The UNP's Electoral Prospects

by C. A. Chandraprema

There is speculation that the President will dissolve Parliament and go for an election early next year. This speculation is in my view, well founded because President Rajapakse is the only President to actually run the country without a clear majority in Parliament. The JVP which is allied to him, remains outside the government. Neither the JVP nor the JHU is obliged to vote the way President Rajapakse would want them to. The President has survived the first year entirely through negotiation. This situation obviously cannot continue.

The President will have to either persuade the JVP to join the government, or he will have to take about 20 MPs from the UNP in order to get a clear majority in Parliament. If these options fail, he will have to call for a Parliamentary election. It is this situation which is fuelling`A0 speculation that the President might dissolve Parliament early next year after completing the capture of Vakarai, which will bring the entire Eastern province under government control. What would be the result of such an election? There are trends over the past several years which point to the possible outcome.

King Makers The seven electoral districts of the northern and eastern provinces will be won by the TNA, EPDP, SLMC, NUA with both the UNP and the SLFP getting a certain number of votes from the Eastern province. At a future Parliamentary election, the Karuna faction of the LTTE will almost certainly join this line up. But it is the electoral districts outside the northern and eastern provinces which will decide who rules the country.`A0 In August 1994, the SLFP led People's Alliance won a Parliamentary majority in a free and fair election. In subsequent years, the elections became less free and fair. But in 2005, the Presidential elections was the freest election this country has had since August 1994..

In previous years, Chandrika Kumaratunga wanted to retain power at any cost, but in 2005, she was on her way out. In fact her continuation in power depended on the defeat of her party's candidate. At the 2005 Presidential election, the candidate who was victimised was Mahinda Rajapakse rather than Ranil Wickremasinghe. Chandrika wanted Ranil to win and the story was that she had negotiated a deal with him to be appointed to Parliament on the national list and to continue in power as Prime Minister. She did her best to taint Mahinda Rajapakse by initiating an investigation against him with regard to tsunami funds on the eve of the election. The only reason that Mahinda won was because the people stood by him.

Quite apart from the fact that the UNP had help from the highest levels within the government, there was also the fact that both the CWC and SLMC - the parties which were dubbed the 'king makers' of Sri Lankan politics were in an alliance with the UNP candidate. The perception of the public at that time was that any candidate supported by the minority parties will win. Thus, even the psychological factor, which is so important in elections, was stacked against Mahinda. The most important factor to consider was that Mahinda Rajapakse was the candidate of a governing party that had ruled this country for over a decade with the concomitant electoral deterioration that sets in after a government captures power. The conventional wisdom is that once a peak is reached at an election, the vote base of the governing party stagnates and it is the opposition that picks up, by highlighting the faults of the government. It is this dynamic which brings about changes of government.

PA majorities increase

However, for the past twelve years, this dynamic has not been in operation. If one compares the results of the 1994 August election with that of the 2005 Presidential election, both of which were won by the PA, one can see that the majority received by the PA in the Moneragala and Ratnapura districts has more than trebled during this period. In 1994, the PA got a majority of 13,000 in the Ratnapura district. (Figures rounded off) By 2005, this gap had increased to 41,500. In the Moneragala district, the PA won with a majority of 10,000 votes in 1994. By 2005, this gap had increased to 34,000.

In the Hambantota and Polonnaruwa, districts, the majority received by the PA has more than doubled between these two elections. In the Polonnaruwa district in 1994, the PA got a majority of less than 6000 votes. This had increased to more than 13,000 by 2005. In the Hambantota district, the PA won by a majority of around 36,500 in 1994. In 2005, the gap had increased to over 90,000 votes.

In the Kalutara district, the PA majority has increased by 50% between these two elections. In 1994, the PA won Kalutara with a majority of 50,500 votes. By 2005, this gap has increased to 75,500.

In the Matara,`A0 Kurunegala and Galle districts, the PA majority has gone up by more than one third between these two elections. The PA won Matara with a majority of 85,000 in 1994 and by 2005, this had increased to 113,500 votes. In Kurunegala, the majority was 34,500 in 1994 and 49,500 in 2005. In Galle the PA got a majority of 74,500 votes in 1994, which had gone up to 108,000 in 2005.

In the Anuradhapura, district, the PA majority had increased by`A0 over 25% between these two elections - the PA got a majority of 38,500 votes in 1994, `A0 which had increased to 48,000 votes by 2005. The PA won the Kegalle district with a majority of 13,000 in 1994, and this majority had increased slightly by about 2,500 votes to 15,500 in 2005.`A0 In the Gampaha district, the PA won resoundingly both in 1994 and in 2005, but obviously due to the Chandrika factor, the majority declined marginally from`A0 133,500 in 1994 to 115,000 in 2005.

The UNP has done well in six districts. In the Puttlam district,`A0 the PA won with a majority of 23,000 in 1994, but lost by`A0 8500 votes in 2005.`A0`A0 The Badulla, district which the UNP won in 1994, with a majority of 35,500 votes was won again in 2005, albeit with a slightly reduced majority of`A0 34,000 votes. In the Kandy district, the UNP won with a majority of 34,000 votes in 1994, and doubled their majority to 71,500 votes in 2005. The Colombo district which the PA won with a majority of 84,500 votes, in 1994, was won by the UNP with a majority of 35,000 votes in 2005. In the Nuwara Eliya district, which the UNP won with a majority of 78,000 votes in 1994, they have managed to more than double their majority to 151,000 votes. In the Matale district which the PA won by a majority of`A0 2,500 votes in 1994, the UNP has prevailed by a majority of around 5,500 votes.

The minority vote

All the districts in which the UNP did well in 2005 are districts with large concentrations of minorities. It is quite obvious that the reason why the UNP appeared to prevail against the PA in these districts was because of the minority vote which was delivered en bloc to the UNP. The reason why the PA won the Colombo, Puttlam and Matale districts in 1994 was because of the minority vote which was with them at that time. It is the swing in the minority vote that carries these districts. This was even more so in the case of the UNP in 2005 than in the case of the PA in 1994.`A0 So indebted to the minorities has the UNP become in recent years,`A0 that of the eleven MPs on the UNP national list, only four are actually UNP. (Choksy, G.L.Peiris, Naveen Dissanayake and Ali Zaheer Maulana). The remaining seats are divided among the minority parties. The SLMC has four seats, the CWC two and the Up-country People's Front one seat on the UNP national list. Apart from these national list seats, the leaders of the minority parties were elected on the UNP lists from their districts. Thus, Arumugam Thondaman, Chandrasekaran, and Rauff Hakeem, were all elected on the UNP district lists. There are also other members of these parties who have come in on the UNP district lists.

It is of course a good thing for a national party to get the minority vote in this manner. But the problem is that these minority leaders are not loyal to the UNP. Today, they are all with the government. The SLFP also has allies like the Communist Party and the LSSP. But the LSSP and CP don't abandon the SLFP every time they lose.`A0 It is highly unlikely that at the next election, the minority allies would join the UNP because they have by now learnt a bitter lesson by trying to support a leader who cannot carry the Sinhalese vote with him. The SLMC and CWC supported the UNP at the 2004 Parliamentary election and despite their support, the UNP lost. Then they had to go on their bended knees to Chandrika to obtain portfolios. In 2005 again the minority leaders backed the same UNP candidate and lost again and had to go crawling to Mahinda Rajapakse. Itís unlikely that they would make the same mistake for the third time. If the minority parties do not stand by the UNP at the next Parliamentary election, the UNP will lose all six districts that they won in 2005.

Presence in Parliament

In overall terms, the UNP has not done well at all in the past twelve years. When the UNP lost in 1994, they had 94 MPs in Parliament. At the 2000 Parliamentary election, this number went down to 89. At the 2004 Parliamentary election, it went down further to 82. Of these 82 MPs, quite a number are members of`A0 minority parties that have already defected to the government. In addition to the defections by the minority parties, six UNP MPs have also crossed over, thus brining down drastically the actual number of UNP MPs in Parliament. If an election is called, there could be more defections from the UNP, thus bringing down the number of UNP MPs in Parliament even further.

Some people think that if another election is called, former President Chandrika Kumaratunga will come into politics and that a group of SLFP MPs would join her. If there are any defections from the SLFP, there will be a scramble from within the UNP to fill in the vacancies thus created! It is highly unlikely hat anyone from the SLFP will defect to the UNP because the fate of those who defected in 2001 is only too plainly to be seen. Hence the chances are that it will be the UNP that will lose MPs and not the SLFP. Some think that if the JVP contests the election separately, they would be able to deprive the SLFP of a clear majority.

At the 2000 October Parliamentary election, the JVP contested alone, and obtained ten seats in Parliament. Since then, several things have happened to compromise the independence of the JVP vote base. The first mistake they made was to enter into a 'pariwasa' arrangement with the PA in 2001, thus initiating contact between their vote base and that of the SLFP. The second mistake they made was to contest the 2004 election together with the SLFP and subsequently to take four cabinet portfolios in the Chandrika Kumaratunga government. The next mistake they made was to play a prominent role in Mahinda Rajapakse's election campaign. Today, there is an organic link between the JVP vote base and that of the SLFP. Contesting alone, the JVP can never hope to get 39 MPs in Parliament as at present. Moreover, it will be political suicide for them to be seen to be going against Mahinda Rajapakse, thus benefiting Ranil Wickremasinghe.


Whichever way one looks at it, the UNPs prospects are gloomy indeed. Even if there are no further crossovers, the number of UNP MPs in Parliament is going to decrease further at a future election. In some districts, like Puttlam and Matale, where the UNP won by only a small margin, even one defection will ensure that the UNP loses the district, thus losing not just the seat of the MP who defected, but the bonus seat as well which goes to the party that wins the district. Some people think that defections do not mean anything and that those who defect will be defeated at the elections. In 2001, the reason why the UNP won was because of the mass crossover of SLFP MPs to the UNP. Crossovers do have an effect on the party that loses MPs especially if it happens on a large scale. The psychological impact created by such an event alone is enough to tip the balance the other way.

Mahinda Rajapakse won the 2005 Presidential election, with one arm tied behind his back. Today, Mahinda has both hands free and has full control of state power and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. All the minority leaders who supported the UNP are eating out of his hand. Six MPs from the UNP have already defected. There is a group of eighteen UNP MPs sitting separately as a reformist group. Given all these factors, if an election is called any time soon, the UNP is set to suffer its most resounding defeat yet. Since the defeat of 2005, the UNP has done absolutely nothing to close the yawning gap that exists between itself and the PA in almost all districts. There is no point in blaming the UNP electoral organizers for this situation either. They have been asked to market a product which is about as attractive as rotten tomatoes. Without a change of leadership and a complete make over of the party, it`A0 is virtually impossible for the UNP to win over enough voters to be able to close the existing gap with the PA.


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