Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mahinda heading for victory; Fonseka heading for Oklahoma

H. L. D. Mahindapala
On the eve of the 2005 presidential elections I wrote that “Mahinda Rajapakse will win with a paper thin margin that can be slipped under the door.” Trying to predict election results is a hazardous business. Not even the pollsters get it right all the time. However, I’m ready to gamble again and declare that Mahinda Rajapakse will win again with a margin that can’t be pushed under the door this time, come January 26, 2010.

There are several key factors that lead to this conclusion. First, the opposition has fired all its bullets and has run out of ammunition in the last stretch to victory. The trajectory of the opposition’s campaign has reached its peak and has nowhere to go just at the time the government’s counter-attack is gathering momentum and rising.

The UNP-JVP-Mangala campaign ran on two major issues: 1.corruption and 2. change. The issue of a war hero too was there but Sarath Fonseka lost this issue with his accusing Maj-Gen. Shavendra Silva of carrying out orders of Defence not to take prisoners. Overnight Fonseka the hero turned into a traitor when his allegations backfired. He bungled the only card he could play effectively to the extent that even the only paper that came out to support him openly, The Sunday Leader, attacked him for backing down after shooting his loose mouth. Editor, Fredrica Jansz wrote: “The end result has been devastating for Sarath Fonseka who has come across not only as unpatriotic but also as vacillating and indecisive.

“By backing down he proved himself to be incapable of tackling the Rajapaksas with the most powerful weapon at his disposal: the truth.” This is her way of calling Fonseka a liar. (January 4, 2010).

On the issue of corruption too Fonseka has come out battered and bruised. Debunking the claims of the Common Candidate, Sarath Fonseka, as “Mr. Clean” in shining armour who can the slay the dragons of corruption, bad governance, et al has become easy after the revelations made by Capt. Upul Illangamage, who has been one of the closest family friends of Fonseka in Oklahoma. He told the media that it was he who set up everything initially in 2002 for the Fonseka’s to settle down in their new home in Oklahoma . Capt. Illangamage said that Fonseka was sure that he could not stay in Sri Lanka after he retired.

In his press interview Capt. Illangamage attacked his character and his arms deals put through his son-in-law, Danun Tillekeratne. It is Fonseka’s character exposed by his friend that is most alarming and questions his capacity to be the head of the nation. He portrays Fonseka as a cruel and uncouth head of the family who would not hesitate to abuse his wife and children. Capt. Illangamage said that once an angry Fonseka force fed his house waiter with a roti simply because it was misshapen. True to his nature Fonseka’s reaction was to attack his former friend in abusive language in public.

Capt. Illangamage also spent sometime at the press conference exposing the arms deals put through by Tillekeratne. It is more than a coincidence that the Army Commander’s son-in-law takes to the business of arms dealing shortly after the father-in-law becomes a key figure in deciding arms procurement. Besides, after Danun Tillekeratne becomes an arms dealer he goes on lavish buying sprees including the purchase of a handbag for his wife at a cost of $4500.

As a close family friend only he would know that Danun Tillkeratne, “with no fixed job”, as he said, had bought a BMW first, followed by a Hummer next, and followed by a Range Rover after he began to sell arms to the Sri Lankan forces. As they say, the servings of gravy depend on who is having the ladle in the hand. So an arms dealer having an Army Commander as his father-in-law is as good as having a father-in-law serving in a soup kitchen with the ladle in his hand, eh?

Second, Fonseka has been throwing promises irresponsibly and carelessly to all and sundry. Promises fall out of his mouth like polluting gas emitted from a dilapidated, rattling vehicle on the way to Nandikadal. He is playing for short term gain like the way Ranil Wickremesinghe appointed committees to appease everyone without solving the problems. In the end neither he nor his factotum Bradman Weerakoon, who headed most of the committees, knew how many committees were appointed nor the outcome of the committees. Fonseka too has begun the same tactic by promising to appoint a committee to look into the problems of the students. Big deal!

Fonseka has underestimated the intelligence of the voters. He thinks that he can diddle the voters with his false promises which he can’t keep.

Third, this election is based on the voters’ list of provincial councils. Those statistics are the only available guidelines to assess any electoral trend. The trend in these polls was very clear: the voters went all the way with President Rajapakse. In the presidential election too, as in the provincial council polls, Rajapakse camp is fighting the Wickremesinghe-Hakeem-Mangala-Somawansa combination – the main voting bloc of the opposition. In addition, two new factors have entered the electoral equation: (1) Sarath Fonseka and (2) the TNA fragment of the divided Tamil votes of the North and East. Can these two factors plus the Wickremesinghe-Hakeem-Mangala-Somawansa combination make a difference on January 26?

By and large it is safe to assume that the voting blocs of the two main contenders remain the same as during the provincial council elections with marginal variations due to cross-overs. In the provincial council elections the national average polled by Rajapakse is a decimal point over 62%. If a change is to occur the opposition will have to bring down the 62% of Rajapakse to at least 49%. Leaving aside the hype of the opposition, the task is not only to drag the 1.9 million voters that voted for Rajapakse in the PC polls into Fonseka’s camp but also add the extra point to cross the line to victory. In other words, the opposition has to gain a swing of nearly 13%, or a two million plus, to be on the safe side.

This is a big ask. The opposition is crowing stridently about the cross-overs as if the cross-overs at the top are an indication of mass migration of voters at the bottom. Take the cases of M. S. Sellasamy of the CWC and the Mayoress of Batticoloa, Mrs. Sivageetha Prabhakaran, both of whom crossed over to Fonseka. In the central hills the bulk of the Indian Tamil votes are with Thondaman – the man who can deliver votes in bulk. And he is with Mahinda Rajapakse while in the East votes are mainly with Karuna and Pillaiyan. The headlines of individual cross-overs may be long but the votes they bring are very short – not the thousands required to swing the election results.

The most significant cross-over to Fonseka’s camp comes from the TNA – a somersault that indicates more the divisions within the former monolithic party operating under the jackboot of Prabhakaran. Besides, it is laughable that Sampanthan and his TNA partners who went round the world complaining about Sarath Fonseka and his military tactics are now pledging their support to him. Perhaps, this may be a Freudian craving for the kicks of Sarath Fonseka’s jackboot as a substitute for the missing jackboot of Prabhakaran after Nandikadal.

But the underlying fact is that TNA cannot deliver the Tamil votes needed for Fonseka to win. M. K. Sivajilingam, who took an independent stand, breaking away from the TNA, is expected to collect a sizeable vote of the north. His being a relative of Prabhakaran too is likely to help him in his independent stand which is more close to that of Prabhakaran. Besides, he could claim that his principles have not changed simply because Prabhakaran is not there to kick them into line which may appeal to the disillusioned Tamils after Nandikadal. That apart, in the post-Prabhakaran phase the northern Tamil vote is like an amoeba: divided into separate entities which have sprouted with new lives of their own. Wickremesinghe missed his chance when the votes could have been delivered en bloc to him when Prabhakaran was living. He was a loser when Prabhakaran was alive. Now he seems to be the biggest loser of Prabhakaran’s death. He has lost again because, without Prabhakaran, the lion share of the Tamil votes is distributed among Douglas Devananda, Sivajilingam, Vikrama Vickramabahu etc.

With the divided Tamil votes, new psephological statistics dominate the northern electorates. The Tamil left parties together with DouglasDevananda who are backing Mahinda Rajapakse command a substantial proportion (45% +plus, according to Tamil expatriates lobbying in Jaffna) of the northern Tamil votes. So if the votes of Sivajilingam and Vickramabahu, who are expected to garner a fair percentage, are taken away from Fonseka what is left for him to cross the line to victory?

These factors are bound to wipe the smile off the face of Fonseka and Wickremesinghe. Once again Wickremesinghe is faced with defeat. Fonseka, of course, can go back to Oklahoma where his son-in-law will come in his Range Rover to take him home. It will be cold when he gets to Oklahoma . But it will be colder in Sri Lanka on January 26 when the election results are announced.

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