The Sunday Leader

After Elections, What Next With An Impotent Opposition?

For an election night, April 8th night was unusually quiet. There was hardly a cracker bursting to disturb the sleep. This election was expected to give the Rajapaksa regime a clear majority. Yet if one was expecting something spectacular in this election to the 14th parliament, it is there in glaring form. It is there with unbelievable numbers and percentages. With a heavy drop in polling, it is now speculated with counting in only five districts completed (Friday afternoon), the UPFA would have the 150 seats they said they would have.

The beleaguered UNP Leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe accompanied by fellow candidate Muzzamil making their way to the polling booth Photos by Asoka Fernando

When voting was officially concluded on Thursday evening, most monitoring outfits claimed, the percentage polled would not exceed 50 to 53%. By Friday morning, the figure was said to have crept to about 60%, but still very much less than the usual Sri Lankan vote. Few monitors spoken to, wasn’t quite sure how the percentage had crept up through the night, saying their count was not that high. But accepted, whole districts when rounded off, the average could creep up with some electorates within the district polling higher than others.

Sri Lanka is perhaps the only democratic country where the constituency polled heavily at elections. In all parliamentary elections, except in 1989 February when JVP ‘patriotism’ throttled rural life with murder and violence most foul, reducing the voter turn out to 63%, Sri Lanka has always recorded well over 75% voting, even with a bleeding conflict in the North – East, that often spilled over to other parts of the country. At the general elections in the year 2000, it was 75% and in 2001 it was a 76% turn out. April 2004 general elections recorded 75.9% and the presidential polls in January 2010, recorded 74.5% polling.

JVP candidate Anura Dissanayake arriving at the polling booth

This is the general election that goes on record as the first in post war Sri Lanka after the LTTE was militarily eliminated and the war declared over, almost 11 months ago. With “peace” minus an armed conflict, this general election should have at least had the 75% that usually vote, if not more. None would have ever expected anything different. Yet it records the lowest voter turn out with about 60% opting to vote out of the 14.1 million registered and eligible to vote. In areas like Jaffna and Wanni where the armed conflict had a very savage dent on human life and now said to be fast normalising under a military presence, the percentage is  less than 25% even with groups like the EPDP also contesting.

Despite “peace” sans armed conflict, it did not make this election free and fair for many other reasons. There was the increased use of state resources and state media, violation of electoral law in campaigning and use of huge money that was mostly black. All that nevertheless was  without widespread violence let loose on the opposition, except at random places and occasions. According to all sources, the independent monitors, the Elections Secretariat and the police, most incidents reported were home and home fights for preference votes.

Most such clashes were between candidates of the UPFA. They were so open and bitter, the President had to make public appeals to stop the fighting between his own candidates.

Quite oblivious to what had happened around them, the UNP General Secretary hastened the same evening on election day to say this was not a free and fair election and that they were contemplating the next move. Monitoring outfits were not serious about such violence and violation of the law, except in Nawalapitiya. SLMC Leader Hakeem in fact wanted the army moved in to Nawalapitiya, a few days before the elections.

The EC decided to annul Nawalapitiya polling after Aluthgamage turned out too conspicuous with the escalation of violence in parts of Nawalapitiya electorate and also in one booth at Seruwila that suspended the results for Trincomalee District. These very isolated cases of violence could not have had any impact on the final outcome of the elections, for sure.

This election, therefore does not raise the issue of violence as a major factor in deciding the result. Violence definitely was not the issue that reduced voting so drastically to around 60%. Often, election violence and violation of the law, would keep the percentage high, not low, with dumping of votes. This election has other major issues. The issue of a much reduced voter turn out and that of eroding social acceptance and credibility in the election process, damagingly relevant for future democratic life.

The opposition could not go without answers to that question, but had to find answers that do not rope them in as the reason(s). Tilvin Silva therefore said the people have got fed up with corrupt elections held by this government, while the UNP says the low voter turn out is due to an overdose of elections by this government.

Though the opposition, both the UNP (UNF) and the JVP (DNA) would keep to that line of argument in finding excuses for their very dismal performances, the drastic drop in voter participation nevertheless needs critical review, for it would keep impacting on future democratic life in this country.

This whole breakdown of voter participation begins with the opposition campaign that was negative, demotivating and destructive. Such is how any political party or alliance that cannot politically challenge its opponent would seek to hide their impotence by looking for scapegoats.

Their impotency in presenting an alternative to the Rajapaksa regime, was thus taken out on the Election Commissioner (EC) with their defeat at the presidential elections. Conducting of the presidential election by the Elections Secretariat and under this Elections Commissioner (EC), was not much different to previous elections, except for the certified “carbon copies” that were made available for counting agents, which made the elections more secure.

The difference was in law enforcement during the campaign period, that was very much on the decline. The police was not seen and accepted as an independent and effective law enforcing agency. There was a serious and a sharp decline in their credibility and in how society accepted police conduct. There was also open violation in the use of state resources and state media, that the EC had no control over. This country was definitely living through a regime that did not respect the Constitution and was not interested in keeping law and order. They do impact on voter behaviour and favours the ruling party or its incumbent presidential candidate.

Yet, what gave that election over to President Rajapaksa was the inability of the UNP to field a strong candidate of their own, with a viable alternate programme. The UNP leadership during the past decade was restricting itself to scheming and manipulating within the Colombo elite, trying to scoop numbers in parliament, instead of going to the people. Their inability to project themselves politically, led to an unholy compromise with the JVP for a candidate who was never an alternate to President Rajapaksa, but one, the JVP wanted the whole country to believe, was a hero and a patriot of the first order. Simply because they could not field a candidate of their own party with just 240,000 votes in their kitty.

With no political alternative to President Rajapaksa and with a highly unprincipled compromise over a dubious candidate carrying a very ambiguous promissory note for a political programme, the joint opposition did not want to accept they lost  the presidential election due to their own political impotency. They had thus to go in search of a thick hide to beat all day, to cover their impotency. The EC and the election process was thus taken to task.

All the publicity given by the UNF and the JVP to a supposedly manipulated result sheet and taking the EC to task as a stooge of Executive power, created a serious doubt in the minds of the people, who were experiencing a break down of law and order in society. The joint opposition thus helped create a negative mindset that directly played on to the next campaign for parliamentary elections. Their defeatist post presidential campaign made the anti Rajapaksa voter believe, that his or her vote has no validity under this regime. That this EC stooges for the Rajapaksa regime to doctor results.

The traditional UNP vote base, thus made to believe their vote will be manipulated, had conceded victory for the UPFA, in the absence of a strong opposition. They had little reason to spend time voting for the opposition, if their vote would end up in the wrong count. That social thinking in the opposition was further cemented with a confused campaign that had no solid political theme against the UPFA and the Rajapaksa regime.

Keeping track of the media during the campaign time showed candidates of all colours and hues, making jokers of themselves, trying to outwit the other. Most media loved to air them, in the absence of creative programmes that could present good, intelligent entertainment.

There was thus a total absence of sensible political discussion in society that should have been the responsibility of the opposition. It is always the task of the main opposition to expose the political bankruptcy of the governing regime with an alternate programme.

It was therefore accepted even within the opposition circles, the UPFA would win and win with a clear margin. That thinking was further strengthened with different opposition leaders promising they would not allow Rajapaksa to have a two thirds majority in parliament. With such lack of responsibility and commitment as the main opposition, there was less reason for the anti Rajapaksa voter to go and vote.

This negative campaign seems also to have eroded the confidence people have in the whole election process, apart from not wanting to vote at a losing election. In most elections, the rejected vote had been around 5 to 6% of the total polled. This election, from what had been counted, that percentage of rejected votes seems to go well beyond 7%. This is in the absence of any campaign for boycotting the elections.

We have therefore concluded this election with a possible two thirds majority for the Rajapaksa regime, if not with the results that would be finally declared, then thereafter. We would also have to live with a large social segment, well over 20% if the non polled numbers from the usual percentage that vote and the rejects are totalled, that would not have faith in the democratic process of choosing their own government. That seems far worse than the Rajapaksa regime getting their two thirds majority in parliament. That percentage would in effect mean a lost representation of about 45 MPs in parliament.

After the elections, the question that now demands an answer is, how a potent, alternate opposition to this Rajapaksa regime could be forged in society and with the people, now that the UNP clearly proves it could only react to JVP rhetoric and Sinhala sentiments. It is a new discourse that would help forge a real political alternative that can start anew, without a tested and a proven as failed leadership, to play a responsible role when this Rajapaksa regime start their next phase of family politics in the new parliament, that would have three powerful Rajapaksas and a few relations among a lumpen representation. That is in addition to the Executive Presidency and a politically very active Defence Secretary. Percentages don’t matter once the election is over. Its the absolute power that matters for a kleptocratic dynasty in the making. That would be Sri Lanka’s future, from here.

36 Comments for “After Elections, What Next With An Impotent Opposition?”

  1. Psycho

    Opposition for opposition sake is no good.

    Let UNP and TNA join hands with the government for the greater good.

    DNA cum JVP is a spent force (puss pada) and can be ignored.

    • Peter R de Fries

      Let the Tamils return to their homes and cities that you stole from them!
      The TNA has a little voice for as only 18% of tamil people in jaffna and the vanni went out to vote, rejecting sinhala racist politics!

      I agree with you that Fonseka is a warcriminal but he did that on orders from Rajapaksa and his brothers! when he was about to explain who the real responsible were when 40.000 civilians were massacred by the sri lankan army, Gotabhaya had him arrested!

      democracy is dead!

      • Dilshan

        Most of the High Rank in Forces and even in Govt Jobs are Bergers. Sarath Fonseka will be released soon or Singheelam will be like Pakistan or Thailand or Burma ….. very soon.

      • roger dissanayake

        what do you know about jvp you puss pada psycho.
        one jvper is equal 100 unpers or rajapakshayas.
        Example when unpers and rajapakshayas use 1000s of their levakannas to paste 1000 posters after feeding them food money and alcohol. One jvper will paste 1000 posters without food money or alcohol. One JVPer in parliament is equal to 100 of rajapakshayas or unpers in parliament. one rajapakshaya will serve only one of his levakannas while one jvper will serve thousands of innocent masses in a direct or indirect way. If you dont know this go to hell and get burnt.

  2. srilankan

    Toothless-tiger-opposition will be happy to remain in opposition without having to fight for survival. People have voted for the ‘Hyenas’ who will feed on anything and everything. Sri Lankan politics is a bit like the Amazon jungle. It’s survival of the fittest! When a politician’s whims and desires are stronger than reason, then he behaves like an animal. To all tourists visiting our country.. In Sri Lanka we have two zoological gardens. One in Dehiwala and another very exclusive one in Sri Jayawardenapura; which is also know as the parliament! Welcome to Sri Lanka!

    • Peter R de Fries

      you seem to forget that there are 80.000.000 tamils living around you my sri lankan friend, shall we make a bet who will win in the long run?

      • Kalag

        They have no guts to lift a finger. They will not forget what happened to their LTTE friends in Vanni.

  3. Dilshan

    Ranil traited LTTE and still suffering to come back to power.

    LTTE backed Mahinda Regime is still on MOVE upwards with 53% of the whole Eelam/Hela people voted.

    Sarath Fonseka lost more than 60,000 of the Eelam Arm forces to wipe out the Terrorism in Eelam. LTTE went to hide behind Mahinda and coming back to take control.

    In that case, Sarath Fonseka will be the real loser….. but he won’t.

    • mohandev

      which of your mouth or brain is talking? surely it must flushed soon as the stink is unbearable

  4. N.C.Wijeratne

    Dont forget the oppostion has a bigger role to play now. Remember the Election promises made by the UPFA. To start with not more than 40 Ministers!. The Constitution to be amended! The Commissions to be appointed! The Presidency to be annulled-and so many other things including the economy etc. So get your act together- dont go into hibernation-It is the opposition that can make a democracy work. See how the President worked during the interim period from Pres: elections to Gen.Elect.He wnet all oout to show the opposition that thety are wrong and he is right!

  5. BASH

    With the voter number marked on the counterfoil of the ballot paper, IS THIS REALLY A SECRET BALLOT ????

    With so many WITCH HUNTINGS How could one expect the opposition supporters to cast their vote without any fear ????

  6. VINTAGE VOTER

    UNP”ERS DID NOT GO TO THE POLLS AFTER WHAT HAPPENED AT THE
    PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION..
    ON STATISTICS, THE PRESENT GOVERNMENT IS A MINORITY GOVERNMENT. THERE ARE MORE AGAINST THIS GOVERNMENT THAN FOR..DO WE NEED AN OPPOSITION. ?
    WE NOT ONLY DONT NEED AN OPPOSITION, WE DONT NEED THE POLICE
    AND EVEN THE JUDICIARY. AFTER ALL THE POLICE DONT ACT FAIRLY AND ACT ACCORDING TO DICTATES OF POLITICIANS. COURTS ARE NOT NECESSARY SINCE THE THE PRESIDENT AND GOVERNMENT DO NOT TAKE JUDGEMENTS SERIOUSLY. WE ARE GOING TO HAVE AN AUTOCRACY, OR DICTATORSHIP. THE PRESIDENT CAN PROVE ME WRONG AND THAT HE IS TRUE DEMOCRAT.
    LETS WAIT AND SEE !!!!!!111

  7. Lankawatcher

    We will believe these results only if the Elections Commissioner can affirm, swear or show proof that the computer operators at his office did not have any influence or were subject to any coercion or threat by persons connected with the ruling UPFA to switch numbers and/or allocate votes to certain named candidates. This happened during the Presidential Election and we are certain it has happened again.
    If not, can people of the likes of Wimala Weerawansa and Namal Rajapakse (who is riding on his father’s name and fame) get the highest preferential votes in Colombo and Hambantota respectively? This was so manipulated to make WW the next premier of Sri Lanka and NR to take over in the near future. Furthermore, which right thinking human being would vote for Mervyn Silva who has left a trail of destruction and thuggery (i.e Rupavahini and Sirasa episodes; land grabs, threatening EC during the Presidential Election, etc.. etc.)

    As regards blaming the opposition for being weak, ask the EC whether he used his powers to make this and all other elections since MR became President in 2005 to be free and fair? NO, HE DID NOT. It is not the opposition that was weak, it was the Elections Commissioner. That is why; MR kept him on and on, till his plans bore fruit. Now the EC is to be kicked off to a foreign country with a perk as an ambassador so that he and his family can either laugh or cry over what he did or did not do!

    No point in blaming the opposition, who were literally ‘kept imprisoned’ through a ‘government media tsunami’, (newspapers, TV, bill boards, radio, posters, etc.) you name it, they had it all. The govt. propaganda were forced down the people’s throats and brainwashed to such an extent, that most people preferred to stay at home, not wanting to vote against their conscience.

    Was this a free and fair election? NO. Does these results show the actual votes cast by the people? NO.

  8. Kadalay

    One simple thing the opposition can do is to support a 2/3 majority on constitutional hange thats been long overdue and remove the Exec Presidency once and for all… wishful thinking is it?

  9. Opposition is in disarray because the UNP keep loosing one election after the other. Have the UNPers thought why? Well, just before the elections, I wrote to lankaweb; why it kept losing. You can read it all here.
    http://www.lankaweb.com/news/items/2010/04/07/fifty-reasons-why-ranilw-led-unp-would-be-trounced-at-this-election/
    If you like you may please leave a comment there and I shall try to answer them all.

  10. Kalag

    One thing that opposition has to support, if they want to have any future in Sri Lanka, is to help change the constitution. The new constitution should put the Singhalese people on top. It should be something similar to Malaysian constitution where Bhoomiputra’s have priority on everything. Learn from Malaysia. It is one of the stable countries in the region. It is economically strong. “Sharing” the resources with minorities created all the problem in Sri Lanka. They can stay here as “tenants” not as land lords. This is the best time to change the constitution, remove all these “Desavalama” rubbish and make Sri Lanka a real paradise, once and for all.
    If the govt and opposition fail to do this, the future generation will never forgive them.

  11. VINTAGE VOTER

    HAVING A “POTENT” OPPOSITION IS WISHFUL THINKING, IN THE POLITICAL ENVIRONMENT WE HAVE BEEN,SINCE THE “QUEEN OF DECEIT” RULED AND RUINED THIS COUNTRY. AFTER ALL SHE BROUGHT DOWN RANIL’S GOVERNMENT, AND AFTER ALL WAS IT NOT THIS “DAMN WOMAN” WHO FOISTED THE “RAJAPAKSES” ON US. HOW CAN WE HAVE A POTENT OPPOSITION WITH IMPOTENT VOTERS.?
    CAN ANYONE BELIEVE THAT WIMALWANSA COULD COME FIRST IN COLOMBO ?
    AND BASIL GETTING 4 LAKHS IN GAMPAHA. ?
    I DO NOT KNOW ABOUT POTENCY. THE VOTERS ARE ON THE FRINGE OF
    LUNACY !!!!!!!!

  12. VINTAGE VOTER: How dare you insult those that voted for UPFA as impotent? It is supine characters that are impotent. We are the strong characters that supported the President to eradicate LTTE. In every sense, the best person that befit an impotent character is RanilW. He lacks the power or ability to change or improve a situation.

    Weerawansa is completely the opposite. He has spoken fearlessly and eloquently to promote what he believes is right and had the will to make right decisions at the right time. That’s what propelled him to what he is. That’s why 280,672 people chose to mark a preference for him and put him at the top of the list twice in six years. The very fact that you couldn’t understand that simple logic shows how ignorant you are.

    In my opinion, your comparison fits very well with those UNPers that voted ‘Paba’ in the Gampaha district and put her in the second place. Take it from me; those voters had voted ‘Paba’ in that teledrama and not ‘Swarnamali Upeksha’. Those voters didn’t understand the difference between ‘Paba’ and ‘Swarnamali Upeksha.’

    In my opinion, those voters felt sorry for that battered but honest and energetic girl (Paba) who persistently try to do good to everyone. They voted for her in appreciation of her efforts in the teledrama. They have forgotten that it is the script writer and the director of that teledrama made ‘Paba’ an ideal character or an idol. Those votes are impotent because they never knew that Swarnamali Upeksha lacks the power or ability to change or improve the political situation.

    • Lankawatcher

      In the coming months we shall see the potency of your elected group of UPFAs. God Help Sri Lanka!
      Leelawardena, your portrayal of Swarnamali Upeksha as an immature actress whilst keeping mum over the election of the 23 year old immature son Namal Rajapakse, is truly hilarious. Going by your analysis those votes are impotent too, as they have simply been taken in by the high profile marketing done on his behalf by the state media, (Rupavahihin and ITN, in particular) and that Nil Balakaya created for him by his fathers’ cronies to bring him into the limelight.

      • ayesh

        Not only that, Leela is quite happy with Raping, as long as it is done by Nil Balakaya !
        Leela is also quite happy with intimidation, killings of Buddhist monks as long as it is done by Mahinda Cohorts !
        Leela is happy happy when Casino dudes, Race bookies run our Top Offices !
        When Mahinda released Minister Milroys wife, who hacked his ex-mistress to death, from prison in less than 2 yrs (she had a life sentence) Leela was clapping!

        And Leela call himself, TRUE HONEST PATRIOT! ha ha ha…..

        • I think Leela will have to eat humble pie.

        • Psycho

          Hello thamby Sheriff its not Leela bet you should be satisfied with your humble 3/4 th pie ya.

          You betted on a lost horse and for a lost cause.

          Now you can cry and spit the dummy, but my and your country moves on.

        • ayesh

          Ohh Psycho, we all see where country is moving.
          To your direction ! ha ha ha….

  13. P.L.J.B.Palipana

    In a true democracy the “Opposition” means the People. Almost 65% of the Total voters are against the Government. The peoples’ collective verdict was not in disarrey as you pointed out.
    Now MR should think twice and take immediate Action to remove all the highly corrupted people around him and the release of Gen. Fonseka should be given priority. The reaction of the population should be minimised.Please note that the Hon.president is not rejected till now according to the Election results of the two Elections.
    Mr.Perera is pointing very resonable facts. Thanks lot!

  14. chandika

    This Pissu Loose Jahutan Burglary Palipana is a real nut case. Can’t you see now Ranil can sit and watch for another 7 years?

  15. P.L.J.B.Palipana

    Dear Chandrika,
    I am not representing a political party in SriLanka. But I spoke the truth and the Hon.President must take an immediate Action to make Lanka a heaven for the people forgeting malware such as Caste,Creed and Religion.Please study the Political Histry of SriLanka. The peoples’ Reaction should be eliminated

  16. The best advice for Ranil is to leave the UNP & join MR, thats the only way he can become the Prime Minister which is his life ambition, poor guy, why not some one suggest this to him.

  17. The best advice for Ranil is to leave the UNP & join MR, thats the only way he can become the Prime Minister which is his life ambition, poor guy, why not so
    me one suggest this to him.

    ARE U A UNP SUPPORTER?

  18. VINTAGE VOTER

    ROGER, YOU DONT APPEAR TO KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT POLITICS OF SRI LANKA.

    RANIL HAS NO “DOLADUKA” TO BE PRIME MINISTER, SINCE HE HAS BEEN PRIME MINISTER, WHEN, THAT “DAMN WOMAN CHANDRIKA” PULLED THE
    RUG FROM UNDER HIS FEET, AND BROUGHT ABOUT THIS MESS.

    RANIL, LOST THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION BY A A LITTLE MORE THAN A LAKH, DUE TO THE MILLIONS GIVEN BY OUR “DESHAPREMIS” TO
    PRABAKHARAN TO GET THE TAMILS TO “BOYCOTT” THAT PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION.
    WELL, PRABAKHARAN HAS GOT WHAT HE DESERVED, BECAUSE HIS FRIEND”
    MAHINDA OR RATHER BASIL WHO GAVE THE MONEY AND ACHIEVED THEIR AMBITION KILLED HIM. YOU CAN KNOW THE CHARACTER OF THE RAJAPAKSES FROM THIS. PRABHAKARAN BROUGHT THE RAJAPAKSES TO POWER. I WONT BE SURPRISED IF AGAIN ANOTHER “PRABHA” THROWS THEM OUT OF POWER. THEY DID NOT SPARE HIM, NOT EVEN THOSE
    WHO CAME TO SURRENDER WITH WHITE FLAGS.
    WELL, ONE DAY THOSE WHO DID THIS WILL PAY FOR IT. WHAT GOES COMES ROUND. ITS A VICIOUS CIRCLE.

  19. Andrew

    Impotent opposition??? How dare you call the opposition, I beg to differ, it is only the UNP that is impotent. All those UNP deadwood who lost their seats deserved to lose, and those who won should consider themselves lucky they won. Take a leaf from that TNA sinhalese guy who won campaigning from a TRishaw won against all odds. Our FATCATS in the UNP carried out a completely lacklusture campaign and the delusional leader of the UNP thinks that winning elections in colombo is enough to win the general election. Ranil its time to go gracefully , you had your chances just give a chance to someone immediately so that he has the time to build the party from grassroots, you owe this not only to the party but to all the people of this country who are set for six years of Tyranny.

  20. Calistus Jayatilleke

    People who talk about Paba (Upeksha Swarnamali) winning the election, are shy to talk about the President’s own nominees such as Geetha Kumarasinghe and Susantha Chandramali, and also Susanthika Jayasinghe who lost the elections. At least Geetha says she was robbed of victory by their own leaders ! In the same vein, one should also ask what can a nubile actress like Anarkali do in Galle. Their theory seems to be as long as any actress or sportswoman comes from UPFA, she is qualified to sit in parliament but not the ones who come the opposition. Why cant they look at reality with God-given eyes rather than wear blue-coloured blinkers.

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