Mahinda’s Landslide Victory in Sri Lanka Raison D’etre
The landslide victory of Mahinda Rajapaksa in the Sri Lankan Presidential election held on January 26, 2010 came as a surprise to Sri Lanka watchers in India and in other countries. The media reported that it would be a “close contest” between two “War Heroes”, the President, who provided the overall political leadership and the Army Chief, who was in charge of direct military operations, both combining to inflict a crushing defeat on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, considered to be the most ruthless and, at the same time, one of the most disciplined guerrilla organisations in the world.
The reports also indicated that the minority votes Tamil and Muslim- would be crucial and it will be the decisive factor tilting the balance in favour of the winning candidate. The result belied all expectations. Mahinda Rajapaksa, the incumbent President, who called for the election two years before it was due, polled 6,015,934 votes (57.88 per cent) and General Sarat Fonseka 4,173,185 votes (40.15 per cent) giving a commanding lead of more than one million votes (17.0 per cent).
It may be recalled that in the earlier Presidential election held in 2005, what enabled Rajapaksa to win was the call for boycott issued by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The Tamil voters in the north and the east responded to the LTTE appeal. If the Tamils had voted, they would have overwhelmingly endorsed the candidature of Ranil Wikramasinghe, who would have won the election hands down. It is one of the cruel ironies of modern Sri Lankan history that the Sinhalese leader who sounded the death knell of the Tigers came to power with the tacit support of Prabakaran.
Sarath Fonseka was able to mobilise a broad coalition of forces, representing major ethnic groups Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim. The coalition included United National Party, the Sinhala extremist Janatha Vimukti Peramuna (JVP), the Tamil
National Alliance (TNA) and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC). What is more interesting, the former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, belonging to the same party as Mahinda Raiapaksa, also extended her support to Fonseka.
But at the same time, it must be pointed out that the coalition did not have a common stance on the crucial question of ethnic reconciliation and the future constitutional set up. The JVP subscribed to the concept of unitary state and was opposed to devolution of powers to the provinces, the UNP upheld the 13th amendment, the TNA advocated 13th amendment plus and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress wanted autonomy to the Muslim areas. Sarat Foneka was ambivalent on the issue and made contradictory statements.
On the contrary, Mahinda Rajapaksa wanted to consolidate and expand his Sinhala base in which he succeeded in a big way. It was the rural vote bank which catapulted Mahinda Rajapaksa to power in a convincing way. The JVP, which is the main opponent of the SLFP in the rural areas, was unable to deliver the goods. It was not able to provide a convincing answer to the rural electorate the logic of its coming together with the pro-Tiger TNA and the UNP which swore by the India-Sri Lanka Accord.
A careful analysis of the election results indicate the widening of ethnic polarisation in the Island Republic. The electoral districts, where the overwhelming majority of the voters are Tamils and Moslems, voted for Sarat Fonseka. However, voting in the Northern Province was far below national average. In Central, North Central, North Western, Sabaragamuva, Southern and Uva provinces Mahinda Rajapaksa scored spectacular victory.
The foremost objective of President Rajapaksa will be to expand and consolidate his electoral base in the parliamentary election scheduled to be held in April 2010. But the parliamentary election will be held on the basis of proportional system of representation. The regional parties can be expected to do well in their pockets of influence. And if recent history holds any lessons for the future, no political party by itself will be able to get an absolute majority. The coalition governments had been the order of the day in Sri Lanka for the last two decades.
The greatness of a nation, Mahatma Gandhi once said, consists of how well it treats its minorities. The success of Sri Lanka would depend on the ushering of a new constitutional order, where multiple identities can co-exist harmoniously. A Tamil can be a Tamil, while being a Sri Lankan. This presupposes substantial devolution of powers to various provinces.
Unless Mahinda Rajapaksa and other Sinhalese leaders accept this fundamental axiom, there is unlikely to be any meaningful ethnic reconciliation in the island. A long summer of discontent is ahead of Sri Lanka.
(South Asia Analysis Group)
By V Suryanarayan