Electoral gains

Published : Mar 13, 2009 00:00 IST

President Mahinda Rajapaksa hoists the national flag during Independence Day celebrations in Colombo on February 4.-BUDDHIKA WEERASINGHE/REUTERS

President Mahinda Rajapaksa hoists the national flag during Independence Day celebrations in Colombo on February 4.-BUDDHIKA WEERASINGHE/REUTERS

SRI LANKAN President Mahinda Rajapaksa has reason to be pleased with himself. His government has scored impressive victories not only on the war front but also in the electoral sphere. In elections to two of the provinces in the island nation on February 14, the United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) led by Rajapaksa came out victorious.

The elections, coming at a juncture when the military has almost wiped out the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) as a conventional force, assumed special significance with the President seeking to convert them into a referendum on the war. The results show an overwhelming support for the war.

The ruling alliance won with a convincing majority in the Central Province, winning in all the districts there, while it gained a commanding lead in the North Western Province (Wayamba), where the final results have been delayed on account of a re-election in one of the electoral districts.

The official results showed that in the Central Province the UPFA obtained 6,50,203 votes (59.53 per cent of votes polled), while the opposition United National Party (UNP), which came second, polled 4,22,125. The ruling combine is expected to win over 55 per cent of the votes polled when the final results for the North Western Province are released.

The flip side of the results in both the provinces is that the success of the ruling combine is based entirely on the votes of the Sinhalese majority. Indian-origin Tamils and Muslims, who form a substantial chunk of the electorate in the two provinces, appear to have rallied behind the main opposition party.

The pro-LTTE portal TamilNet, in an opinion piece on the outcome of the election results, fallaciously argued that it justified partition of the island. The electoral victories endorse the ongoing brutal war, aiming at total subjugation of Tamils. In the process, the Sinhala majority virtually concedes the need for partition in the island, if any polity acceptable to human civilisation should prevail there, it noted. It conveniently ignored the fact that over 40 per cent of the votes were cast against the ruling combine.

In a span of less than a year, five of the nine provinces in Sri Lanka witnessed elections, and the ruling combine made a clean sweep of them.

In the first-ever elections to the Eastern Provincial Council (EPC), held in May 2008, the ruling combine along with the rebel LTTE group led by Col. Karuna notched a convincing victory and made a Tamil the Chief Minister. Immediately after the election to the EPC, the ruling party registered victories in the elections to the provincial councils in the North Central and Sabaragamuwa provinces.

The string of electoral successes has made the managers of the ruling combine argue for the dissolution of Parliament. They believe that the military victories will give the ruling party a decisive edge in general elections held a year ahead of time.

Elections are due in the Western Province (Colombo and its suburbs), where the Provincial Council was dissolved recently. The Western Province, which has a large urban population, has traditionally been the stronghold of the UNP led by former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. The outcome of the election to the province would be seen as a test of the Presidents popularity among the urban populace.

There is little doubt that the President and his ruling combine are riding piggyback on the successes scored by the military. However, Rajapaksa has a tough job ahead of him if the electoral successes have to be durable. The English daily Island commented in an editorial:

Any military campaign, however successful it may be, loses its magic with the passage of time. Therefore, the government will have to finish this war as soon as possible and beat swords into ploughshares for the benefit of suffering masses.

Celebrations have already begun and President Rajapaksa has cause to let the castle run red with wine or yellow with fruit juice if he sticks to his Mathata Thitha programme but he ought to be mindful of the fact that he has promises to keep and a conflict to resolve, and most of all, complacency always proves to be costly. He cannot afford to ignore the opposition, however debilitated it may be.

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