Election analysis Where did Rajapaksa go wrong ?
By Umesh Moramudali
In what appears to be one of the most eagerly followed presidential elections in the country’s history, which made an incumbent Executive President a loser for the first time in Sri Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena was elected the sixth Executive President of Sri Lanka on Thursday (8).
The new President received 6,217,162 votes – 51.28% of the total votes polled – with a majority of 449,072 votes than his main opponent, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who received 5,768,090 votes (47.58%).
According to the 2014 Electoral Register, 15,044,490 people were eligible to vote in the 2015 presidential election. Out of that number, 12,264,377 voters exercised their franchise, which is 81.52% of the total number registered.
It can be observed that Rajapaksa was defeated not merely due to the majority votes Sirisena received in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, but due to the split in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) votes in several SLFP strongholds. In fact, it was the failure of Rajapaksa to get a higher number of majority votes in his strongholds that made him the loser.
Interestingly, Rajapaksa lost Gampaha, which is known as a staunch SLFP stronghold since the days of Bandaranaikes, by a mere 4,660 votes. This defeat is a vital turning point for the SLFP. When we take a look at the 2005 presidential election, Rajapaksa won against his main opponent at the time, Ranil Wickremesinghe, by a slight margin of 180,000 votes. However, at that time, he received little over 115,000 majority votes from the Gampaha District. In 2010, the majority votes he received in Gampaha was a massive 284,000. The drastic drop this time may be indicative of the diminishing popularity of Rajapaksa. The role played by former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga in President Sirisena’s candidature may have had an impact on the Gampaha voters.
In addition to the strong support Sirisena received from the Catholic minorities. Sirisena won Negombo by 25,000 majority votes while he received nearly 18,000 majority votes in Wattala, which easily put him on the top in the district.
Kurunegala District too played a role in Rajapaksa’s defeat. Although Rajapaksa won Kurunegala, he received only 80,000 majority votes, which is a significant reduction when compared to the majority votes of nearly 250,000 he received in the previous election.
Further, Sirisena won the Polonnaruwa District quite comfortably while Rajapaksa won the Anuradhapura District.
2005 and 2010 elections
The presidential election of 2005 is important as that was the time that Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected as President for the first time. He did not have the ‘war victory’ card in his possession then, and won with a slight margin. However, back then Rajapaksa was backed by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU). This time, both these parties canvassed against Rajapaksa, on separate stages. In November 2005, Rajapaksa won the election by nearly 180,000 votes, in a context where the majority of the people in the Northern Province refrained from voting. In 2005, as well as in 2010, Rajapaksa was able to secure victory in several SLFP strongholds, such as Gampaha, Kurunegala, Ratnapura, Matara and Hambantota. In 2005, Rajapaksa won Gampaha with a majority of 110,000 votes, Matara by nearly 120,000 votes Hambantota by 90,000 votes and Kurunegala by only 50,000 votes.
Rajapaksa was aware that the Northern and Eastern Provinces were out of his reach. With the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and the All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) deserting him, Rajapaksa would have lost all hopes of receiving a substantial number of votes from the North and East. Therefore, for Rajapaksa it was always about obtaining a considerable number of majority votes in other provinces, in the hope of overtaking the lead that Sirisena could get in the North and East as well as Nuwara Eliya.
President Sirisena, who won the election by 449,072 votes, received a large percentage of the votes in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. With the support of the SLMC and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Sirisena was able to secure victory in both provinces with huge margins, which in the end, ensured his victory.
President Sirisena won the Batticaloa District by 167,791 votes, Digamadulla by 112,333 votes and the Trincomalee District by 88,227 votes. In the Jaffna District, Sirisena obtained 179,120 majority votes and in the Vanni District 107,040 majority votes. Altogether, Sirisena received 654,511 majority votes, which helped him overtake the majority votes that Rajapaksa received in the South.
According to the election results, Sirisena received 286,160 majority votes in the Northern Province while he received 368,351 majority votes in the Eastern Province and received 127,266 majority votes in the Nuwara Eliya District. Altogether, Sirisena received 781,777 majority votes from these three areas, which Rajapaksa failed to match from the majority votes he received in other areas.
Rajapaksa secured a comfortable victory in the Southern Province. He won the Matara District by 85,388 majority votes, Hambantota by 104,587 votes and the Galle District by 83,132 majority votes. Altogether, Rajapaksa won the Southern Province by 273,107 votes, which seems almost equal to the lead Sirisena received in the Northern Province.
Therefore, the challenge for Rajapaksa was to cover the majority votes that Sirisena received from the Eastern Province and the Nuwara Eliya District. To match Sirisena’s majority votes Rajapaksa had to get 508,670 majority votes in other districts.
Rajapaksa who won Kurunegala, Kalutara, Matale, Anuradhapura, Moneragala, Ratnapura and Kegalle failed to win Colombo or Polonnaruwa. Despite the victory in the Kurunegala, Kalutara, Matale, Anuradhapura, Moneragala, Ratnapura and the Kegalle Districts, the majority votes he received was insufficient. Rajapaksa needed to win each of those districts by an average of 80,000 majority votes. In addition, he needed to win the Polonnaruwa District, which is the homeland of Sirisena, at least by a slight margin. Although Rajapaksa won the Ratnapura District by 86,539 votes and Kurunegala by 80,266 votes he only received a majority vote of 42,754 in Anuradhapura, 46,486 in Kalutara, 25,597 in Kegalle and 12,952 in Matale. Even the Moneragala District, which is a SLFP stronghold led by Rajapaksa’s nephew Shasheendra Rajapaksa, was won by 67,469 votes.
JHU and JVP factor
Sirisena, who won Colombo by 162,469 majority votes, won most of the polling divisions in the Colombo District. However, Rajapaksa failed to obtain sufficient votes in Colombo suburbs such as Maharagama, Kaduwela, Kesbewa and Homagama.
It was almost impossible to defeat Sirisena in Colombo metropolitan areas, which are known UNP strongholds. Sirisena won the Colombo Central polling division by nearly 65,000 majority votes. However, in the past, with the support of the JHU and the JVP, Rajapaksa was able to win Colombo suburbs by a majority of 20,000-25,000 votes, which subsequently reduced the lead that the UNP could gain in the Colombo District.
However, after losing the support of the JHU and with the strong JVP campaign against Rajapaksa, the former President could win Colombo suburbs by only a slight margin. He won Maharagama and Kaduwela by approximately 2,000 majority votes while he won Homagama by nearly 14,000 majority votes and Kesbewa by only 10,000 majority votes.
Taking the whole picture into consideration, it seems that Rajapaksa had been unable to focus on his strongholds during his campaign. However, it too indicates the importance of addressing the issues of the minorities of the country who are more than one million voters.