By Suhas Chakma
In the upcoming snap Presidential election in Sri Lanka slated for 8th January 2015, President Mahinda Rajpaksa’s defeat looks imminent sans rigging by the President. A formidable rainbow coalition of the opposition under the leadership of joint opposition candidate Maithripala Sirisena is firmly in place. Sri Lankans’ disenchantment with corruption, rising cost of living, disregard for the rule of law, politicisation of all areas of governance and nepotism characterised by all pervasive presence of the Rajapaksa family members in all departments that run Sri Lanka’s life have crossed the limits of tolerance. While the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) was never expected to support Rajapaksa, who claims himself as the ‘known devil’, Palani Digambaram and V Radhakrishnan, both Deputy Ministers representing Indian origin plantation Tamils resigned from Rajapaksa’s Ministry on 11 December 2014 to support Sirisena. Less than a fortnight later, prominent Muslim leader and Minister of Industry and Commerce Rishad Bathiudeen too resigned to support Sirisena. On 28 December, leader of Sri Lanka’s largest Muslim political party, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem delivered a body blow to Rajapaksa after pledging support for Sirisena.
For the first time in the history of Sri Lanka, the unity of the minorities against a Presidential candidate has become complete. The votes of the minorities with 32% share of the total votes with Tamils representing 15.3%, followed by Muslims with 9.3% and Christians with 7.4% can be decisive. Apart from Pope Francis’ visit to Sri Lanka from 12 to 15 January 2015, Rajapaksa has simply failed to convince his re–election for another term. The victory over the LTTE no longer sells. President Rajapaksa and his brothers also cannot lambast the West and the United Nations having barred the visit of the UN Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Sri Lanka into the country. In fact, on 23 December 2014, Rajapaksa conceded to the main plank of the opposition as he promised to reform the powerful presidency within one year if re–elected. Sri Lankans are unlikely to be convinced by enlightenment gained by Rajapaksa in the face of defeat.
The dissatisfaction of the Tamils against the Rajapaksa regime requires little introduction. However, it is the relentless attacks which made the Muslims and the Christians anti–Rajapaksa. On 2 July 2014, three UN experts on freedom of religion, minority issues, and summary executions in a joint press statement urged the government of Sri Lanka to adopt urgent measures to stop the promotion of racial and faith–based hatred, and violence against Muslim and Christian communities by the Buddhist groups with extremist views, and bring perpetrators of this violence to justice. According to the UN experts, more than 350 violent attacks against Muslims and over 150 attacks against Christians were reported in Sri Lanka in the last two years.
On the other hand, the results in the six out of nine provincial elections held during 2013– 2014 showed gradual fall in the vote share of the UPFA among the Sinhalese majority.
In the elections held in Central, Northern and North Western provinces in September 2013, the TNA won over 78% of the vote in the North defeating the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) while UPFA won in the North Western and Central provinces with 66% and 60% respectively.
Further, in the elections held in Western Province and Southern Province in March 2014, the UPFA won in both the Provinces but lost seats and vote share. While in the Western province, it won 56 seats compared to 68 seats in 2009 elections, i.e. losing 12 seats, in the Southern Province it lost 5 seats with 33 seats won compared to previous 38 seats. The UPFA’s vote share fell by about 11 percent in the Western Province, from 1,506,115 (64.73%) in 2009 to 1,363,675 (53.35%) and in the Southern Province from 804,071 (67.88%) to 699,408 (58.06%) by approximately 10 per cent.
Similarly, the UPFA won the elections in the Uva Province held in September 2014, but its vote share fell sharply by 21% from 72% in 2009 to 51%, resulting in the loss of six seats.
The opposition has further consolidated its support base among the Sinhalese majority since the last provincial elections while it garnered support of all the minorities.
Further, Sri Lankans are also aware that Rajapaksa lacks confidence of international community, in particular, India. Devolution of power for the Tamil minorities apart, the repeated arrests of Indian Tamil fishermen has been considered lout by New Delhi. By opening up the Indian Ocean to China, on which India, US, EU and Australia are on the same page, Rajapaksa appears to have bitten more than he could chew.
(To be continued)