Today is D-day. The voter usually becomes the king on the day of an election only to have his powers usurped by wily politicians in no time. It is hoped that he or she would be able to make a wise decision and cast his or her vote freely.
Today's election is expected to be closely contested between the two main candidates, the incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the former Army Commander Gen. (retd) Sarath Fonseka. They have stumped the length and breadth of the country during the past four weeks of hectic campaigning. Both of them are confident of victory but only one of them can win.
Some seasoned psephologists who have followed the recent electoral trends, analysed past election results, studied the behaviour of the polity and assessed the impact of the two main contestants' campaign strategies on the country predict a clear lead for one of them. Whether they have got it right we will see after voters do their part today and the Elections Commissioner figures out probably by midday tomorrow what the people have said.
At the presidential polls in 2005, the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who contested on the UPFA ticket, obtained 4,887,162 votes (50.29 per cent) and the UNP candidate and Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe secured 4,706,366 votes (47.43 per cent). They won eleven electoral districts each. Mahinda bagged Gampaha, Kalutara, Galle, Matara, Hambantota, Kurunegala, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Moneragala, Ratnapura and Kegalle while Colombo, Kandy, Matale, Nuwara Eliya, Jaffna, Vanni, Batticaloa, Digamadulla, Trincomalee, Puttalam and Badulla went for Ranil. At that time Ranil claimed that an LTTE-instigated polls boycott had affected him adversely as he was banking on the northern and eastern voters to win the presidency. This time around, the LTTE is not there and people are free to cast their votes.
However, the Opposition combine is today without CWC Leader Arumugam Thondaman's block vote, in the central hills, which helped Ranil bag Nuwara Eliya with a thumping majority of over 150,000 votes. Fonseka, however, has the JVP on his side. The CWC, the Up Country People's Front and S. B. Dissanayake, who also delivered a lot of votes for the UNP in 2005, are with Mahinda. Ranil won handsomely in Batticaloa––with a majority of 92,000 votes. Mahinda has emerged strong in that district with both Chief Minister S. Chandrakanthan (Pillaiyan) and Minister V. Muralitharan (Karuna) working for him.
All that Mahinda has to do to clear the fifty-percent hurdle for victory is to retain the support he received in 2005 in terms of his percentage vote. Fonseka's challenge will be to turn the tables on Mahinda and win three or more populous districts while retaining the ones that Ranil secured last time. That is he will have to bag about 14 out of 22 districts with considerable majorities to win. How the two candidates will fare remains to be seen.
It is a supreme irony that we who have won a fierce war against terrorism without foreign assistance as such cannot conduct an election without foreign observers. The blame for this sorry state of affairs must be apportioned to all governments since 1977, the JVP and all those who supported the LTTE. Together they have nurtured political violence and election malpractice and brought the country to this pass.
The setting up of Independent Commissions under the 17th Amendment is widely considered a panacea for all these ills. They are no doubt useful but all such mechanisms will not yield the intended results unless powers and privileges of those who hold political office are curtailed drastically. It may be recalled that time was when this country could hold free and fair elections without any high powered commissions or foreign observers. It is not only the powers of the Executive President that need to be reduced but also those of parliamentarians and provincial councillors who have become a law unto themselves.
The greatest service the winner in the presidential race today could render to this country is to be magnanimous in victory and take steps to defuse tension that a bitterly contested election has generated over the past few weeks. Four people have already perished in violence and there must be no more deaths or violent clashes.