Ranil’s belated recognition of UNP vote base : Cause for Eastern
The recently concluded Eastern Provincial Council elections could be
considered an important juncture in the democratic politics of Sri
Lanka. The eastern and the northern provinces were merged for the first
time under the 1987 Provincial Council Act.
There were several factors impacting on this merger but the
overriding factor which influenced President J.R. Jayewardene to merge
these two provinces was the influence of India.
However, the late President J.R. Jayewardene wanted to appeal to the
people to vote for a de-merger of these two provinces when it came to a
referendum on the political union of the Northern and Eastern provinces.
What really happened was that the government kept on postponing the
elections in the Eastern province year after year to keep these two
In the circumstances, the Supreme Court ruled that the continued
merger of the northern and eastern provinces was against the law.
Accordingly, the Mahinda Rajapaksa government decided to conduct
elections to the Eastern Provincial Council, buoyed by the liberation of
the Eastern province by the Army.
Following the liberation of the East from the influence of the LTTE,
the government wanted to forge ahead with a military solution in
parallel with a political solution in the Northern and Eastern
provinces. By this time there has been a large chasm in the political
leadership of the Eastern province.
Also, Pillaiyan who operated as a terrorist outfit earlier had been
willing to enter the democratic mainstream and contest the Eastern
Provincial Council as a registered political party candidate.
There were important and historic factors which we should focus on
Sri Lanka’s political arena against the backdrop of the elections to the
Eastern Provincial Council.
The Eastern province is home mainly to the three communities, that
is, the Sinhala, Tamils and Muslims communities who lived in their
respective areas in their own demographical proportions. I will take the
Ampara district in the Eastern provinces as an example.
There, the Sinhalese constituted 37.5% of the population, the Tamil
people 18.3% and the Muslims 44%. Likewise, in the Trincomalee district
the population was made up of 25% Sinhalese, 28.6% Tamils and 45.5%
Muslims. In the Batticaloa district 0.5% were Sinhalese, 74% Tamils and
When we look at the composition of the population ratio of the
various communities, it becomes clear that one group representing a
single community cannot emerge victorious even if it applies maximum
leverage of its position. In the 2005 Presidential Election, Mr. Ranil
Wickremesinghe who contested as the UNP candidate was able to poll a
large number of votes in the Eastern Province.
Despite the fact that it provided a good vote base that could have
been exploited to an advantage by the UNP, the UNP under the leadership
Ranil Wickremesinghe unfortunately failed to safeguard the gains made
in 2005 in the presidential election.
The UNP supporters were elated and had great expectations of securing
victory with the UNP and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress coming together to
contest the Eastern Provincial Council elections. Assumptions should be
made by analysing the population statistics of the area to the
Let us first look at the Ampara district. The Sinhalese vote in the
Ampara district are concentrated mainly on Dehiattakandiya, Padiyatalawa,
Maha Oya, Uhana, Ampara, Damana and Lahugala - all these are
predominantly Sinhalese areas. The Sinhalese residents of this areas had
greatly benefited from the UNP.
Let us take up Dehiattakandiya for instance. It comes under the
Mahaweli system. Under the UNP regime, my father rendered yeoman
services to the people of this Mahaweli area. It may be recalled that
the Honourable D.S. Senanayake rendered a great service in launching
other farmer settlements in the region.
On this basis, the UNP had a rich and permanent vote base in the
Ampara district but unfortunately the UNP did nothing over the past ten
years to safeguard this vote base in this region.
This vote base had been gradually eroded due to the failure to move
close with the people and to create an acceptable UNP leadership in
these areas. UNP leader Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe should assume total
responsibility for the loss of this vote base.
When we look at the result of the election as a whole, it becomes
obvious that UNP Leader, Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe has no option but to
ally himself with Mr. Rauff Hakeem.
But if the UNP leadership had not ignored its supporters in this
manner over the past 10 to 15 years and if the party infrastructure had
been developed with a people orientation and also if the party had moved
closer to the hearts and minds of its supporters, the UNP and the SLMC
could have performed much better.
After the elections were announced, it would not be possible to win
over the people by handing over the area to outsiders, holding meetings
and spending large sums of money. The attitude of the people cannot be
changed by money or the speeches of outsiders.
Let us now turn our attention to another aspect - P. Dayaratne of
Ampara rendered a very great services to the UNP supporters, winning
over their hearts and did much for the UNP. When he distanced himself
from the party, may be the UNP would have thought that they could bring
another person in his place and successfully replace Mr. Dayaratne.
Mr. Dayaratne,. But things do not happen that way; the self respect,
affection and loyalty of the people and the supporters could not be
bought over with money. This cardinal fact was not appreciated by the
The leadership thought that by entering into an alliance with other
groups and by lavishly spending money and billowed by the media, they
could win elections.
It is not the strategy of winning an election. The strategy is to
move closer to the people, understanding their aspirations, likes and
dislikes founded on the experience of the UNP leadership achieved
through an honest relationship with their supporters.
It is the party leadership and the political organisation with such
an strategy that can win elections. Creating the condition for
Mr.Dayaratne of Ampara to leave the party and align himself with the
government and to think election could be won by filling his vacancy by
some other party organizer is an act of sheer ignorance.
Now let us look at the voting pattern that led to the victory of the
United People’s Freedom Alliance in the Eastern elections. If the UPFS
was able to secure 80% of the Tamil votes 65% of the Sinhalese votes and
20% - 30% of the Muslim votes, it could have achieved a decisive
A greater percentage of the Tamil votes was swung in favour of the
UPFA by bringing the Pillaiyan faction to the side of the government
following the announcement of the election.
Likewise, it was clear that the UNP and the Muslim Congress were able
to obtain a greater proportion of the Muslim votes by aligning
themselves together. If this is the case, where stands the Sinhalese
If a majority of the Sinhalese votes in the Ampara district went to
the UNP and the SLMC alliance, the UNP would have definitely emerged
victorious. In that case the UNP-SLMC group could have set up their
administration in the Eastern Provincial Council. The most important
argument in this election put forward by me to you then is who polled
the Sinhalese votes. I have the answer.
In the UNP-SLMC Alliance Mr. Rauff Hakeem should have come to an
agreement with the UNP leader to the effect that he would take care of
the Muslim votes while he should take the responsibility for the
But what finally happened was that Mr. Rauff Hakeem kept his part of
the bargain and polled a large percentage of the Muslim votes while the
UNP leader failed to secure the percentage of the Sinhalese votes. This
is what really happened. Allow me to explain in detail the election
results. Let us take the Ampara district. Ampara became a decisive
district in this election.
The UNP - SLMC alliance wanted to secure this district. Let us now
look at the Pottuvil electorate in the Ampara district. Here the UPFA
polled 54,619 votes which accounted for 58.5% of the votes polled.
Compared to this the UNP was able to poll only 37,488 votes or 40% of
How could be analyse this trend. Most people think Pottuvil is a
Muslim constituency. In the Pottuvil Pradeshiya Secretariat area, a
majority of the people are Muslim. Out of a population of 33,625 Muslims
comprise 26,493 or 78.8% per cent of the population of this area.
However, within the Pottuvil electorate, there are two areas with a
One is the Damana Pradeshiya Secretarial area where 35,705 out of a
population of 35,560, that is 99.6% is Sinhalese. The other Sinhalese
majority area is Lahugala where out of a population of 8,259, Sinhalese
form 7,500 or 90.8% of the population. Let us now take up the
Alayadivembu Divisional Secretarial division.
This area has a population of 22,289 out of which 22,008 or 98.7% are
Tamil people. Likewise, in Tirukkovil out of a population of 24,972,
Tamils constitute 24,934 or 99.8% of the population. What is evident
therefore is that even though as a whole there was a majority of 78.8%
Muslims in the area, there are large regions with sizeable Sinhalese and
Tamil populations in the Pottuvil electorate.
The UNP polled 37,488 votes in the Pottuvil electorate, but even if
the Muslims voted for the SLMC and the UNP en bloc, you would be able to
see how a majority of the people living in the Sinhalese and Tamil
majority areas voted with the Government. I could say that about 80% of
the Tamil population and around 65% of the Sinhalese voted for the
A correct analysis of the election results manifests another
important factor. Let us take the Damana Divisional Secretarial region
as an example. If 60% of the total eligible voters numbering 35,705 had
cast their ballots, it would amount of 21,423 votes. If 65% of the
Sinhalese constituency voted with the government, UPFA would have polled
Let us now take up the Tirukkovil Pradeshiya Secretarial region. Here
the majority of the voters are Tamil. If 60% out of the total votes of
24,972 had cast their ballots, the number would amount to 14,983. If we
assume that 80% of the voters cast their ballots in favour of the
government, the UPFA would have polled 11,986 votes.
Likewise, the government polled 3,221 of the Sinhalese votes in the
Lahugala area. When we take up the Alayadivembu Tamil area, if 60% of
the total number of eligible voters numbering 22,289 had cast their
ballots, and of this number 80% voted for the UPFA, the government would
have polled 10,698 votes. If the government polled 30% of the Muslim
votes in Pottuvil it would have amounted to 6,052.
When we aggregate all these votes numbering 13,924 in Damana, 11,986
in Tirukkovil, 3,221 Sinhala votes in Lahugala and 10,698 in
Alayadivembu and 30% of the Muslim votes of Pottuvil numbering 6,052, it
makes a total of 45,881.
The total result for the Pottuvil electorate was 54,619 votes for the
UPFA. In undertaking an analysis of this nature, even though there could
be a margin of error of about ten thousand votes either way, in my view
the difference would be around 8,738. It is therefore evident that the
above analysis is correct.
Accordingly, of the total number of votes in the Pottuvil electorate
of the Ampara district, the UPFA that is the government had polled 65%
of the Sinhalese votes, 80% of the Tamil votes and 30% of the Muslim
In like manner, what happened to the UNP? They went about their
campaign miscalculating the number of votes they would receive from the
Sinhalese population living in the East. This is the outcome of a grave
mistake committed by the UNP leader of abandoning the Sinhalese
population of the Ampara district not in recent times but over the past
The Sinhalese people felt a nagging fear that the current UNP leader
appearing on behalf of Prabhakaran would once again offer the East on a
platter to the North. It is very clear that especially the Sinhalese
population resident in the area had voted 65% for the government alarmed
over the current UNP leadership.
If we take the Sammanthurai electorate, the UPFA won this area by a
slim majority of 2000 votes. It is evident that the great dedication of
Minister Athaulla played an important role in this victory. If we take
the Ampara district once again, the UPFA was able to secure 57% of the
votes since approximately 65% of the Sinhalese in the Ampara, Uhana and
Padiyatalawa areas used their ballots in favour of the UPFA.
Now let us devote some attention to the present situation of the UNP.
While the party did not take any action to win over the people of the
East, the UNP under its current leadership had no option but to ally
itself with others like Mr. Rauf Hakeem at least to obtain the votes
If the UNP had contested this election on its own, it would have
found it difficult to poll 100,000 votes. What had befallen this great
party which had been closer to the hearts of the Ampara people?
This political analysis had been made by me based on realities unlike
some UNP leaders who base their analisis on the statistics of others.
Since the party loyalists who had won the affection and confidence of
the people moved away from the party, it becomes clear when we look at
the reality that around 65% of the Sinhalese people and about 80% of the
Tamil people stood shoulder to shoulder with the government at this