Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

  • September 2012
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PC Polls – the Government moves down a notch By Harim Peiris

Posted by harimpeiris on September 10, 2012

The elections to the three provincial councils, the North Central, the Sabaragamuwa and the Eastern Provincial Council concluded over the weekend and the results provide some interesting political trends.

At the very outset, it should be recognized that the government faced and conducted these elections on a basis that was as tailor made to its agenda as possible. If the PC elections were a cricket match, you would have claimed not just that the pitch was made in a manner friendly to the home (governing side) but actually doctored to fit its own needs. Since provincial elections are not contests that can conceivably change governments, there are a myriad of factors at play. Support for an opposition is lackluster since irrespective of the outcome, it will continue as the opposition in the central government, a savvy electorate is made to understand the benefits of state patronage by the governing party and in conducting elections in only a part of the country the government gets to focus the full force and intensity of its own efforts and state resources in a very concentrated manner.

Additionally a very worrying feature of recent elections conducted under the Rajapakse Administration, now unfettered by the independence of key institutions, such as the elections and police departments, demanded by the now effectively repealed and defunct 17th amendment is a blatant abuse of state resources and media in the ruling UPFA’s poll campaign. The strategy is clearly to have a campaign that is violent and unfair and then tactically withhold violence on polling day (when election monitors and the press is watching) to claim a “free election”. But as the preliminary reports of both PAFRELL and CAFFE would  indicate, gross abuse of state resources was rampant. So despite engaging in a fight, that was as close to a “fixed fight” in terms of the conditions and context in which the contest was conducted several features are noteworthy.

Firstly, the ruling UPFA though winning comfortably and still poling handsomely, has certainly begun to lose some of its luster amongst the electorate, from two years ago in comparison to the previous polls outing of the general election of 2010. In the Sabaragamuwa Province, the UPFA moved down from approximately 67% to 59% and in the North Central Province from 66% to 61%. Now while the high fifties and the low sixties are levels of public support that is more than satisfactory, the downward trajectory of support means that as far as the UPFA is concerned it can only go down from where it now stands. The beneficiary of this slight decline in government support has been the main opposition UNP which has seen its support climb from its nadir of 29% to about 35%, a reasonably core base from which to even contemplate comebacks of sorts. While this is certainly not the beginning of the end for the Rajapakse Administration and the UPFA, it is however, clearly the end of the beginning or the “political honeymoon” of the post war victory of 2009/10 is now over.

It is however in the Eastern Province that the ruling UPFA demonstrated its complete repudiation once again by the Tamil community. In the Eastern Province the UPFA declined demonstrated its repudiation by the multi ethnic electorate and specifically by the Tamil community. The UPFA’s decline from the previous 2008 provincial election, when the TNA did not contest, was precipitous from 52% to 31%. But even from the general elections of 2010, the most recent yardstick, it declined from 51% to 33% in Ampara, from 34% to 31% in Batticalo and from 43% to 28% in Trincomalee. The winner of course in all this was the Tamil National Alliance or TNA contesting under its major party the Illankai Tamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK), became the district winner in both the Trincomalee and Batticalo districts and with the Ampara votes  added in came within six thousand votes of the UPFA in the entire Eastern Province. UPFA 31.5% of the popular vote, TNA 30.5% of the popular vote. The TNA increased its votes from the 2010 general election, for instance like in the Trincomalee District from 33,268 votes (24%) to 44,396  votes (29%) and in Batticalo a phenomenal increase from 66,235 votes (36%) to a 104,682 votes (51%). Even in Ampara it increased its votes from 2010 from 26,895 votes (10%) to 44,749 votes (16%). The results of the Eastern Provincial Council no doubt demonstrate very clearly why the Rajapakse Administration is running shy of a democratic electoral contest for the Northern Provincial Council.

The other also ran in this contest was the JVP, which generally ended up with about 2% of the popular vote and the UPFA constituent the JHU which decided against fielding candidates in these provinces, perhaps fearing the electorate’s verdict and an exposure of its sparse national appeal, especially in the context of a real debate amongst Buddhist religious and lay leaders about the wisdom of partisan and political monks.

One hopes the provincial polls results, especially in the East, provoke some fresh thinking within its upper echelons and provide some policy changes in terms of national post war reconciliation approach, where road construction and public works would not be equated with conflict victim centered reconciliation and pluralist accommodation of diversity through political processes.

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