Support of Tamils Crucial for Sirisena to Emerge Triumphant

tamil parties.jpg 2If Maithripala Sirisena, the joint opposition candidate in Thursday’s Sri Lankan Presidential election, is to pip incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the post, he has to take a very long stride.

In the last election in 2010, Rajapaksa had bagged 6,015,934 votes as against 4,173,185 secured by his principal rival, former Army General Sarath Fonseka, who was also the common opposition candidate. Rajapaksa had emerged victorious with 17.7 percentage points more than Fonseka.

The contest was initially thought to be even, given the fact that Rajapaksa and Fonseka could equally claim credit for the historic victory against the “invincible”  Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Rajapaksa  faced a formidable challenge also because the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) was with Fonseka. The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) representing the Tamils of Indian origin had also cast their lot with the General. Furthermore, Fonseka’s main prop was Lanka’s principal opposition outfit, United National Party (UNP) led by Ranil Wickremesinghe.

But despite the impressive opposition line up, Rajapaksa won convincingly with 57 percent of the vote. Clearly, the majority Sinhalese community had accepted Rajapaksa as the principal mover and shaker in the saga of Eelam War IV.

Tamil Role

The Tamils had played a role in Fonseka’s defeat even though the TNA had pledged its support to him. Despite the TNA’s plea, polling was only 25 per cent in the Tamil majority Jaffna district. In the “Wanni” districts of the Tamil speaking Northern Province,  polling was 40 per cent, much below the national average of 75 per cent. Jaffna and the Wanni had together a voting population of over 700,000, the bulk of which was expected to go to Fonseka to give his prospects a boost. But this expectation was belied.

The Indian Tamils, however, had stood by Fonseka, which was reflected in the tea plantation district of Nuwara Eliya where he got 52 per cent of the votes.

Bigger Challenge

In 2015, Rajapaksa is facing a far more serious challenge than he did in 2010. In 2015, Rajapaksa is facing an anti-incumbency factor due to a 10-year stint in power, marked in the past five years, by manifest greed, concentration of power in his immediate family, arbitrary decision making, massive corruption charges, and insensitivity to public opinion.

His bid to hard sell his victory over terrorism, his warnings about the revival of Tamil terrorism and growth of Islamic militancy, and his impressive performance in infrastructure development, has not found the kind of resonance, he expected. On the contrary, the rag tag opposition is seen in good light by a major chunk of the electorate, putting Rajapaksa on the defensive often.

Similarity with 2005 

In the 2005 election, held a year before Eelam War IV, the contest was between the wannabe leader Rajapaksa and a veteran politician, Ranil Wickremesinghe of the UNP.

The SLMC and CWC were with Wickremesinghe. The Northern and  Eastern Tamils wanted to vote for the “liberal” Wickremesinghe, but they had to boycott the poll because of a diktat from the LTTE.  Therefore, Rajapaksa made it by a whisker with 50.29 per cent.

The scenario in 2015 looks similar to the one in 2005 rather than 2010. Rajapaksa and Sirisena seem to be on an equal footing.  With the Sinhalese majority divided, Tamil voters of the North are expected to play a decisive role in 2015, as in 2005. If they give more than 65 per cent of the total votes polled to Sirisena, he may pip Rajapaksa at the post, analysts say.(New Indian Express)

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