9th December 2001, Volume 8, Issue 21















issuespic1.jpg (18064 bytes)

Change of voting patterns
results in PA nightmare

By Amantha Perera

On December 4 morning, the streets of Moratuwa looked empty, more like a holiday, rather than a working day. Few vehicles on the roads, but many people flocking to the boutiques, "to stock for curfew," as one housewife said.

People all over the country were making preparations to face the polls. While ordinary voters were more worried about basic necessities, others more powerful, like Kandy strongman Anuruddha Rattwatte, were laying the groundwork to bully their way to parliament and power. The month preceding the election had been the bloodiest 30 days before a general election in Sri Lanka's electoral history. "The most crucial 36 hours," the 30 days, warned Sunanda Deshapriya, Convenor of the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence.

The ruling PA had indicated that it was going to win the election somehow. In Hambantota, Mahinda Rajapakse had created a living hell for UNP's Sajith Premadasa, all the while alleging that so-called terror stories had evolved in the imagination of the media and that Hambantota was the safest place on earth.

In Anamaduwa, D M Dassanayake was up against the same terror that he had unleashed on the UNP, in the form of former Police OIC Range Bandara.

In Anuradhapura, PA powerhouse Berty Premalal Dissanayake's attempts to re-elect his baby boy, Dumindha Dissanayake to parliament had come across a stiff obstacle in the form of UNP's new district leader P. Harrison.

But despite the late swing favouring the party, the UNP was nervously circumspect of how the PA would react on polls day. The predictions nevertheless had improved so far that some were projecting a clear majority for the UNP alone.

An amateur survey conducted by a group of businessmen investing in the Colombo bourse, put the UNP's tally between 107 and 112, and a further possible four from the SLMC last Tuesday. The voters proved that the survey was close to the mark.

The PA would not have dreamt in its wildest nightmares that it would face such a rout. The manner in which Mangala Samaraweera behaved in the run-up to the polls, no one would have suspected that he was about to lose 30,000 votes in his Matara District to the UNP, according to associates.

He saved his skin by not losing the Matara electorate. That too in the recount. "The guy's posterior is on fire and he is demanding a recount," an executive at a corporation formerly under him, said sarcastically on Wednesday night.

In most of the districts that the PA lost, the margins had gaped like never seen before in the country's electoral history in such a short time. One thing that should not be discounted here is the S. B. Dissanayake factor. The man admitted to anyone who posed the query that there was rigging at elections held under the PA regime. This was the first time the PA faced an election without Dissanayake in its fold and it lost. If not for the rigging that took place during the last two elections, the dissenting shift from the PA would have been visible.

In Polonnaruwa, the UNP was able to increase its vote base by some 4000 votes while the PA failed miserably losing 7000. The PA's loss was split between the UNP and the JVP. In Monaragala, the ruling party once again lost 10,000 votes but still was able to secure victory in the district. The UNP secured 5000 votes more than last time.

In Matale, the UNP once again secured 20,000 votes above what was achieved in 2000, the PA lost close to 20,000. In Badulla, a traditional UNP bastion the party was able to attract a further 35,000 voters while the PA lost 20,000.

In Kalutara, the PA once again lost 40,000 votes while the UNP gained close to 30,000. The JVP was able to up its 2000 mark of 41,620 to 60,451, a classic example of how the PA erosion was split between the UNP and the JVP.

In Nuwara Eliya, the PA vote base was halved to 77,733 from the 2000 figure, thanks to Arumugam Thondaman's crossover. The UNP on the other hand increased its base by almost 100,000 votes to achieve 215,157.

What the voting pattern suggests is that the PA has witnessed a massive erosion of its vote base across the country. In Colombo West, the UNP's majority over the PA was more than 50% of the votes cast.

The margins of victory displayed that the voters from North to the South had realised that the PA's time had run out. In districts like Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, the PA's attempts at wooing the disgruntled farmers by writing off the loans had not worked. The trick did not work for the JVP as well. The Marxists were only able to get a seat in Anuradhapura due to the disgruntled PA votes finding the reds a better bet. It did not get a seat from Polonnaruwa, where the farmer population is at a peak. Its success in the Anuradhapura district was more due to the unhappy PA votes reaching them.

In Hambantota, Rajapakse's ruse of commencing work on the port was not enough to undo the damage that his terror machine had done. The voters were looking for an up-liftment of their lives and lost confidence in the PA. In areas like Mawanella and Hingula the anti-Muslim riots had driven the Muslim votes away from the PA. While along the coastal belt in the Western Province, the Catholics had dumped Chandrika Kumaratunga and Jeyaraj Fernandupulle big time. The PA was only able to scrape through in Katana.

In the capital Colombo, the state of the economy was the deciding factor. On election day, the Colombo Stock Market picked up 10 points purely on speculation that the UNP was back. Brokers had endured the worst seven years in the market's history with the indexes dropping to 10 year lows.

NDBS Stockbrokers had predicted just as the elections were announced that GDP growth would be negative for the first time since independence.

The economy was what achieved such huge margins of victory for the UNP in the western province. In Colombo West, the winning majority was more than 50% of the valid votes. The confidence generated by a UNP victory was witnessed within the first two hours of trading on Friday, the first day of activity after the elections when the All Share Index went up by close to 100 points and the Milanka Index jumped by 250 points.

The PA's overkill on the UNP-LTTE link was, but a major PR blunder. But the PA's economic record is such that there was no way that the coalition leaders could harp on economic achievements except with stooges like Tissa Abeyasekera on Rupavahini.

In fact the rift between Dissanayake and Kumaratunga widened earlier in the year when the former suggested that the economy needed immediate remedies, according to PA colleagues. "He went and told her to give him the post of finance minister," they revealed. If the PA had been successful in keeping the economy on course, it would still have had a chance at least in the Western Province. Rather than paying attention to the economy, the PA sacrificed it by entering into a pact with the JVP. The pact put paid to chances of the IMF continuing with its Stand-by Facility that had rescued the PA government earlier in the year.

Now the time has passed and the buck along with it. It now rests before Ranil Wickremesinghe, and he has the unenviable job of getting the country out of the rut.

President de trop

By Sonali Samarasinghe

Consider this. Last week 4610 candidates from 26 political parties and 120 independent groups vied for a piece of the political cake. That may seem like a lot of choices for twelve million voters in a small island. Yet it proved no embarras des richesses. Why? The issue was simple. The overwhelming victory for the UNP and the verdict of the island en masse, was as much a verdict and general approval for the economic and social policies espoused by the UNP, as much as it was a verdict in particular, against President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

That much is clear. No poster lining the streets of this country was as prominent as was the image of Chandrika Kumaratunga with or without white cotton wool in eye. No political advertisements were more vivid than the ones where Chandrika Kumaratunga was seen weeping for a father, husband and self.

No PA election platform was complete without a visit from Kumaratunga who with venom and indecorous invective, ranted against her opponents and preached war to the bitter end. No speech was concluded before Kumaratunga bathed in eu de cologne and wreathed in smiles would set the people by the ears. The people listened as she sponsored racial hatred and acted as a catalyst for ethnic and inter-party quarrel. The members of her own party are deeply divided and disastrously quarrelsome.

The People's Alliance more than ever before, made Chandrika Kumaratunga the bedrock of their 2001 election campaign. Indeed the SLFP as a party has been weak and wayward. The Bandaranaike family often fight amongst themselves to wrest power from each other. However, during the SLFP campaign leading up to their 1994 victory, and from then on right up to the People's Alliance defeat in 2001, it was Chandrika who has been their point d'appui. There was never a collective party spirit. A fair distribution of power and a delegation of duties.

For the SLFP, this personality politics would serve as the beginning of their end. At every election campaign, it was she rather than the needs of the people, that became the naval of their political discourse. She was the omphalos, the central theme, the focal point.

"Give me a team I can work with" she implored only recently from the voters. "I cannot work with the UNP." The people answered Kumaratunga clearly and decisively by affording the UNP a landslide victory islandwide.

On December 5, just one year after the general election that brought back the People's Alliance amidst widespread election violence and intimidation, and only one-and-a-half years after Kumaratunga herself slipped for a second time into the presidential chair in a welter of salty tears, and needless to say election violence, the voters had had enough.

If this verdict says nothing else it says this. On December 5, it was Chandrika Kumaratunga who lost. The verdict was an overwhelming rejection of her as a leader of this country. It was a rejection of the confrontational politics she chose to follow and preached from every election platform. It was a rejection of her economic and social bungling, bad governance, rampant corruption, and most of all a rejection of a her belligerence and war mongering. On December 5, 2001, it was she who lost.

Only one out of the twenty-two districts (Moneragala) was won by the PA and that by a whisker of just over a thousand votes. Yet the winning margins in favour of the UNP were humongous in districts such as Nuwara Eliya and Colombo.

The TULF led Tamil National Alliance won the districts of Batticaloa, Wanni and Digamadulla whilst the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress won Kalmunai. In fact Kumaratunga's divisive politics only served to mobilise the minorities who reports say, were determined to exercise their right to vote despite widespread violence against them in some areas in the Kandy district like Patha Dumbara, Nawalapitiya and Gampola. Thousands were unable to vote in some areas in the north and east as the former Kumaratunga government ordered total closure of checkpoints leading to polling stations. Earlier, she used the army infrastructure through her appointee Lt. Gen. Lionel Balagalle, to spread PA election propaganda and leaflets, hoping to influence the postal vote amongst the soldiers.

Yet, despite the violence, intimidation and threats, the people were propelled to action and to vote unlike in the past elections. There was a high voter turn out of 75-85 per cent. In some areas the UNP secured more votes than they had ever done since 1994, showing that the whole country was moving for change and peace. No longer was the LTTE card valid in the political campaign. No longer would the common man allow ethnic tension to be manipulated for political gain, as had been the practice of all Bandaranaikes. Last week's verdict also showed a certain maturity in many of the voters. It showed they had elevated themselves from personality to policy politics. That they would no longer be swayed by empty rhetoric and false promises, and that they had moved forward from mere entertaining charismatic politicians, to sound, steadfast, rock hard politicians who could with dignity pull the country up from where it now was.

The decision President Kumaratunga has to take then is crucial. Already, her closest friends have stepped into the deserted presidential abode and advised her strongly, not to go against the verdict of the people. With such a forceful voter rejection now facing her, she in effect loses the people's mandate as executive president.

With an overwhelming majority in his pocket, she has no choice but to appoint Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister. He will also command a large and unshakable majority in parliament. Kumaratunga certainly as president, is legally possessed of a great deal of power. But she does not command the respect of parliament. What is power in theory if one cannot wield it? Is she then to remain a lame duck president for the remainder of her term, that is for the next four years, or is she with dignity and decorum to accept her defeat and take a back seat.

There is no way she can now bring in her proposed constitution which embodied in it the abolition of the executive presidency. Not only that, the specially formulated articles gave Kumaratunga the right to return to parliament after she concluded her second term in office as President. These legal ramifications are of purely academic interest now in the light of the people's verdict.

Under the present constitution, Chandrika Kumaratunga's political career will necessarily end come 2005. She, like Jimmy Carter, George Bush senior and Bill Clinton must take up private rooms paid for by private funds and nurture a career making speeches at rotary clubs.

Remember, she now becomes equally de trop to the Sri Lanka Freedom Party or for that matter to the People's Alliance. Even to them, her room is better than her company. As a spent political figure who cannot continue under the law after 2005, and having lost her voter appeal to boot, she is of no use to the dwindling SLFP.

Beleaguered as she now is, those minor electoral victories won through fair means or foul in the past seven years, remain mere tchotchkes on her political mantelpiece. At best she must look upon her presidential palace as a pied-a-terre, a temporary abode alone.

If Kumaratunga decides nevertheless to be untoward, as she has shown herself to be in the past, if she prefers to preach war to the bitter end, then there will be no eclaircissement as far as she is concerned. If she does so, she faces not only certain impeachment but disastrous consequences. As an impeached president, she will leave the highest office in the land as a disgraced woman and be stripped of any status attached to a former president of the country.

Already there are numerous bribery and corruption inquiries not to mention private cases filed against her, but left in limbo due to the umbrella immunity enjoyed by the office of the president.

In this backdrop it would serve Chandrika Kumaratunga's best interests if she were to take a political back seat maintaining her dignity and decorum. It will serve her well, if she were, with quite a good sense, to step aside and let the verdict of the people hold sway.

This is certain. If she were again to indulge in confrontational politics, at a time when Ranil, even in victory has remained quiet and dignified, only appealing for calm and equality for all parties and ethnic groups, she does so at her own peril and with inevitable disastrous consequences.

JVP: No remote control to cling to

By Amantha Perera

If not for the overwhelming victory of the UNP, the winners at last week's election would have been the JVP. The party which was being hunted down less than 12 years ago.

On Friday, 36 hours after polls closed JVP had achieved 16 seats, an increase of more than 50% from the 10 they achieved in 2000.

At the beginning of the campaign the JVP's chances were considered high, but they were believed to have eroded with the arrival of self-proclaimed party leader Somawansha Amerasinghe. Ironically his party men felt different. "His arrival actually gave us a real boost," JVP parliamentarian from the Gampaha District Vijitha Herath told The Sunday Leader.

To his distracters, Amerasinghe's arrival had rekindled the fear psychosis of the 1988-89 terror days and his threats of taking up arms was not exactly what the voters wanted to hear. Amerasinghe's likening of the Chandrika Kumaratunga regime too was seen as a disadvantage to the party which had been projecting an independent view of itself. The JVP's chances had been put at 10 seats and even less by most observers just prior to the election.

But the voters proved all such assessments wrong. The JVP got members elected from all the districts that it was successful in 2000 and add to that now have sitting members from Anuradhapura, Ratnapura and Kandy as well.

"Our prediction was between 14-15 seats at the election and we have achieved that,"" Herath opined. The JVP's calculations went wrong in only one district, Badulla where it lost out. In Ratnapura and Anuradhapura the JVP had come very close to achieving parliamentary representation in 2000. In Ratnapura it lost out by about 2,000 votes last year.

The question that is being posed by everyone to the JVP is what it plans to do now that the PA has been knocked out very badly. The party is cool of the fact that most of the new found power base is the eroding PA voters that are flocking to the JVP.

"It is the PA votes that are coming to us. But, you can't say whether the trend is going to continue," Herath told of the future. An indication of the shift was witnessed in Kalutara where the PA, lost 40,000 votes. Of that the UNP secured 30,000, the remaining 10,000 and a bit more went to the JVP. The situation was more or less the same all over the country.

The JVP claimed that the increase was due to the pact with the PA and what the party achieved the month that it was holding the Kumaratunga regime by the scruff, in the words of Nihal Galappaththi. The party line is that since it was able to achieve what no other party could - the people's confidence on the party had jumped.

Galappaththi told The Sunday Leader during the campaign that the JVP had made the government do things that it would have never imagined.

"A lot will now depend on what we do in future," Herath added. The JVP had indicated that it was ready to form a government with the PA if the coalition accepted its proposals and reactivated the pact. Galappaththi went on to add that the JVP did not mind whoever it was just as long as its proposals become the parameters for the new government. The PA leadership too had indicated that it was looking to the JVP to help it keep power.

That however does not look likely. The JVP would not have their beloved remote control this time, and not for a long time to come as well. The UNP has secured the TV, the remote and the VCR. The JVP would be lucky if it could get a post on the antenna.

Herath was of the opinion that the party would continue with its 'people friendly' policies. "They were the main reason that the JVP had become this strong this fast." It is true that the JVP achieved a 50% increase in its parliamentary representation in something like one year and two months, thanks mainly to the PA and its follies.

But ground realities have changed dramatically in the past month. The JVP ideally would have wanted the pact with the PA government to continue for the stipulated one year. It would then have been able to go to polls with the credit of achieving reforms that all had promised and not delivered.

Now the JVP will have to rethink its policy. The likeliest course it would take is that it would return to becoming virulently anti-UNP. The signs during the campaign suggested that. The advent of Amerasinghe from behind the veil of secrecy too would mean that the anti-UNP attitude of the 1988-89 era would come to the forefront.

The JVP has always played to its advantage. The pact with the government was one such incident. The anti-UNP stance would enable it to reap the benefits of whatever is left of the disgruntled PA base. But now parliament is not going to be the cakewalk it was last year.

There is a renewed sense of confidence among the voters. The Colombo business community was dancing in their offices on Friday and the sentiment is likely to keep the momentum going. The JVP will have to come up with a new tune.

Here will be the opportunity for the JVP to show that it is different. It might come across with conditional support for the new government relating to certain policies. To create that impression that it stands by what it preaches

But, the novelty factor will no longer be to the advantage of Wimal Weerawansha and crowd. The 12th parliament is likely to be stable and not fall as quickly as it's predecessor.

The JVP will have to undergo the long haul this time. It will be plagued with contesting a government that has wind in it's sails, at least on the short run. If the UNP turns the economy around, a lot of the votes will be lost to the JVP. Still the same, being in opposition, it can criticise but can do no wrong, since it can do anything at all.

But for the time being, in the opposition, the limelight will be shared by both the PA and the JVP. The brothers in arms would have to jostle for positions. That would interesting to watch.

Elections and the constitution

By J. S. Tissainayagam

Though three elections have been conducted under the present constitution which has been in existence for over two decades, elections to the 12th parliament has brought to the fore constitutional questions that will need to be addressed thoroughly.

The success of the cohabitation between President Chandrika Kumaratunga elected directly by the people, and the legislature to which voters from Sri Lanka's 22 districts elected a new group of representatives on Wednesday, will determine the path governance will take in the near future.

Though the constitutions of the United States of America and France have managed to smoothen the rough edges that govern relations between legislature and executive, there are few precedents to guide this exercise in Sri Lanka. The last exercise in cohabitation in Sri Lanka was in 1994, where the PA secured a clear majority and had to govern the country with a UNP President - D. B. Wijetunga - for a period of approximately three months. The circumstances then were different from now.

First, Wijetunga was not an elected president, but one who was 'promoted' to the presidency at the demise of his leader R. Premadasa. Therefore, when the UNP lost the general election of August 1994, he did not have the mandate to project himself as an independent centre of power because he was not elected directly by the people but a head of state by appointment. This did not give him the wherewithal to challenge the legislature or the cabinet appointed from PA members of parliament even if he wished to do so.

Secondly, the term of office of Premadasa was coming to an end three months after the general election and Wijetunga's main objective was to carry on till the interregnum came to an end and hand over reins of office to someone else either from his party or from another.

Thirdly, Wijetunga's own personality, a vital factor in such matters, was non-confrontational and it appeared he wanted to smoothen the transition rather than create any problems between the legislature and executive, or between organs of the executive such as president and cabinet.

The same situation is not replicated today. In fact it is the very opposite. For one, Kumaratunga was elected by the people, however questionable the elections might have been. Therefore she believes that she is the repository of the mandate given by the people. This makes her position more stable than Wijetunga's and much more comfortable to launch a confrontation with legislature and cabinet.

Secondly, unlike Wijetunga who was in the fag-end of the Premadasa administration when the general election was conducted, Kumaratunga is yet to reach even the midpoint of her's. Finally, Kumaratunga's style is more vigorous and confrontational than Wijetunga's. All three factors combined together in the campaign she carried out for her party in the recently concluded general election.

While these factors have led to the doubts as to whether cohabitation is possible, there are also more immediate questions on whether the acrimony and passion that fuelled the election might be reflected when the new government is formed.

According to Sri Lankan constitution, which is described as 'Gaullist' because it contains features of the French Constitution with a concentration of power in the hands of the president, "the president shall appoint as prime minister the Member of Parliament who is in his opinion most likely to command the confidence of parliament."[Chap. 43 (3)]

The terminology gives president a great latitude and much discretion ("in his opinion most likely to"). If a clause such as "leader from the largest party in parliament" was there, it would have limited the president's powers of discretion bestowed to her by her office. In other words it would have been a safeguard.

The question however is despite the sweeping powers enjoyed by the president whether she will try to use her discretion to refrain from calling the UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, who it appears will be most likely to command the confidence of parliament, to form the government.

Constitutional experts cite the example of the governors of North Western Provincial Council and the Southern Provincial Council using a similar discretion available to them in the appointment of chief ministers to their respective provinces. The matter came up before the supreme court.

Court in its order however said that though such a discretion was enjoyed by the governors, the appointment of the chief minister "had to reflect the will of the people." In other words there were certain parameters within which the governor could exercise their discretion.

Another cause of concern is that the president might call upon the person who does not actually command the confidence of the House to form the government by protecting herself with the immunity she enjoys under Article 35. But once again constitutional experts cite decisions made by the judiciary as a safeguard, which state that presidential immunity covers only acts that are bona fide and not those that are done in express violation of the constitution.

This does not conclude the debate however, because with certain judges of the supreme court showing an acute partiality to the present Executive, there is every possibility that even a matter that would ordinarily construed as mala fide might not be interpreted as such by courts.

What could be more decisive than all the constitutional and legal provisions would be a clear mandate for any one party or coalition.

The other controversial issue is up to which point the old cabinet continues. Technically the cabinet is not disbanded when parliament is dissolved for a general election. But the present cabinet's continuation has given rise to fears that it would act as an impediment to the formation of the new government.

According to the constitution the old cabinet continues till the conclusion of the general election. The general election is concluded either when a) all the seats are declared indicating a party having a working majority or b) or when all the results are declared.

If the political parties contest the results in an election the commissioner of elections can annual the polls in the affected areas and order a re-poll. This will mean printing of ballot papers and concluding other arrangements that will naturally delay the "conclusion of the general election." On the other hand if the political parties themselves are satisfied there is no need for a re-poll as the UNP is despite systematic rigging in areas such as Wyamba and Kandy, the Commissioner will not countermand the poll.

But it is not only the wishes of political parties that have to be satisfied in this issue. Because with preferences for individual candidates also a point of contention, the elections commissioner can order a re-poll if there is a doubt on the fairness of the allocation of manapes. This is reinforced by the Supreme Court interpreting elections as 'electing candidates' and not political parties.

The question of whether the party or candidate has the right to request a re-poll in the case of malpractice is superseded by a more fundamental question. "Is it fair for the commissioner of elections and the political parties to get into a huddle to make a decision that disenfranchises the voter?" asked Rohan Edrisinha, director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives.

What he means is that a rigged election deprives the electors of their fundamental right to franchise, which neither political parties nor government officials can annul, according to their whims and fancies. The Centre for the Monitoring of Elections (CMEV) has dispatched a letter to Commission of Elections Dayananda Dissanayake on the matter.

Edrisinha says that the approach to resolve these sticky matters is not what the president may or may not do under the constitution, but she ought to do. The mandate given by the people is for a UNP legislature to work with a PA president. If it is cohabitation the voters desire it is cohabitation both parties should explore, rather than stick to restrictive constitutional and legal provisions which will lead to confrontation.

TNA routs EPDP in North-East

By J. S. Tissainayagam

Another election is over, though yet to be officially concluded. Like its predecessor in October 2000 it was marred by violence, intimidation and fraud. However, contrary to the previous exercise, the main parties in the opposition, the UNP in the south and the TNA, UNP and SLMC in the north-east, were able to turn tables on the forces entrenched in power and which formed the last government, the PA and EPDP.

Though systematic violence and vote-rigging occurred in the south, which no doubt distorted the result in those areas, it was only in the north-east that the brazen and high-handed act of depriving Tamil voters en bloc of their franchise by deploying the military was carried out by the government party.

In the Wanni and Batticaloa the military, on the express instructions of President Chandrika Kumaratunga, barricaded entry points from the LTTE-controlled territory to the cluster booths in the 'cleared' areas, on the spurious excuse the LTTE was using the opportunity to infiltrate the government lines.

The act is of enormous significance because it denies a fundamental right to Tamils living in the LTTE-controlled areas, for whose citizenship in an undivided Sri Lanka successive governments are ostensibly fighting. Parliament has remained one of the few institutions that united Sri Lanka, at least symbolically. The LTTE is fighting for a separate state on the grounds that parliament as it is now constituted, does not properly represent Tamil interests.

The government's action only emphasises that it is prepared to openly defy the Tamil living in the 'uncleared' area's claim to citizenship. It is obvious how this will go to reinforce the LTTE's argument for a separate state for the Tamils living in the north-east.

Secondly, barring Tamils from the LTTE-controlled areas from voting is a confession that all the propaganda the government circulated that the LTTE is a repressive organisation demanding servitude from the Tamils, by extorting money, conscripting children and extracting forced labour, is either false or exaggerated.

If the extent of the repression was true elections would have been a wonderful opportunity for people in the 'uncleared' areas to demonstrate their dissatisfaction through the secret ballot. But the PA was not willing to even allow the public to exercise their right, obviously fearing the consequences of the people's verdict.

At the time of writing, the results from all the five districts of the north-east have been temporarily withheld by the Commissioner of Elections. This is because the obstruction to voting on the grounds of national security as in the case in the electoral districts of Wanni and Batticaloa as well as questions of the fairness of the poll in the Jaffna, Trincomalee and Digamadulla districts requires the Commissioner to consult the political parties involved. Therefore, some of the information below is accurate as far as the writer is aware, but not official.

In the electoral district of Jaffna (nine seats), perhaps the biggest drawback to a free and fair poll was the flawed electoral registers. Though it records there are 633,547 voters in the district, only a fraction of them are actually there. This permitted the EPDP to rig elections big time. However, high polling by a defiant electorate saw the TNA, which was fancied to win but not get a virtual landslide, bag six seats in the district, with 102,340 votes. The remaining three seats were shared between the EPDP (two) and UNP (one).

The violence projected at the opposition by the EPDP in a bid to retain a hold on its northern bastion was awesome, including an assault on four candidates of TNA who went to the Kayts division to canvass votes.

At the time of writing, V. Anandasangaree, M. Senathirajah, N. Raviraj of the TULF and Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam and A. Vinayagamoorthy of the ACTC are elected to five seats, while S. Sivajilingam (TELO) and N. Aravindan (TULF) are fighting for the sixth. TULF's S. Sivamagarajah, sitting MP after the 2000 elections does not seem likely to be returned.

One of the two seats for the EPDP will go party leader Douglas Devananda, while the other is yet to be known.

The sole UNPer will be sitting MP T. Maheswaran. The party's single seat belies Maheswaran's importance in the election, fought with blood and guts. It was Maheswaran's self-confidence to take on Devananda in the islands and the northern fringe of the peninsula that put paid to the myth of the EPDP's invincibility in Jaffna.

What is also significant is that despite the gargantuan exercise in rigging the EPDP was able to command a majority only on its home turf, Kayts. The TNA led in all others. This was quite a contrast to the last election where of the low 21.3% who voted, the EPDP with 41,671 votes won four seats, while the TULF (32,852) won three. The UNP and ACTC shared the remaining two seats.

The Wanni district (six seats), comprising the administrative districts of Vavuniya, Mannar and Mullaitivu, was one of the two districts crippled by the president's order to prevent voters crossing from the LTTE-controlled territories at the Piramanalankulam checkpoint. This was despite the Herculean task by the government agents of the districts to organise transport to these voters to the cluster booths.

The October 2000 elections where 42.13% polled, TELO (21,705 votes) won three seats, while NUA (15,837), UNP (11,545) and PA (7,837) were returned to a seat each. The surprise was that PLOTE, which won three seats in 1994, being wiped out.

However this time, approximately 60% voted, despite 70,000 voters in the 'uncleared' areas not permitted to cross Piramanalankulam. Of these votes 41,959 went to the TNA, facilitating three seats. If the voters from the LTTE-controlled areas were allowed to cast their votes too, seats could have increased to four.

The TNA's preferences are expected to be shared by A. Adaikalanathan and I. Kugneswaran (both TELO) and N. 'Sivasakthi' Anandan (EPRLF).

The formation of the UNF brought together the UNP and SLMC, both which fared creditably in the Wanni at the last elections. The joining of forces resulted in the UNF bagging two seats. What is of significance is that at least one of the two will go to the SLMC (A. H. M. Masoor), possibly both. What is interesting is the dislodging of UNP's Shantha Punchihewa, who was earlier a beneficiary of the small but cohesive Sinhala vote in Vavuniya.

The single remaining seat goes to PLOTE (9,914 odd votes) and the returning of its leader D. Siddharthan. This is despite the unenviable reputation his party cadres enjoy in Vavuniya because of violence. What is also of importance is the PLOTE's statement during the nominations of a willingness to enter the TNA fold, reciprocated by Adaikalanathan's invitation to do so. It is however left to be seen whether this will materialise.

Despite all its endeavours to buy votes through schemes like development volunteers and doling out money for projects the EPDP's plans for even a single seat have come acropper.

The expectations of the TNA in the Trincomalee district (four seats) went awry. Buoyed by its campaign in the 'uncleared' areas of Mutur that yields 15,000 votes, the party speculated a little foolishly that it could be returned to two seats. It got only one, with two going to the UNF (UNP and SLMC) and one to the PA.

At the October 2000 election the PA-SLMC coalition with 58,860 votes won three seats, while the UNP (46,700) won one in an election where 68.5% polled. This time however, the 56,119 votes polled for the TNA was sufficient for only one seat, while PA with 32,992 votes also won one. The UNF needed 62,915 votes for its two seats.

R. Sampanthan (TULF) is TNA's sole member of parliament from Trincomalee while K. Thurairatnasigham of Mutur comes second. This was despite the largely unimpeded voting by the public from the 'uncleared' areas of Mutur, unlike in the Wani and Batticaloa districts.

The two seats returned by the UNF include sitting MP M. A. M. Mahuruf (UNP) and 'Thideer' Thowfeek (SLMC). M. S. Thowfeek and A. M. Najeeb who were elected in 2000 lost their seats. The sole Sinhala candidate returned is PA's M. K. D. S. Gunewardene, who is backed by the Sinhala settler-colonists in the district.

In Batticaloa (five seats) where there was a 71.4% turnout at the last election, TULF (54,448 votes) bagged three seats, while NUA (53,646), UNP (29,165) and PA (16,510) were awarded one seat each.

This time however there were shocking upsets. The UNP was not returned at all despite the popular Ali Zaheer Mowlana of Eravur. The party received only 22,638 votes. This was in spite of the UNP enjoying a degree of support among both Tamils and Muslims in the district. On the other hand, M. L. A. M Hisbullah, who contested on the PA ticket after the SLMC split and has a base confined only to Katankudy, won a seat helped by the Tamil votes of T. Ganeshamoorthy.

The TNA performed creditably despite around 50,000 voters of the 78,000 from the LTTE-controlled Paduwankarai denied access to vote. It won three seats, which is not an adequate reflection of the enormous popularity of the party, which bagged 86,284 votes in the district. The preferences are led by the mercurial T. Thangavadivel (London Muruga), nominated by TELO, followed by the TULF veterans Joseph Pararajasingham and P. Selvarasa.

Sitting MP Mohamad Abdul Kadar, very popular in Ottamavadi in Batticaloa north won the fourth seat with 26,725 seats.

Tamils are not dissatisfied with Hisbullah's election and Mowlana's defeat. They say that Hisbullah's anti-Tamil credentials are well established. Mowlana however, is seen as riding to power on the shoulders of Tamil voters who are wooed by Tamil candidates from the UNP. This time too, five of the UNP candidates are Tamils, while three are Muslims. The assassination of UNP's T. Jeyakumar would have dissuaded Tamils from voting for that party.

In the Digamadulla district (seven seats) where the Amparai Tamil Maha Sabha (ATMS) backed EPDP candidate K. Shankar was returned to power in the last election, this time the EPDP was routed, due no doubt to its violent record. The ATMS switched to backing the TNA, which has resulted in one seat for A. Chandranehru. The other seats are SLMC - three, PA - two and UNP - one.

The ethnically sensitive Trincomalee and Amparai are therefore covered, though perhaps only by one seat.

What is also significant is the support the TNA despite lacklustre candidates and a limp campaign was able to garner in Colombo, the only district outside the north-east it contested. It received a whopping 12,000 odd votes, which will add to the national list seat(s).

If it can beat the JVP to it, the approximately 15 seats that are expected might give the TNA the enviable position of the third-largest party in parliament. It has pledged not to give blind support to any government as Tamil parties have done in the past. The TNA is to sit in the opposition and give, if at all, qualified support when needed. This was spelt out at the very formation of the TNA. The wisdom of these moves only time will tell.

Franchise: Expediency vs principle

By D. B. S. Jeyaraj

The conclusion of parliamentary elections, 2001 has led to contours of the new power configuration emerging. Ranil Wickremesinghe has broken the jinx that seemingly afflicted him in the past and led his party and allies to a slim victory. There is little doubt that his performance would have been greater if a free and fair poll had taken place.

The ability of the United National Front and the Tamil National United Front in achieving such success in spite of the violence and fraudulent practices of their powerful opponents demonstrates how determined the voters were to vote the 'rascals' out. Victory of the hitherto opposition forces cannot be passed off as an indicator of the polls being free and fair. It is clear that the incumbent government and its allies would have been totally routed had the elections been fair and of course under the old first past the post winner system.

Although full results have not been declared at the time this article is being written (December 7, morning) unofficial but well informed projections estimate the UNP-SLMC tally at 114 - 116 seats. The PA total is likely to be 78 - 80; The JVP 15 -16; The Tamil alliance of four parties contesting under the TULF symbol are likely to get 14 -15. The EPDP and PLOTE contesting as DPLF will get 2 and 1 each respectively. The final and official tally is likely to be adjusted on these lines. It is clear that the UNP led front will get a slim majority entitling it to form a government of its own. The new dispensation will most probably be supported by the Tamil alliance from opposition ranks. The chances of the PA and JVP teeming up to form a viable alternative with the blessings of executive President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga seem numerically remote.

This power configuration is not likely to undergo any drastic changes even if the Elections Commissioner annuls results in certain polling divisions where the electoral process has been irretrievably flawed. Any re-polling under present circumstances will obviously benefit the UNP and allies as well as the Tamil party alliance. The UNP along with the EPDP and PLOTE may lose a few seats they have obtained in the north-east to the Tamil alliance after a re-poll. The UNP however will be compensated for such loss amply in the south, west and central provinces. Seeking such a re-poll however will prolong the electoral process further and delay government formation and convening of parliament.

Under these circumstances the affected parties would not like to cause further delays and therefore opt to accept the status quo and not insist on a re-poll. There is an ethical and moral dilemma here. There is no doubt that the parties concerned would have objected vehemently and clamoured for a re-poll had the results been adverse to them. But now that the parties concerned are ensconced in the lap of success despite the electoral process flaws they are not very keen to protest and request a re-poll. The PA for example has been defeated in the electoral divisions of Minuwangoda and Pahatha Dumbara in spite of the obnoxious practices adopted. The question that arises here is whether political parties and independent groups can let the criteria of success and convenience influence their decision on a matter of serious magnitude such as the infringement of the franchise.

The most important and deplorable precedent in this matter was that of the Tamil United Liberation Front in 1981. The District Development Council elections to Jaffna in 1981 was the most glaring exhibition of a fraudulent election. Among the various malpractices was the bizarre case of several missing ballot boxes. Prof. Karthigesu Sivathamby used to quip then that genuine democracy would return to Jaffna only after the missing ballot boxes retuned. The Jaffna DDC poll was replete with flaws and deserved to be annulled. Moreover it was something like a 'pilot project' in election rigging. A strong protest by aggrieved political parties may have resulted in the verdict being set aside. If that had occurred then worse electoral malpractices that followed in later years may have been deterred.

The TULF however did not take up a principled stand and resorted to the strategy of expedience. The burning of the Jaffna public library and other places by indisciplined policemen and the joint appeal signed by the TULF and Tamil Congress led to an overwhelming upsurge of votes for the TULF. As a result there was a tidal wave of support for the party which won all 10 seats on the council. It was a unique electoral feat unparalleled to date. The Jaffna voters has given a slap in the face to J. R. Jayewardene and his proportionate representation scheme. This astounding TULF success however did not mean that the election itself was conducted under reprehensible circumstances.

This aspect was highlighted by a lawyer and former Independent candidate for Nallur, Rajarajeswaran Thangarajah, who resorted to legal action seeking courts to set aside the verdict. The TULF found itself in an uncomfortable position. It did not want to lose its monopolistic position in the Jaffna DDC. A new election may have resulted in other parties like the Tamil Congress getting a few seats due to the PR system and also because of the absence of an emotional voter wave that prevailed in the aftermath of Jaffna library being burnt. So TULF leaders shamefully stated that the electoral process was not flawed during the DDC poll in Jaffna and that it was entirely above board. This act was understandable in political terms but extremely contemptible in terms of principle.

This pattern of letting expediency and success determine the 'free and fair' nature of a poll is visible even now. Chandrika Kumaratunga on the other hand is trying to save face and cover up the violence and fraudulence on the grounds that a PA defeat proves the election was free and fair. The important consideration at this juncture is not the interests of the politicians and political parties but the larger interests of the people. It does not necessarily mean that the interests of politicians and voters coincide in all respects even if the latter have voted for the former. One can only appeal in the first instance to political leaders to take up positions of principle as opposed to expediency on these issues. Failing which it is the constitutional right and duty of the elections commissioner to protect and enforce the interests and concerns of the voters on issues such as annulment and re-polling.

The interests of the people are supreme and above the interests of the political parties and leaders. Elections Commissioner Dissanayake could follow the inspirational example of former Indian elections commissioner Seshan in this. The voters are the paramount factor to be considered. The right of franchise is not to be infringed upon with impunity. Any decision made by him will have far reaching consequences for democracy in the island in the long run.

A decision on this crucial matter may very well have been taken by the elections commissioner before this article is seen in print. It is to be hoped that decisions taken are guided by the sanctity of the democratic process, the paramountcy of the right of franchise and the interests of the people. Whatever the decision taken the views expressed here will continue to be relevant as long as vestiges of democracy exist in our resplendent island.




©Leader Publication (Pvt) Ltd.
410/27, Bauddhaloka Mawatha, Colombo 07
Tel : +94-75-365891,2 Fax : +94-75-365891
email : leader@sri.lanka.net