Sri Lanka Elections and the Aftermath.
President Chandrika could have waited for another year to face the hustings if she really wanted it. Having been elected as President on November 09, 1994 for a period of 6 years, her office under normal circumstances would end only in 2000. But Chandrika went to the polls one year ahead ostensibly for the reason she wanted “a strong mandate” to push through parliament the constitutional changes that will result in the abolition of the Executive Presidency and devolution of power that will solve the ethnic conflict once and for all.
But Chandrika’s opponents claimed the real reason for her decision to hold the elections early had much to do with the deteriorating economy mainly due to burgeoning defence expenditure. Her opponents had a valid point. How could a “strong mandate” in a Presidential elections translate itself into a two-third majority in the Parliament necessary to pass the constitutional changes?
In the final analysis, far from obtaining a “strong mandate”, Chandrika has managed to get only a very weak endorsement thus defeating the very objective of holding early elections.
A close analysis of the votes cast reveals the following self-evident truths:
(1) The percentage of votes obtained by Chandrika has fallen from 62.28 % in 1994 to 51.12 % in 1999, a decrease of a full 11 percentage points.
(2) Chandrika has lost the confidence of Tamil voters not only in Northeast, but in the South as well. Her oft repeated claim that the war is only against the LTTE “terrorists” and not against the Tamil people whom she had “liberated from the clutches of the LTTE” now stands hopelessly discredited.
(3) The polarization of the two major communities along racial lines is now complete. This means the birth of Tamil Eelam is one step closer than any time before.
(4) Chandrika effectively is now the President of the Sinhalese people only. She is now a life prisoner in the hands of the Sinhalese chauvinistic forces as never before.
(5) Any hope of restoring peace to the beleaguered island has now evaporated into thin air. Chandrika’s acceptance speech clearly demonstrates her intention to tread the same beaten path of militarily defeating the LTTE.
A total of 11.8 million voters qualified to vote in the elections. The final poll for the 3 major parties showed the following results:
The voting pattern showed that while the rural areas in the South overwhelmingly voted for Chandrika, urban cities, Northeast and Central province voted for Ranil Wickremesinghe. The following figures show how Chandrika and Ranil fared in Colombo and in majority Tamil areas.
In Batticaloa district Ranil polled 61.19% of the votes compared to Chandrika’s 34.66%. This was a far cry from the 87.30% (1,44,725 votes) Chandrika won in 1994. In Trincomalee district Ranil was endorsed by 50.25 % (63,251) compared to 44.96% (56,691) for Chandrika. In Nuwara Eliya district where hill country Tamils live in large numbers Ranil secured 48.68 (152,836) as against 46.88% (147,210) for Chandrika.
The only district in the Northeast which voted more for Chandrika than her opponent was Digamadulla district where Muslims and Sinhalese are in a majority. Chandrika secured 55.59 % (149,593) of the votes polled compared to Ranil’s 40.80% (105,805). Also in Jaffna district Chandrika polled 52,043 votes (46.65%) as against 48,005 votes (43.03%) for Ranil. Everyone knew what the outcome of the elections in army occupied Jaffna will be when the PA appointed the mercenary EPDP as its polling agent. There is no doubt that wholesale rigging of votes by the EPDP in Jaffna tilted the results in Chandrika’s favour. More on this later.
Chandrika and her acolytes used to brag mostly for foreign consumption that they had “liberated the Tamil people from the clutches of the LTTE!” This is good as saying that the wily fox had liberated the unsuspecting chickens! Even if the “liberation theory” is true how come ungrateful Tamils everywhere have voted against her in droves? One positive outcome of this election is that Chandrika and Co. cannot now claim that the Tamil people are with them in their fight against the LTTE.
Chandrika Plays the
The state controlled media was garnered to whip up an anti-Tamil communal campaign. The powerful National Buddhist Council after staging a mass demonstration in Colombo on December 9, 1999 threw its weight behind President Chandrika. Yellow robed Buddhist monks urged Sinhalese “to keep the ethnic issue in mind while casting their ballots on the polling day.” Likewise the ultra-Buddhist Mahajana Eksath Peramuna led by Dinesh Gunawardene also pledged support to Chandrika.
Two weeks before the election Chandrika took into her fold such Sinhala chauvinist politicians like Nanda Mathew, Dr. Stanley Kalpage, Sunil Munasinghe and Dr.Sarath Amunugama. This was indicative of her conscious decision to play the Sinhala card to win the presidential elections.
The Lake House of newspapers carried out a relentless propaganda barrage which openly claimed that a vote cast to Ranil is a “Vote for Eelam!” Ranil’s statement (later denied) that he will hand over Northeast to Prabakaran for 2 years was exploited to whip up anti-Tamil frenzy. So also Ranil’s statement in lighter vein that he will hand over Chandrika to Prabakaran! Apart from publishing articles which heaped praises on Chandrika’s leadership and achievements, letters to the editor were also planted to support the conspiratorial theory that Ranil has entered into a secret pact with LTTE leader Prabakaran to divide Sri Lanka.
Those UNPers working hard for Ranil were told that “they must remember that they are not working for UNP or Ranil but for that ruthless killer, fascist Prabhakaran.”
The Daily News (December 18,1999) published a letter written by one Nimal Perera, Colombo 8, which repeated the charge “that every vote for Ranil is a vote for Eelam!”
“Surely, the intelligent, patriotic voters of Sri Lanka will give a telling reply to all these Traitors on the 21st Dec. This is not just a Presidential election. This is the day of reckoning for Sri Lanka. The day of the battle of Patriots Vs. Traitors. This day the Patriots will prove their loyalty to Mother Lanka by voting for the only credible candidate, Mrs. Kumaratunga. There will be no spoiling or abstaining. It must be clearly understood that every vote for Ranil is a vote for Eelam.” (Daily News-December 18,1999).
For Sinhalese chauvinists, no history is complete without quoting Mahavamsa and its hero King Dutugemunu. Dr. Samaraweera writing from far away Australia drew parallel between King Kavantissa and Ranil.
“For example, over 2000 years ago, it is recorded in the Mahavamsa, that when King Kavantissa was wilting in the face of aggression from the North, Prince Gamini (later to become King Dutugemunu), had sent his father a bundle of female clothing, implying that King Kavantissa was not fit and had no courage to lead the Sinhala people who at the beginning of their settlement in Sri Lanka years ago had adopted the “Lion” as the symbol with a view to projecting courage, righteousness and braveness. The other important ingredient of public leadership is, in the striking words of the Mahavamsa being “One with the religion and the people”.
Dr. Samaraweera does not offer any explanation why those who “years ago adopted the ‘Lion’ as the symbol with a view to projecting courage, righteousness and braveness” took flight from Vanni last November instead of staying to fight “enemy number one”?
Even foreign climes and liberal democracy have failed to help people like Dr. Samaraweera to ditch their narrow, sectarian communal blinkers. Hence his battle cry -- “One with the religion and the people!”
Large Scale Vote
The appointment of the mercenary EPDP as the polling agent of Chandrika clearly showed that PA was banking on vote rigging to win the election in Jaffna. EPDP cadres who had earlier forcibly removed the electoral lists from the Kachcheri had a field day stuffing ballots into boxes on the polling day. Tamils in Aniwatte and Mahaiyyawa in Kandy were threatened and prevented from voting by supporters of the ruling People’s Alliance (PA) party. Their polling cards were snatched by PA thugs who warned Tamils not to vote.
TamilNet correspondent quoting officials in Jaffna said that the large number of votes garnered by fringe and extremist Sinhala political parties based in the south in the presidential polls held in Jaffna, indicated general rigging. Even the extremist Sinhala Buddhist group Maha Sammata Bhoomiputra Party, led by the little known Harischandra Wijetunga managed to get 818 votes in the peninsula!
The independent Centre for Monitoring Election Violence alleged that “The 1999 Presidential elections conducted Dec.21 was marred by serious election violations, systematic impersonations and ballot-stuffing, violence and intimidation of votes, officials and monitors alike, and the abuse of state machinery and resources, in a significant number of polling centres throughout the country.”
The successive Sri Lankan governments in their genocidal war against the Tamil people have used unrestrained military violence to terrorise them into submission. The criminilization of politics and brutalization of society in the south should be seen as a direct result of such military violence against the Tamil people.
It is a moot point whether a fair and free election would have made any difference to the final result. The short answer is probably not. But it is certain Chandrika would not have passed the 50% mark and thus forcing a second count till a winner emerges.
“Let all those who aid and abet terror be warned... let those who secretly or openly condone the path of violence pursued by the cowards of the LTTE be warned: the days of terror in this land are numbered, and that number is small.’’
In Chandrika’s vocabulary the word “terror” is a euphemism for LTTE and according to her wiping our terror means wiping out the LTTE. She mistakenly thinks she can wage a war in the Northeast without any fallout in the south. In this respect Ranil spoke sense when he said “We have to face these threats to our lives when the government decided to bomb and kill [Tamil] civilians in Mullaitivu.” (TamilNet December 23,1999).
So the war will be prosecuted even if it means the country goes broke and despite the fact Chandrika and her uncle Ratwatte have been conducting a brutal and bloody war at a cost of Rs.5000 billion annually for the last 5 years, to no end. More than 6000 Sinhalese youths have been unnecessarily sacrificed in this mad adventure to satisfy the imperial designs of the Sinhalese ruling class.
The Tamil people are under no illusion that either Chandrika or Ranil will agree to a just and fair political settlement. The LTTE leader made this clear when he declared in his 1999 Heroes’ Day speech that
“We are also aware that Sinhala chauvinistic leadership will not easily abandon their long standing policy of military violence and repression against the Tamils. Therefore, we do not live in fantasy hoping to resolve our national conflict by engaging in a rational dialogue with Sinhala political leadership.”
Those who sincerely hoped that the new millennium will usher in peace and prosperity will have to await till the Sinhala army of occupation is physically thrown out from Northeast by force. But be assured that days of the Sinhala army are numbered and that number is small.