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Reading the Presidential Election and result

What is attempted in this brief comment is to draw certain positive conclusions from the published result of the Presidential election just concluded. The position popularized in the course of the election was that it was a contest between two individuals, the C-in-C of the Armed Forces and the General that led them on ground to what was claimed as the liquidation of the LTTE and its military and political capacity. It signified to the country that the election was an opinion poll on credit (kudos) claimed by the rival contestants on the success of the military operations elevated for better effect to the level of war. We do not know who commenced the war - who in fact and in truth closed the Mavilaru sluice gate except for the charge made on it by the Government.

Mini Iraq operation

The result was predetermined by the Constitution itself. As ‘gold standard’ there were the previous Presidents fearful on the issue, and Generals without initiative. This time there was the needed meeting of minds, and a mini Iraq operation in all dimensions - ground, sea and air, and as Tony Blair has claimed the villain and maniac exterminated with the fall out being considered as of no consequence. All that we did not have were the drones and, of course, the phosphorous gas which the Israelis, caught in the act, say they use cautiously. The cost both economic and political still not in public knowledge is for the present not for consideration, and happily we went to the poll without concern for the hard issues. The result did not surprise us.

It is not suggested that the result in votes cast would have been any different had the economic and other hardship issues as relate to welfare systems had come to the fore. The UNP chose not to cross swords with the SLFP on these very live and pertinent issues for on their own record they had lost credibility on them.

What enlivened the contest was the reduction of the Presidential election to an exercise in the absurd; for this comic relief in a time of world economic crisis we need of course to be thankful to the contesting teams.

The focus was taken off the fact that what was being staged was the contest of two political alliances, one led by the SLFP and the other by the UNP. The vote reflected the traditional voting pattern in the predominantly Sinhala electorates with the SLFP having the advantage of the incumbent President leading it. The UNP suffered from an inability to mobilize its traditional vote for political and other reasons, one being the no-nonsense level of intimidation of its supporters ahead of the polling day as reported by the Opposition.

North and East and TNA

The vote the UNP alliance gathered from the northern province was wholly a TNA contribution. It is reasonable to assume that the Tamil people in the North and the East too had no reason to vote for either of the main contestants. As to results for the SLFP alliance there was Minister Douglas Devanandan making his contribution in and around Kayts, and Sampanthan adding his weight to the other. Muslim parties in the UNP alliance made their investment on SF.

Convincing lead

Given the convincing lead secured by the SLFP alliance in all the districts except those of the northern, eastern and central provinces it may be safely concluded that the alleged intimidation and malpractices could have made no more than a marginal difference to the result of the election as declared by the Commissioner.

The military operations against the LTTE were carried out as part of the USA led ‘War on Terror’; on this there was no difference on principle as between the SLFP and the UNP. The JVP, and the LSSP and CPSL in their respective Alliances did not give voice to what misgivings they may have had on the choice of the leadership of the USA under declared mutual commitments for reciprocal use of common facilities in their respective territories in military operations against third parties. The TNA turned a blind eye on it, and academia itself, the pride of our country, together with the artistes of stage and screen crowded into the respective bandwagons enthused by nationalism, patriotism, jingoism or just plain US State Department scholarship purveyed among its Third World friends on the ethics of terrorism.

Political solution

That the LTTE, right, wrong, or diabolical, had a political agenda that exploited the failure of successive governments to distance the Tamil populace from LTTE terrorism received no serious consideration. What was needed was the offer of an adequate political solution to the Tamil people without making LTTE intransigence on the issue an excuse for caving in under the pressures of electioneering in the south: and this despite the fact that devolution of political power started by the 13th Amendment has been accepted by both major parties, UNP and SLFP, as basis for a political solution as could counter the LTTE and its separatism.

As to principled political issues there were none except perhaps what related to the precipitate holding of the election itself; but that is always left to the governing party to be decided on the basis of personal - political advantage. That the northern province, as revealed by the Elections Commissioner, had no valid electoral register of voters was ignored despite the constitutional requirement that electoral registers had to be part of the valid national register. The northern register had been compiled in 1988 on the census conducted for that purpose and was no longer part of the updated national register. Hence it is that the votes from over there came as though from ghost towns and villages despite the peace that had prevailed for some time.

The vote

On the results announced it is observed that more than half the voters listed in the Jaffna district had not voted. Those who did vote seized the go-ahead signal of the TNA to vote for the battle-hardened General who had risked his life to get the LTTE off their backs! Other districts too in the north had failed to draw in the listed votes. In Vauniya that presumably had enjoyed the calm and quiet of several fruitful years the vote was a 50,000 from a list of 113,000 voters. The vote whereever it was expressed in the province was clearly against the Sinhala majority establishment. It was as though the rhetoric that minorities no longer exist in Sri Lanka did give to the Tamils the wrong message as made them react with, vengeance!

A clearer political meaning has come from the minorities outside the northern province. In the Batticaloa, district, Kalkudah with a 60% turn out gave SF a 60% vote and MR a 34%; in the Batticaloa electorate with a 67% turn out SF had a 69% vote, and MR 28%; Padiruppu with its 47% turn out gave an 80% vote to SF, and a 13 % to MR. In the Digamadulla district Ampara with its mixed population had a 74% turn out with a 68% vote for MR, and less than half that to SF; with a lesser voter turn out Samanturai gave a 56% vote to SF, and a 42% to MR; Kalmunai showed a 67% turn out with 76% to SF, and a one-third of that to MR, and Potuvil with a 67% turn out gave SF a 60% vote, and MR a 38%. A marked feature in all these electorates was that candidates banking on a minority ethnic vote were discounted.

In the Trincomalee district barring the predominantly Sinhala electorate of Seruvila which gave 63% of its vote to MR as against the 34% to SF, the electorates of Trincomalee and Muttur showed a comparatively higher vote to MR though SF got the big hand. In the Nuwara Eliya and Badulla districts the recognizably plantation voter made the difference between MR and SF.

Pattern of voting

This perceived pattern of voting suggests an ethnic or communal bent in the minority vote. We do not however see it as a political polarization as has been characterized by the prophets of doom and those stuck in the blind alley of communal politics. With them the TULF remained demonized on its apparent adoption of separatism. The late Dr N. M. Perera put this in context in his ‘critical analysis’ of JRJ’s magnum opus - what Dr. Colvin R de Silva pilloried as the ‘Constitution for Dictatorship’.

NM’s brief comment is given here in full as it is self explanatory. He recalled that the TULF in response to the militancy which the Tamil youth invested in separatism acted to mollify them. He wrote: "At a recent conference of the TULF held in Jaffna hot heads were apparently mollified. While lip service was paid to separatism, the door was not banged against co-operation to achieve an agreed solution acceptable to both the North and the South within the ambit of a Unitary state."

13th Amendment

The 13th Amendment to the Constitution introduces the principle of devolution of political power which is about the only way of seeking to satisfy Tamil aspirations within the ambit of the unitary state in a country that remains unified.

It would be correct to say that the large and generous vote received by the President in the predomintly Sinhala electorates is, as requested by him, an enabling vote to complete the social cohesion which he projects in his vision of development though presented in less meaningful rhetorical terms. The vote that went against him was irrespective of ethnicity and was a rejection of the political establishment as presently exists, and is no reflection on himself with his known affirmative position on the devolution of political power.

What is suggested here is the forthwith implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. It can be done wholly on the decision of the President and without reference to Parliament in that it is within the provisions of existing law. It may prove to be the basis for agreement between the two major parties, the SLFP and the UNP on further reform for a meaningful system of devolution.

It may be mentioned here the immediate need for a valid voters register for the Northern Province in time for the expected Parliamentary election. Failure to do this is a serious infringement of the fundamental rights of the citizens in the North eligible to vote but have been deprived of their right due wholly to administrative failure.

NB. As this goes to press for favour of publication I have the news that SF has been taken to custody by the Military Police in connection with discovered plans for an attack planned against the government. This development does not require any change in the positions I have stated here except that in the circumstances given here I cannot understand how an armed move for seizure of power or sabotage of government as alleged could have been of any service to the General at any point of time after the election. It is to be hoped that the President will go into this matter.

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