It’s after a gap of 14 years the United National Party (UNP) is emerging victorious in a Parliamentary election in Sri Lanka.
In 2001, the party had captured 105 seats, one short of its present figure. At that time, Ranil Wickremesinghe began his second spell (2001-2004) as Prime Minister and initiated peace talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, leading to a ceasefire agreement that lasted a few years.
The past decade marked a lean phase for Mr. Wickremesinghe, who lost narrowly in the 2005 Presidential elections to Mahinda Rajapaksa of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). It was only after Maithripala Sirisena became the President in January that the UNP leader could come back to power again.
A couple of months after the surprise defeat of Mr. Rajapaksa in the presidential elections, the UNP began demanding for early parliamentary polls. Mr. Sirisena, who got the 19Amendment adopted by Parliament (which envisages dilution of many powers of the executive presidency) in April, had pushed for electoral reforms as well, but failed. . In late June, he dissolved Parliament.
In the past seven months, the UNP had announced several sops and had led an aggressive campaign during elections. But the party failed to win a simple majority in Monday’s polls. However, a detailed analysis shows that UNP’s support is growing.
In January’s Presidential election, Mr. Rajapaksa, as the UPFA nominee, had secured 47.58 per cent of votes against Mr. Sirisena’s 51.28 per cent.
A perusal of the electoral district-wise performance of the parties in Monday’s polls shows that the UNP gained two more districts than what the Opposition candidate did in January. At that time, Mr. Sirisena, backed by the UNP, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and a host of other parties, polled higher votes in 12 districts.
If one were to remove the three districts where the TNA is a critical player, the effective tally comes down to nine. But the UNP won most seats in 11 districts now, including Kegalle and Matale.
A seasoned poll observer points out that Mr. Rajapaksa, by contesting in Kurunegala, had thought that the UPFA would be able to capture most seats in the nearby districts of Kegalle and Ratnapura. While Kegalle went in favour of the UNP, the UPFA’s margin was just one seat in Ratnapura. This means that the charisma of Mr. Rajapaksa is waning, the observer says.
As for the voting pattern in the Northern Province, people preferred the TNA/Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi to others even though certain sections of the Tamil community are getting restless with the TNA. A high-pitched campaign of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress and the Crusaders for Democracy did not elicit much response. “A sense of fear among the voters about the likely return of Mr. Rajapaksa has pushed them to back the TNA,” says V. Yogeswaran, an internally displaced person.
The new regime has to promote pluralism, says M.A. Nuhman, former Tamil Professor in the University of Peradeniya. “The rulers should always keep in mind that Sri Lanka is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society.”
Results declared: 225
Tamil National Alliance (TNA)
/Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK)
Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna
Eelam People's Democratic Party