This is my Nation  


The numbers game -

Something for everyone

 statistics was all it was about

Statistics was what all political parties were resorting to, in analysing the results of the SPC elections last week. The results in Galle and Matara were in keeping with the general perception that urban areas- with a higher representation of middle income earners- are more favourable to the UNP. The results in Hambantota showed that the JVP still commands significant support in the underdeveloped areas of the nation, despite this being Rajapaksa territory.

There are three kinds of lies, or so British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said: Lies, damn lies and statistics. And statistics was what all political parties were resorting to, in analysing the results of the Southern Provincial Council (SPC) elections last week.

As we argued in these columns earlier, the only issue at stake was the percentage of votes the ruling United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) would record, the winner of the poll being a foregone conclusion.

The rhetoric from UPFA platforms was that the Alliance expected a record 80% of the vote, this being the deep south of the country and home to the Rajapaksa family, where public opinion was being tested for the first time since the conclusion of the ‘Eelam War’.

This 80% target came in the wake of the roaring success of the Alliance at the Uva PC election in early August, where the UPFA recorded 72% of the vote and reduced the United National Party (UNP) to 22% and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) to a mere 2.5%.

From such a perspective the results in the South had, as Minister Rajitha Senaratne said of the UPFA nomination list for the election, “Something for everyone”. The Alliance still won 68% of the vote, but both the UNP and the JVP recorded an increase in their vote base to 25% and 6% respectively.

The UNP will be particularly happy of its performances in the Galle and Matara electoral divisions, where it correspondingly recorded 40% and 34% of the vote. The JVP will have reason to gloat on its showing in the Hambantota District, where it garnered 11% of the vote, and consistently polled over 10% in all the electoral divisions, despite this being Rajapaksa territory.

The results in Galle and Matara are in keeping with the general perception that urban areas- with a higher representation of middle income earners- are more favourable to the UNP. The party’s expectation is that if this is so in the deep South, it should be more so in other major cities across the country.

The results in Hambantota, if anything, saved the JVP from dying from political embarrassment. It also shows that the leftist party still commands significant support in the underdeveloped areas of the nation. The party hierarchy would of course be doubly happy that none of the candidates put forward by its breakaway National Freedom Front (NFF) were elected!

But what do these results portend? Can they be generalised to predict patterns at the impending general and presidential elections? And, to what extent will it affect which of the two major polls would be held first? These are some of the questions students of politics were pouring over this week in the aftermath of the election.

The major political parties were of course at hand to take their cues. The UPFA boasted that victory at the general and presidential polls were assured in the light of the results in the South. There is some justification in this claim, because a 68% of the vote is still a hefty mandate, one that would be hard to reverse within the timeframe of a few months.

Key spokesmen for the Alliance, Ministers Nimal Siripala de Silva and Susil Premajayantha were upbeat about the UPFA prospects, and maintained that a two-thirds majority at the general election was the target the ruling party was aiming at.

Equally optimistic though was the UNP, which saw in the results the ‘beginning of the end’ of the UPFA. Its contention was that, within a short period of two months, the Alliance’s support had dwindled from 72% in Uva to 68% in the South, despite the Uva being a traditional UNP stronghold and the South being home terrain for the Rajapaksa family.

Where the UNP saw hope was in the fact that, if anything, the party still held a base vote of 25%, no matter how adverse the political climate was. This was said to be very reassuring for the UNP hierarchy, which feared that a full-scale rout in the South would seriously jeopardise its prospects at the upcoming major elections.

The UNP and the collective opposition also now believe that, given the increase in their vote percentages, they would be able to prevent the UPFA from obtaining a two-thirds majority at a general election, as they feel that results in the North and East would also work against the ruling party.

After the results of the SPC poll were declared, there was some concern in government ranks that, if general elections were delayed until after a presidential poll, this would lead to a further erosion of the party’s percentage vote, as economic hardships show no signs of easing and the afterglow of the war becomes a fading memory.
However, the counter argument was that, while this could indeed be so, any decline would not be of sufficient magnitude to pose serious problems for the UPFA in securing a comfortable majority in Parliament.

Also, it was argued that, by having presidential elections first, fielding President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the candidate and winning it would generate enough political momentum for the UPFA, and create a ‘snowballing’ effect that could carry the Alliance through at a subsequent general election.

The opposition too was more alive to the possibility of a presidential poll being held first, and already, the rumour mill is working overtime- the names being bandied about are those of prospective presidential candidates, regardless of how accurate such speculation is.

That the collective opposition would not want to give President Rajapaksa a cakewalk victory at a presidential election, was even more manifest at the stance now adopted by the JVP, with party spokesmen saying that they would not hesitate to join with ‘any force’- which must mean the UNP- for the purpose of defeating the executive presidency. For the JVP to even consider this, is a major paradigm shift.

Then, the coming weeks are likely to be extremely politically productive and colourful. But, if elections and more elections are the price we have to pay for democracy, few should be complaining of the political battles that will surely unfold in the near future.