This will be the last Sunday before the elections to the Eastern, Sabaragamuwa and North Central Provinces and everybody is wondering which way the cookie will crumble. While the opposition has basically abandoned hope in the NCP and Sabaragamuwa provinces, all hope is concentrated on the East. Here too hopes are centred not on the SLMC which is an ally of the government but on the TNA.
The hope is that if the TNA sweeps the board in the Batticaloa district, as they did during the parliamentary election, the SLMC may be forced to reconsider their decision to back the government. If we ask ourselves why we think the TNA is going to sweep the board in the East, it’s because the TNA has three Tamil parliamentarians elected from the Batticaloa district at the 2010 parliamentary elections while the UPFA has only one Muslim MP elected from that district. So the heartland of the eastern Tamils is thought to be with the TNA.
The reality however is a little different. At the 2010 parliamentary elections, the TNA got 66,235 votes in the Batticaloa district. The UPFA came a close second getting 62,009 votes. The difference between the TNA and the UPFA was only 4,226 votes in the entire district. At the parliamentary election of 2010, the UPFA actually won the Batticaloa electorate, getting over 35,000 votes as against the ITAK/TNA which came a close second with over 32,700 votes.
Then In the Kalkudah electorate the UPFA won yet again getting over 16,000 votes as against the TNA which got over 13,000 votes. But in the Paddirippu electorate, the ITAK got 10,000 votes more than the UPFA and that is what gave the TNA an overall majority in the Batticaloa district. Thus the UPFA won two of the three electorates in the Batticaloa district and yet they have only one parliamentarian from that district whereas the TNA which won only one of the three electorates has three parliamentarians.
That’s what a difference of even 4,226 votes in the whole district can do to a political party’s parliamentary representation. This is one glaring instance where the proportional representation system has failed to reflect the reality. The TMVP committed an egregious miscalculation by contesting separately at the parliamentary elections in 2010. The TMVP got 3,756 votes in the Batticaloa electorate, 6,739 votes in the Kalkudah electorate, and 6,072 votes in the Paddirippu electorate. If the TVMP had not split the votes of the UPFA by contesting separately in this manner, the UPFA would have won the Batticaloa district and the roles would have been reversed – the UPFA will be having three parliamentarians from the Batticaloa district and the TNA only one!
Impressions count a great deal in an election. The fact that the TNA has three MPs in the Batticaloa district makes it look as if they have the majority of the vote as well and gives them a psychological advantage. The TNA has this preponderance of parliamentarians in the Batticaloa district entirely because of Pillaiyan’s misguided decision to contest separately at the last parliamentary election and if Pillaiyan loses this election because of this impression of TNA dominance, never would a defeat have been more richly deserved.
Not quite dominant
The TNA is actually quite weak in the East. We just saw what the situation is in the Batticaloa district as outlined above. It’s no different in the Trincomalee district. In the Trincomalee electorate where most of the Tamils in the district are concentrated, the UPFA got 10,961 votes to the TNA’s 20,578 and that was in a situation where the TMVP contesting separately took 1,106 away from the UPFA at that election. The UPFA moreover, did not have a single Tamil candidate in the Trincomalee district. The TNA does not have much of a presence in the Seruwila electorate where they got only 3,297 votes and in the Muttur electorate where they got only 8,068 votes.
In the Digamadulla district, the TNA does not have any presence in the Ampara electorate while they have a minor presence in the Samanthurai electorate with 3,972 votes, and a somewhat better presence in the Kalmunai and Pottuvil electorates with 7,947 votes and 14,248 votes respectively. If the UPFA manages to retain the same number of votes that they had during the parliamentary election, they shouldn’t have much of a problem in winning the province. The percentage of voters going to the polling booth at a provincial election is somewhat lower than at a parliamentary election, so providing for this reduction in numbers, the UPFA will need to retain the same proportions.
The question is what has the UPFA done between the parliamentary election of 2010 and now that will drastically reduce the number of votes they get in the Batticaloa district? And what has the TNA done within that same period to warrant a massive increase of their votes in Batticaloa? The UPFA came close to the TNA in the Batticaloa district despite the fact that the UPFA fielded only some very weak Tamil candidates at the parliamentary election. None of them are known outside the district and probably not even within the district as well.
But this time, it will be Pillaiyan who will be leading the Batticaloa UPFA list. He is well known and also the Muslims in the Batticaloa district have no axe to grind against him. He has been able to do a good balancing act between the communities in the east. So if the UPFA gets just the number of votes they got at the parliamentary elections in the Batticaloa district, they’ll be out of the woods. It’s not by accident that Pillaiyan got the highest number of preference votes in the Batticaloa district at the 2008 eastern PC election – the UPFA does have a lot votes in the Batticaloa district contrary to popular belief.
The weakest link of the UPFA will be the Trincomalee district. At the 2008 Eastern PC elections, the UNP won in the Trincomalee district mainly on the Muslim and to a lesser extent the Tamil vote. The first three UNP provincial councillors elected from that district were all Muslims and two Tamil candidates came in last. Unlike in Batticaloa and perhaps even Ampara, the TNA clearly has the majority of the Tamil vote in the Trincomalee district.
The Karuna/Pillaiyan group never really had any influence in the Trincomalee district. Even though Karuna was referred to as the LTTE’s Eastern commander, he was really the LTTE commander of the Batticaloa-Amparai districts. Trincomalee was never under him and therefore the influence of the TMVP never extended to the Trincomalee district.
The feeling is that if the UNP, SLMC and TNA together get more votes than the UPFA, then even though the SLMC will be obliged to support the government to obtain a majority in the provincial council, still that will place the government in a dicey situation because the SLMC has been known to shift allegiances.
The fact is that the communal vote in the Eastern province is split – the Sinhala vote is split between the UPFA and the UNP and the Tamil vote between the TNA and the UPFA +TMVP+EPDP while the Muslim vote is split between the SLMC and the smaller Muslim entities led by A.M. Athaullah, Ferial Ashraff, M.L.A.M.Hisbullah and Ameer Ali. By and large, it can be safely assumed that the UPFA will get the majority of the Sinhala vote in the Eastern Province, the TNA the majority of the Tamil vote and the SLMC the majority of the Muslim vote. So this is going to be a game of margins and everything will depend on how much of the Tamil vote the UPFA+TMVP+EPDP combine can attract and how much of the Muslim vote Athaulla, Ameer Ali, Hisbulla and Ferial Ashraff, be able to attract to the UPFA and how much of the Sinhala vote the UNP will be able to take away from the UPFA.
Talking about margins, the UPFA has an unexpectedly large margin of Tamil votes even in the Digamadulla district. At the parliamentary elections of 2010, the UPFA fielded only one Tamil candidate in the Digamadulla district which means they were not expecting that many Tamil votes. But in fact even though this lone Tamil candidate came last on the UPFA list, he did get a substantial number of preference votes 9,763 votes in a situation where even the single MP elected on the TNA/ITAK list got only 11,139 preference votes (The number of votes that the TNA/ITAK got as a party was over 26,000 even though the number of preference votes received by the winning candidate was low.)
With the number of preference votes that the UPFA’s Tamil candidate got, he would have been placed third on the TNA/ITAK list. The fact that the UPFA’s Tamil candidate got nearly 10,000 votes is probably an indication that a substantial number of Tamils in Digamadulla district do vote with the UPFA.
The fact is that in the East, who forms a government will be decided by whoever manages to get the majority of votes of any two communities in the east or the majority of votes in one community with substantial slices from the other two communities.