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DateLine Sunday, 18 May 2008

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Government Gazette

Ranil’s belated recognition of UNP vote base : Cause for Eastern debacle

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 provinces merged.

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 25% Muslims.

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 of Mr.

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 elections.

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 UNP leadership.

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 victory.

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 vote?

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 Sinhalese votes.

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 the votes.

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 Sinhalese majority.

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 government.

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 13,924 votes.

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 votes.

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 several years.

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 they polled.

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 election.

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