External Affairs

A Close Fight, and a Clear Message to Rajapaksa

sl results

Results for the 196 seats up for direct election in Sri Lanka. In addition, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and EPDP won 1 seat each.

Eight months after their historic presidential poll in which they unseated former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the people of Sri Lanka on Tuesday delivered a clear message to the leader, forcing him to concede defeat early. His political coalition failed to muster the numbers to form the government in the August 17 parliamentary elections and Rajapaksa, according to an AFP report, declared that “dream of becoming Prime Minister has faded away”.

As per the final tally released by Sri Lanka’s Election Commission Tuesday evening, the Ranil Wickremesinghe-led United National Party (UNP) secured 93 seats, ten more than the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) which Rajapaksa is part of.

The UNP secured 45. 66 per cent of the votes, while the UPFA obtained 42.38 per cent. The UNP, which beat the UPFA in 11 out of 22 electoral districts, is likely form the government with the support of smaller parties including the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which won 14 seats in the country’s Tamil-speaking north and east.

Other potential allies include the leftist-nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), which won four seats, and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), with one each. Sri Lanka’s parliament has 225 members, 196 of whom were elected on Tuesday. The remaining 29 seats will be filled through nominations to a national list of parliamentarians depending on each party’s vote share.

Meanwhile, President Maithripala Sirisena—whose defection ahead of the January 8 election paved way for Rajapaksa’s defeat then—appears to be consolidating his hold over the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the UPFA, after dismissing some Rajapasa loyalists. Still holding considerable executive powers, President Sirisena will have to continue to work with Wickremesinghe and the UNP.

Wickremesinghe, expected to take charge as Prime Minister, termed the election outcome “an endorsement of the January 8 revolution”, according to agency reports. “It is not necessary to divide the people as winners and losers. I urge all to unite and help build our nation,” he said, according to local reports.

Tuesday’s results, in fact, appeared to reiterate the January 8 mandate of the people of Sri Lanka, despite a determined Rajapaksa fighting an aggressive campaign. His election rallies were marked by shrill communal tones and dire warnings about the likely resurgence of the LTTE that his army defeated in 2009, bringing an end to the nearly three decade-long civil war on the island.

However, the poll verdict – about 70 per cent of the country’s 1.5 crore-strong electorate voted – seems to indicate that the charges of authoritarianism and corruption against him and his family clearly outweighed the war-victor image that once drew him enormous support in the island’s Sinhalese south.

In addition to his apparent hostility towards Tamil minorities in the post-war years, Rajapaksa also systematically alienated Muslims of the island – constituting about 10 per cent of the population – who were targeted by Sinhala chauvinistic groups that he reportedly supported. In addition to this, sections of the rural Sinhalese grew increasingly disillusioned with the leader amid mounting corruption charges against his family, while they were being pushed to abject poverty.

Upcountry Tamils, inhabiting the island’s Central Province, virtually rejected the Ceylon Workers’ Congress (CWC) – perceived as a close ally of Rajapaksa – despite their historic links to the party. The UNP made considerable gains in this area, especially the Badulla and Nuwara Eliya electoral districts, where most of Sri Lanka’s famed tea estates are located.

The TNA’s impressive show in the north came as little surprise, considering its traditional support base there but other political formations cemented with the support of pro-LTTE diaspora made little headway in the north, pointing to the growing distance of the majority of northern Tamils from the ultra-nationalist rhetoric that the LTTE employed.

Comprehensive details of the preferential votes obtained by candidates – Sri Lanka follows a proportional representation-cum-preferential voting system – are expected to be released Wednesday.