constitution and God. Christianity is instilled as state religion officially or traditionally. Nationalism still reigns in nation states. President Gotabaya chose the historic Ruwan Weli Se dagoba in Anuradhapaura for taking his oaths. A good post poll postmortem would reveal the obvious reasons. In attempting to find an answer, the closest that I can think of, to the very valid and relevant query by B…; not only in Deep South but the entire predominantly Sinhala/Buddhist electorate cast their votes overwhelmingly against Sajith and his leading speakers. In fact his platform was adorned by a ‘Cheewara-dharee’ who encourage hooch den supporters to soak Gota supporters with ‘free drinks’ to make them unfit to walk to the polling booth on Saturday.
"Tamils and Muslims have to re-draft their political strategy afresh especially because the election result with Gotabaya winning by a good margin has made Sinhalese constituency strong"
Inner party and intra-party power struggles within UNP and SLFP affected the administration. Inactivity of a four and-a-half year paralysed government had severe impact on the electorate when it failed to take steps or act on intelligence reports in preventing the ISIS backed terror attacks that killed over 260 on Easter Sunday. The terrorist attack caused a severe impact on the confidence of people in their government. Probes revealed utter failure on the part of leadership. Sinhala extremist elements set off a backlash adding to disorder and insecurity. Gotabaya’s history as former wartime defence chief and coordinator of the armed forces, made him the most competent between the two main candidates, who can ensure national security. The yahapalana government took every possible step to indict Gotabaya under humanitarian laws for violations during the Eelam war, and subsequently for cases of ‘white van’ kidnapping, murder and corruption. Legal authorities had been investigating cases against Gotabhaya for over four and a half years, but he was not convicted even in one key case, including the white flag issue where Sarath Fonseka directly blamed him of ordering the elimination of terrorist leaders who sought to surrender, if he did, an obvious violation of international war ethics; but they could not find any evidence to prove that Gota was guilty.
His rivals, including former Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe created a fear psychosis among minorities describing him as a ‘terminator’, who would eliminate Tamils and Muslims, while minority leaders collected votes in preparation for the next battle which is due in April by identifying Gotabaya as a man belligerent and hostile towards them.
Viyath Maga and Eliya
A group of technocrats, professionals, and businessmen backed Gota in Viyath Maga and Eliya movements commenced as far back as 2017, and well ahead of the announcement of elections sealing Gotabaya, and Gota alone from Rajapaksa clan to contest. Sajith had only one and-a-half months for his campaign, little time to get organized and act together. The TNA-backed Jaffna University student’s movement put forward 13 point demand, a well timed strategy orchestrated by anti-Premadasa faction of UNP in connivance with TNA as per some staunch Sajith loyalists. This document Gota rejected out rightly. The 13 demands put Sajith, who was counting on Tamil vote in obscurity.
Leaders of Minority Groups
Whipping up of ethnic passions among minorities by their leaders will only weaken their demanding power. Tamils and Muslims have to redraft their political strategy afresh especially because the election result with Gotabaya winning by a good margin has made Sinhalese constituency strong. The new President struck a pacifying note, suggesting he would treat all Sri Lankan - not considering their ethnic or religious identities when tweeted, “As we lead on a new expedition, we must remember that all citizens are part of this journey. Let us express our joy peacefully, with self-respect and discipline in the same manner in which we fought.” In his address to the nation he said:
“I am mindful that I am also the President of those who did not vote for me. It is my responsibility to serve all Sri Lankans without any discrimination - racial or religious. I assure, I will discharge my duties in a reasonable manner”.
Opposition Leader and Party Leadership
Two letters have been received by the Speaker, Karu Jayasuriya from UNP on the post of opposition leader. The General Secretary, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam requests the appointment of UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Leader of the Opposition. The Speaker has received another with the signatures of 40 party MPs requesting him to appoint former Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa to the post. Speaker has said that the selection of the Opposition Leader of the Parliament is outside the purview of the Parliamentary Business Committee and it is an internal matter to be resolved within the UNP group in Parliament. Expressing his views, Speaker had noted that according to tradition, the leader of the parliamentary group of the political party with a majority of members is chosen as the Leader of Opposition.
Unless the matter is resolved amicably between the two factions, the United National Party (UNP) would suffer an unprecedented trouncing at the general elections due in March/April 2020, conceding a clear two-thirds to the new government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who does not wear the traditional Giruwapaththu Kurahan Satakaya.