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Selected Writings by Dharmeratnam Sivaram (Taraki)
Towards a rigorous election campaign
Midweek Mirror,1 December 1999
Winning is going to be tough for President Chandrika Kumaratunga. Logic and simple arithmetic tell us that this has to be the case. But the hunch that most amateur psephologists seem to have is that she will somehow become President again.
First look at the calculations. There are two ways to do them. One is the old Presidential elections formula Ð add bloc minority votes to divided Sinhala vote. The Sinhala vote was divided only between the UNP and the PA (or DPA) in 1988 and 1994. In both elections the winner was ensured of bloc minority votes. This time, however, the Sinhala vote is divided further by the JVP. Let us assume, on the basis of its performance at the provincial elections, that the JVP might get eight percent of the Sinhala vote.
Let's say the minor parties and independents get about two percent. This leaves the UNP and the PA with about 90 percent of the Sinhala vote. In this situation, even if the PA succeeds in getting ten percent more than the UNP, it would be 50 percent of the Sinhala vote. This is not more than 38 percent of the national vote. Therefore the need for bloc minority vote to ensure victory is even greater than what it was in 1988 and 1994.
The temptation to rig the elections in the northeast on a grand scale is bound to be great and compelling for those in power in this situation. And the urge to woo the Tamil votes by insisting on talks with the LTTE is for this reason inevitable in the UNP. There is another way of doing the arithmetic of the presidential elections. This calculation begins with the total number of votes the PA polled over the UNP in the provincial council elections. This is more than three hundred thousand. Assuming that the PA still retains this support in all the provinces where elections were held, we can say that to win, Opposition leader and Presidential candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe has to look for at least two hundred thousand votes in the northeast province and endeavour to turn away a hundred thousand or more from the PA in the other provinces.
Getting two hundred thousand votes in the northeast is a tall order for the UNP given the current ground situation there. The opposition cannot campaign in that region with ease. Jaffna seems to be almost out of bounds for anyone except the PA and its Tamil cronies.
The PA, as is well known, is worried that the Tamils won't vote for it in a free and fair election. The point, however, is that the government would do fine if the Tamils and Muslims do not vote for the UNP and help it bridge the three hundred thousand vote gap in the provinces outside the northeast.
But can the PA retain all the votes that it garnered at the provincial polls? (And will such votes directly translate into support for Mrs. Kumaratunga?) The war victories from Jaffna to the Wanni were a substantial plus point when the PA was campaigning for the provincial council elections. It appeared that many Sinhalese were of the opinion that the government was doing a good job in fighting the war. Now it is apparent that there is disillusionment among the Sinhala voters about the PA's military programme following the debacles in the Wanni.
We have to then consider the natural decline over the months due to the rising cost of living, adverse attitudes in the independent media etc. So the bottom line for the PA in this calculation is to ensure that the Tamil and Muslim votes in the northeast do not go to UNP in significant numbers on the one hand and on the other adopt a stridently anti-LTTE line in the south to retain the Sinhala vote it got in the provincial elections.
The PA seems quite convinced that it will get very few Tamil votes. Its organisers in the northeast have reported back that the political mood among the Tamils is not in its favour at all. This is probably the reason that the government is relentlessly stirring up fears in the south about the LTTE getting the northeast on a platter from the UNP. The PA's campaign is based on what is portrayed as a conspiracy by the UNP in collusion with the Tigers against the Sinhala people. This can only be aimed at stirring up Sinhala nationalist sentiments in favour of the PA's Presidential candidate. The government's election strategists are surely aware of the fact that the LTTE-UNP conspiracy slogan will further destroy even the negligible support the PA has among sections of the Tamils.
In this context, how smartly can the government deal with the minority votes vis-ˆ-vis the UNP while pursuing the strategy of going hammer and tongs for the Sinhala vote? Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Varatharaja Perumal have a role to play, wittingly or unwittingly, in deciding how successfully the PA can handle the general hostility among the Tamils and turn it into profit.
Many northeast Tamils are now generally inclined to vote for Vasudeva Nanayakkara. He can effectively neutralise Tamils who may have voted for the UNP to show their opposition to the PA despite Kumar Ponnambalam's compelling appeals to treat this election with "supreme disdain". This, needless to say, is what the PA wants. I have already written in these columns about how Mr. Perumal intends to assist the government.
Therefore in the calculation that we are discussing here, the PA looks set to ensure its leader's victory by blocking the Tamil vote in the northeast directly by rigging or indirectly through the (probably) unsuspecting role of Vasudeva Nanayakkara from going to the UNP, while concentrating its forces on zealously wooing the Sinhala vote. In the final analysis, all these calculations are predicated on the attitude of the Army and the Police in the north and east.