With the battle lines at this juncture drawn between Sri Lanka’s two main parties, namely the SLFP-led UPFA and the UNP, where both parties derive their strength from Sri Lanka’s overwhelmingly strong 75% Sinhala majority, it was the UPFA which won the majority of the electorates at the 8 January 2015 presidential poll, data published in this newspaper’s 10 January 2015 edition showed.
The leader of the UPFA then was Mahinda Rajapaksa, defeated by Maithripala Sirisena at that poll.
Though Sirisena, the new SLFP-UPFA Leader won the presidential election, of the 160 electorates captured as per that edition of this newspaper, Rajapaksa won 94 of those electorates, as opposed to Sirisena’s 66, giving the former a clear majority, electorally. Yesterday, the lead story of this newspaper said that Rajapaksa has been given UPFA nomination for the 17 August 2015 general election.
Sri Lanka has been carved in to 168 electorates, as per the last ‘first-past-the-post’ (FPP) election which was held in 1977. It has since been replaced by the proportional representation system (PRS). Data published on this newspaper’s 10 January 2015 edition on an ‘electorate by electorate’perspective of the 8 January poll, is based on the 1977, FPP system.
Some of those electorates, as per the 1977 register were multi-member constituencies. For instance Colombo Central and Nuwara Eliya-Maskeliya returned three members each to Parliament, while three multi-member constituencies such as Akurana-Harispattuwa, Batticaloa, and Pottuvil returned two legislators each, making it a total of 167 members of the 168 elected to Parliament at the 1977 poll.
The 2015 presidential poll was a two horse race between Sirisena and Rajapaksa, with the former garnering 6.22 million or 51.28% of the vote and the latter 5.77 million or 44.58% of the vote, giving Sirisena a 449,072 majority.
Rajapaksa entering the fray under the UPFA banner has tipped the scales in favour of the UPFA at the 17 August poll. Otherwise, the coalition was facing a split to the advantage of the UNP.
Prior to the dissolution of the Parliament on 26 June 2015, for a period of more than 5½ months since the 8 January 2015 poll, the UNP headed a minority government. Sirisena was the UNP’s proxy candidate at the 8 January poll. Sirisena was elected on the platform of good governance and ethnic reconciliation. Rajapaksa’s campaign centred round the war victory after 26 years of brutal conflict with Tamil terrorists.
Rajapaksa’s target was the 70% predominantly strong Sinhala-Buddhist vote base. Sirisena targeted all races. Rajapaksa gained the majority in Sri Lanka’s overwhelmingly strong, rural Sinhala Buddhist vote, despite losing the poll.
Rajapaksa won 10 of Sri Lanka’s 22 electoral districts, with the balance going to Sirisena
While the minorities will vote for their parties in those districts where they form a sizeable chunk, if not the majority of the population, with the possibility of forming a coalition with the UNP after the 17 August poll, the crucial Sinhala-Buddhist vote will be the decider, whether the two major parties, namely the UNP and the UPFA, would be able to obtain a majority in the 225-seat Parliament?
Since parliamentary polls were conducted under the PRS beginning with the 1989 election, it has been only twice a party has been able to command an absolute majority in Parliament. The first was in 1989 where the UNP together with the CWC, contesting under the former’s ‘Elephant’ symbol won more than 113 seats to form a government and the other was at the last parliamentary poll, the 2010 general elections, where Rajapaksa’s then controlled UPFA coalition almost got a two thirds majority in the House.
In 1989, the country was in flames with the IPKF fighting the LTTE in the North and East, while elsewhere, there was a phony peace between the then terrorist JVP and the UNP President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s Government. UPFA’s win at the 2010 poll was on the war victory wave, a wave which had lost its momentum five years later at the 2015 presidential poll.
It may once more gather momentum over issues such as the cost of living (CoL) and jobs on the one hand and then the UN’s September sessions on Sri Lanka’s human rights record in the LTTE war on the other, key determinants of the outcome of the 17 August poll.
Anti Rajapaksa forces in the international community led by the USA, it may be rest assured would keep quiet till the polls are over. Therefore, the deciding factor among the Sinhala Buddhist vote would be CoL and jobs.