The Wayamba provincial council election over 15 years ago is one the new generation would not know. It is also one election people in the North, the Vanni and the East had no interest in. But that election in recent electoral history, spelt everything vulgar in electioneering in post independent Sri Lanka. At least two of the leaders who engineered that savagery in Wayamba PC election are now campaign leaders of Common Opposition Candidate Maithripala Sirisena, this election. Will this 2015 Presidential Poll go that way ?
All indications are, it would. One simple indicator to assume such was recently spelt out by an ordinary man in the streets with a question, “How can Rajapaksa sons go to Weeraketiya in their Lamborghinis?” It is that simple. The Rajapaksas cannot afford to leave their baggage and go back home, for others to open them up. They thus have to win this presidential election and how, is no question to ask. The trend has already set in. Wanduramba, Galnewa, Haputale, Kolonnawa saw goon attacks and firing on Maithripala Sirisena’s campaign rallies, while this is being written. Shows the fight is tough.
In the South and to a large extent in East and in Mannar, the Muslims had left their political leaders in the Rajapaksa fold without any following. Their firm belief is, BBS sponsored by Gotabhaya was allowed to desecrate their culture to the extent of vandalising over 360 mosques. It is common knowledge now, the Muslims are in no mood to pardon Rajapaksa for all what BBS did and would vote Maithripala Sirisena en bloc just for that reason. That compels Rajapaksa to woo the Sinhala Buddhist vote more. Maithripala campaign does not want to be left out of their Sinhala origin and reacted by sounding themselves more Sinhala-Buddhist and firm in their commitment to usher in an era of “Sinhala Buddhist democracy”. His manifesto, “A Compassionate Government – A Stable Country” in all its pages accordingly has left out everything Tamil and Muslim. A manifesto that is promising a compassionate government ignores the fact that this country was through a bloody 30 year war. That it has fractured badly and lives with agonising wounds needing very serious attention. Yet the promise is for a corruption free government that would be accountable to the Sinhala South. A naive idea of democratising only the South for the Sinhala Buddhists.
This is boldly spelt out in how the world should see Sri Lanka in projecting its international relations, in no less than as a Sinhala Buddhist State. Maithripala Sirisena’s manifesto says, “As a real reply to allegations of human rights violations directed against Sri Lanka I will take action to promote humanitarian and environment-friendly attitudes both locally and internationally. On the advice of the Maha Sangha (emphasis added) I will make Sri Lanka again the centre of distribution of the knowledge and discipline of Indian as well as Asian Buddhists. I will prepare the ground for disseminating among the learned Western society Buddhism and its vision of impermanence and denial of soul that expressed non-violence, equality and great compassion for all. Thereby it will be possible to build a new image for Sri Lanka in the world”. (page 44 – Sinhala copy has more Sinhala Buddhist punch)
With such governance promised, the Tamil people have no choice in this election. They, like the Muslim voter have no reason to vote Rajapaksa. In fact the Tamil list of grievances and oppression under this militarised Rajapaksa regime is a Gulliverian list. Yet, to choose a “reasonable candidate” who could defeat Rajapaksa in this 2015 presidential election is a Himalayan task. It is this dilemma the TNA has been pushed into in telling the Tamil people what they should do in this election.
What options do they have in voting anti Rajapaksa ? One, they can if they want to, vote for Maithripala Sirisena to ensure the defeat of Rajapaksa who keeps them under military occupation. In a close election with a groundswell that is now seen in the South, Tamil vote would certainly cement Rajapaksa’s defeat. With about 250,000 votes in the Vanni and another 500,000 plus votes in Jaffna-Killinochchi, this Tamil vote is definitely a deciding factor. In 2013 at the NPC elections the turnout was a tremendous 67% despite State interventions in intimidating the Tamil vote. But that was with the TNA challenging the Rajapaksa regime. This time, the TNA cannot be expected to play such a role, in mobilising voters. Therefore the motivation to go to polls will not be there for the Northern voter, with Maithripala Sirisena also seen as a Sinhala Buddhist candidate. Thus it would not be anything more than 40% polling or around that. Yet that sounds too much for Rajapaksa to feel comfortable. Will such a situation have Wayamba re enacted in the North with the military and EPDP on the ground ? That is a possibility.
The next option for the Tamil voter is to vote anti Rajapaksa and vote a “Left” candidate to prove they need to have their issues solved with respect. A vote to say they are not only anti Rajapaksa, but have issues like militarisation, land, detentions, freedom and security of life that needs answers, post elections. They have to have a political solution to be part of the nation State, as equals and with their cultural identity respected. Any of the two “Left” candidates (not the FSP candidate), though small in the South but with a sizeable Tamil vote from North and East, will carry that message clear in this election, that will not be articulated otherwise in a Tamil vote that gets submerged in Maithripala Sirisena’s total and in his Sinhala Buddhist manifesto.
Either way, Rajapaksa is left with a catch 22 situation. His victory which is remote with regular defections reported all too often, needs to have the Tamil vote but will not, in a free and fair election. That is reason why Wayamba seems a possible way out for Rajapaksa. For the Tamil voter, this election thus become a political challenge, where their leadership is held back without a clear position, other than to say, they are anti Rajapaksa. Perhaps this presidential election will be one to remember, both in the South and the North, violent as it could be.
Kusal Perera is a Journalist in Colombo