Mahinda magic works
* MR gets huge majority of 1.8 million
* SF a distant 2nd, loses home base
* MR takes 16 districts, SF only six
* A’galle defies CBK, gives MR majority
* SF wins North and East
* JVP-UNP marriage fails to deliver

President Mahinda Rajapaksa scored a historic victory over Opposition presidential candidate, General (retd) Sarath Fonseka at the first national poll since the collapse of the LTTE last May. The incumbent President polled a staggering 6,015,934 (57.88%) to set the stage for parliamentary elections before end of April. Fonseka polled 4,173,185 (40.15%) while the rest polled a total of 204,494 (1.9%).

Fonseka lost his home base, the Ambalangoda electorate by a majority of 12,297 votes. The President polled 33,488 (62.79%) against 19,191 (35.98%) obtained by Fonseka, who vowed to win the area though the government targeted the former Army Chief’s home town.

The President secured Kandy and Matale while Fonseka took Nuwara Eliya with a 30,000 vote majority though Wickremesinghe secured the entire Central Province with over 250,000 vote majority at the last presidential polls. The President also comfortably secured Galle, Matara, Hambantota, Colombo, Kalutara, Gampaha, Kurunegala, Puttalam, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Badulla, Moneragala, Ratnapura and Kegalle.

Fonseka secured Batticaloa, Digamadulla, Trincomalee, Jaffna, Vanni though Wickremesinghe at the last presidential poll won 11 electoral districts.

Although the government ensured a violence-free post-poll environment with a heavy presence of the police and troops in the City and its suburbs to meet any eventuality, public transport failed. Government sources said that a decision to declare Wednesday (January 27) a public and Bank holiday contributed to breakdown of public transport. Most the private buses, too, kept off the roads.

At the last presidential election in November 2005, the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Opposition candidate, Ranil Wickremesinghe won 11 electoral districts each.

Wickremesinghe secured Colombo, Batticaloa, Digamadulla, Badulla, Mahanuwara, Trincomalee, Jaffna, Nuwara Eliya, Matale, Vanni and Puttalam districts.

Rajapaksa won Galle, Anuradhapura, Gampaha, Matara, Polonnaruwa, Kalutara, Hambantota, Moneragala, Kurunegala, Ratnapura and Kegalle districts.

Rajapaksa secured the 2005 poll by a mere 180,796 votes though he scored an unprecedented victory, undoubtedly the biggest at a presidential poll, the first peacetime election since the end of war.

SLFP MP Mangala Samaraweera (SLFP-Mahajana Wing), who last week boasted that he would take over the SLFP after incumbent President and SLFP leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, lost his second bid at the presidency ended up losing his own electorate. The President polled 33,948 (55.07 %) against 27,102 (43.97 %) obtained by his rival to secure Matara.

Tuesday’s poll was the first in which two candidates from the Southern Province faced each other. Secretary to the President, Lalith Weerataunga told The Island that people should not forget the so-called combined Opposition campaigned to abolish the executive presidency. "It was their main slogan. Tuesday’s verdict is nothing but overwhelming rejection of their campaign and endorsement of the President’s policy," he said. Their Katakatha Brigade, too, had made a futile attempt to discredit the President and his brothers by publicly accusing them of amassing wealth through corrupt and irregular means, Weeratunga said.

In the run-up to the poll, former President and SLFP leader Chandrika Kumaratunga threw her weight behind Fonseka and went to the extent of calling the SLFP to defeat her successor and help restore democracy. Rajapaksa, who comfortably won the Gampaha District without her support and that of her brother, Anura Bandaranaike, the then Foreign Minister, secured the district this time too.

SLFP MPs Arjuna Ranatunga and Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, switched their allegiance to the Opposition in the run-up to the poll along with Myown Mustapha, MP, M. S. Sellasamy, Cegu Isadeen, MP and presidential advisor Nazeer Ahmed.

The UNP and JVP sank their differences to back Fonseka, who contested the poll on the New Democratic Front (NDF) ticket. Former Chief Justice Sarath Nanda Silva, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and the Western People’s Front (WPF) led by Mano Ganeshan, MP, too, joined the campaign to bring the President to his knees.

Former JVP heavyweight Wimal Weerawansa, MP, told The Island that the Opposition would never recover from this defeat ahead of the forthcoming parliamentary polls. The people, he said, had told the Opposition what they really thought of them and their ridiculous bid to destroy a popular leader. National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Weerawansa said that the JVP would face the daunting task of facing parliamentary elections on its own in couple of months. The JVP leadership in the run-up to the poll declared that it would contest parliamentary polls on its own though it had formed an alliance at the presidential polls.

Weerawansa said that the JVP had been reduced to nothing though it boasted of a landslide victory for Fonseka, whose campaign managers did nothing but caused rumours.

The Opposition also claimed that it had the support of about 90 per cent of the armed forces and police though Tuesday’s result had proved that almost all districts with a Sinhala Buddhist and Catholic majority voted for the President.

To the credit of public servants, the President easily secured the postal vote, though the Opposition believed that Fonseka’s promise to reward them with a Rs. 10,000 salary increase once he succeeded Rajapaksa. The President ruled out the possibility of such an increase while offering a Rs. 2,500 increase to 1.2 million public servants. Weeratunga, who played a critical role in the campaign, said that public servants weren’t deceived by that particular promise. The Opposition went to the extent of claiming that the President had reduced the price of petrol in fear of Fonseka’s rapidly rising popularity.

Weerawansa said that the Opposition never recovered from the controversy over the Hicorp arms deals as well as the abortive bid to bribe NFF MP M. Muzamil in the run-up to the poll. He said that only the TNA had delivered Tamil majority electorates and districts to Fonseka in keeping with their pre-poll agreement.

The Opposition candidate suffered another setback in the final hours of voting when the State media revealed that he could not even exercise his franchise due to him not being on the June 2008 electoral register.

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