[“Vidwath Kathikawa” on 24th July 2014; photo: NMSJ]
by Laksiri Fernando-
When looking at the results of the Uva Provincial Council (PC) elections, there are two main conclusions that emerge very clearly. First is that the unity within the opposition United National Party (UNP) has tremendously uplifted the voter confidence for that party against the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). Second, going by or extending the same observation, unity among all or most of the opposition parties might be the key to defeating the incumbent government in the future.
These conclusions are projected, particularly the second one, considering the fundamental necessity to change the government to preserve and promote democracy, human rights and national reconciliation in the country. It is erroneous to assume that deceitful policies of any government would automatically pave the way for a change of that government.
In three polling divisions in Badulla District – Badulla, Hali-Ella and Welimada – the UNP has won the elections, and won decisively. That was not the case at the last PC elections in 2009. All divisions were grabbed by the UPFA with huge majorities. This time, even in the polling divisions where the UPFA has won, their voting percentages have dwindled, and dwindled considerably. Let’s focus on that fact first.
It is in the Passara electoral division in the Badulla District that the UPFA has won comfortably, yet only with a 16 percent margin. However, its voter percentage has decreased from 65 percent to 56 percent. 56 is the highest percentage that the UPFA has achieved in any division this time, compared to 74 percent last time in Mahiyangana, and with a district average of 68 percent. In Mahiyangana itself, the voter percentage has come down this time from 74 to just 51 percent.
In terms of actual numbers in Passara, in 2009, 23,959 people voted for the UPFA, but this time the number has decreased to 23,188. One may consider that is not bad or stable and at least they had won! But in contrast, the number of votes for the UNP has increased from 9,736 to 16,426. From where and how did the UNP manage to increase their voter base? It is possible that some of the traditional supporters (no voting before) and some of the newly registered young voters voted for the UNP this time. In both cases the party unity must have been a decisive factor among others.
Passara was the least favorable case for the UNP in that district and let us look at where they have clearly won – Badulla, Hali-Ella and Welimada – in the following table.
The trends are very clear. In the Badulla polling division, the UNP has increased the voter percentage from 34.4 to 54.23, while the UPFA percentage has reduced from 60.89 to 38.23. This is a massive swing. The JVP also has increased the percentage of votes from near 2 percent to almost 6 percent. Same or similar trends can be observed in both Hali-Ella and Welimada and latter is the division where both groups have come neck to neck. However, the UPFA’s voter base has slumped from 66 percent to 44 percent.
The overall voter turnout at the Uva elections has clearly increased and it is from 70 percent last time to 76 percent this time. This could be due to any new enthusiasm on elections or politics but at the same time this is an indication of possible impersonation. When elections are held for one province in isolation, the ghost voters can always come and vote for the dead and the sick! It is very clear that voter turnouts have increased dramatically in remote polling divisions. In remote areas particularly in the Moneragala District election monitoring is extremely daunting.
We now do have the final results for Badulla District altogether and even without using Professor GL Peiris’ famous logic, the government has lost. We may have to use his logic to defeat the government in Moneragla District! In Badulla, the total percentage of votes polled by the UPFA is just 47.99, compared to UNP 45.38 percent and JVP 4.73 percent. UNP has got 8 seats, JVP 1 and the UPFA 9. It is neck to neck.
Moneragala appears to be a different kettle of fish. Nevertheless, the trends are clear. In Moneragala division, the UPFA has got 62.46 percent of votes but it is down by 19 percent from 82.35 percent in 2009. Statistically speaking, my calculation of the decreased percentage (19 percent) might not be perfectly accurate, but it shows the clear trend.
In Bibile, the UPFA polled 62.25 percent but it is again down by 19 percent from 81.37 percent in 2009. Likewise, in Wellawaya, the UPFA polled 54.41 percent and it is down by almost 20 percent from 79.98 percent in 2009.
In all these polling divisions, the UNP has improved tremendously but not to defeat or come closer to the UPFA. In 2009, the UNP performance in the Moneragala District was abysmally dismal. However they have improved from 14.50 percent to 30.33 percent in Bibile, from 15.31 to 31.22 in Moneragala division and from 16.78 to 33.97 in Wellawaya. Similarly, the JVP also have improved moderately but without emerging as a strong force.
The final results for the Moneragala District altogether shows that that the UPFA is on the lead with 58.55 percent of total votes, the UNP still well behind with 32.03 percent and the JVP 6.63 percent.
Quickly tabulated following table might give a clear picture of the performance of main three political parties or coalitions at the elections for the whole province. The UPFA still keeps the confidence of yet ‘wavering voters’ obtaining 52.21 percent of the total votes. However, compared to what they obtained at the last elections in 2009, it is at least not a rosy picture. In 2009, from the whole of the province, the UPFA obtained 418,906 votes or 72.39 percent of the total voted.
In contrast, the UNP has performed well. The total votes that they obtained in 2009 was 129,144 or 22.32 percent of the total votes. This time, the total has increased to 274,773 and it is a 113 percent increase. On the other hand the UPFA votes have decreased by 17 percent or 69,000. Given the vote bank that the UPFA has consolidated throughout years, with all the state power at their disposal, it is clear that the opposition has to make more inroads into the UPFA vote bank in the coming future if necessary change to be effected.
The UNP has undoubtedly performed well and I would largely attribute that achievement to the recently forged unity within the party however fragile that unity might be at the moment. Undoubtedly, Ranil Wickremasinghe should be credited for initiating that unity, for my information, within the party. With unity, a new confidence and dynamism could be created within any organization or even in a country. This is something Sri Lanka is perennially lacking.
The JVP has not performed badly. It has consolidated its voter base and has improved on it. However, as the results show, the other numerous small parties have not performed well at all. Perhaps they have sympathisers and supporters who are not going to the polling booth.
There will be soul searching and even ruptures within the UPFA as a result of the poor performance at the PC elections. Given the fact that the defeats were evident in the Badulla District, the SLFP stalwarts in that district might be castigated for the defeat. Family ran the campaign in the Moneragala district and managed to hold the fort they would say. It is this emerging rift that the opposition strategists should utilize at the next turn. I had occasion to say “UNP Should Close Ranks, An the SLFP? Oppose Rajapaksas! (Sri Lanka Guardian, 27 June 2014). This means unity within the UNP and a split within the SLFP.
There is one more thing as a lesson from the PC elections if the country moves to resurrect democracy and even decency in politics and governance. That is the unity within the opposition parties. This might be difficult and some compromises and sacrifices might be necessary. Unity is not a matter of arithmetic or even maths. It is a matter of chemistry or physics. More than adding the existing numbers together, unity in politics can generate new energy or force for change.