The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (Peoples Liberation Front)led Jathika Jana Balawegaya (National Peoples Power) has gone to courts seeking elections to local government bodies. A fundamental rights petition was filed in the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka by Parliamentarian Dr.Harini Amarasuriya, former MP Sunil Hadunneththi and National Peoples Power (NPP) secretary Dr. Nihal Jayasinghe on March 14th. The FR petition sought a court order directing relevant authorities to hold a free and fair Local Government election. Among those cited as respondents were officials from the Treasury, Elections Commission and Attorney-Generals Department.
Elections to 340 local authorities comprising 24 Municipal councils, 41 Urban councils and 275 Divisional councils were earlier scheduled for March 9th by the Election Commission of Sri Lanka. . However polls were postponed indefinitely due to lack of financial resources to conduct the poll. The Govt headed by President Ranil Wickremesinghe was accused by opposition parties of withholding necessary funds with the intention of preventing local govt polls. It was alleged that the Govt was averse to elections at this juncture because it was currently unpopular and would fare badly in polls.
Subsequently the Elections Commission announced a fresh poll to be held on April 24.Once again the elections Commission found itself unable to procure the funds necessary to conduct elections. It was alleged again that the Treasury was not releasing the funds necessary on time. As such it appears that the elections would not take place as announced on April 24. There is uncertainty in the air about the future of LG polls.
It is against this backdrop that the JVP led NPP has filed a FR petition seeking a court order to ensure local govt elections. The NPP has more than altruistic interest in ensuring local govt elections. The JVP led NPP is confident that it would do very well at the hustings if LG polls are held soon. If the NPP does well as expected, the JVP led front will intensify it’s demand for an early dissolution of Parliament and the holding of fresh elections. The NPP hopes to win and form a new Govt if and when Parliamentary elections are held. Time is of the essence. Delayed elections may alter this situation. Therefore the NPP is seeking legal recourse to enable early elections.
Anura Kumara Dissanayake
The National Peoples Power (NPP) is a left-leaning, working class – oriented broad front consisting of the JVP and 27 other organizations. These entities comprise small parties, trade unions, rights groups, student and youth organizations. The JVP is the pivotal, pre-eminent force in the NPP. The JVP as well as the NPP are led by Anura Kumara Dissanayake MP. Dissanayake contested the 2019 Presidential elections and finished a poor third with 418,553 votes (3.16%). At the 2020 Parliamentary polls, the JVP led NPP contesting under the compass symbol got only three MPs comprising two elected and one appointed from the national list .
Given this poor electoral performance in 2019 and 2020, few would have expected the JVP/NPP to be a potential “winner” in the 2023 local govt elections. However the political climate seems to have changed in favour of the compass now. Apart from well-attended mass- meetings and political rallies, several political surveys and opinion polls indicate that the JVP/NPP may be riding the crest of a wave similar to Latin America’s ‘pink tide”.
Sri Lanka Opinion Tracker Survey
An important pointer in this regard is the Sri Lanka Opinion Tracker Survey (SLOTS) undertaken by the Institute of Health Policy. (IHP) This is a poll based on multi-level regression and post-stratification (MRP) voting intentions estimates. The survey analyses potential voting trends and gauges the level of support for political parties if Parliamentary elections are held currently. The SLOTS chief investigator is the IHP Executive Director Dr. Ravi Rannan-Eliya.
According to media reports about the SLOTS, the JVP led NPP and the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) are the leading contenders. Both the SJB and NPP were running neck to neck for the months of November and December 2022 and January 2023. There was a marked change in February 2023. Support for the JVP-led NPP surged in February, giving it a clear lead with 43% of likely General Election voters, compared to 30% for the SJB. The SLPP, the UNP, and the ITAK had the support of 4% of likely voters each, while support for the SLFP was 2%.
The IHP analysis also disclosed that in the 12 months from February 2022, the JVP-led NPP has gained 30 points while the SJB has gained 11 points. Meanwhile, the SLPP and the SLFP have been steadily declining and lost 28 and 15 points respectively. The UNP support has been fluctuating and gained 2 points.
On a province by province level, the JVP-led NPP and the SJB are both equal , leading in four provinces each. The JVP/NPP has been leading in the Western, North Western, North Central and Southern provinces while the SJB has been topping the Eastern, Sabaragamuwa, Uva and Central provinces. The Tamil National Alliance(TNA) is first in the Northern province with the SJB coming second. An interesting aspect of the provincial break-down is that the SJB has more support in provinces with larger concentrations of minority ethnicities as opposed to the NPP which has more support in largely Sinhala majority provinces.
SLOTS Lead Investigator and IHP Executive Director Dr. Ravi Rannan-Eliya speaking to a morning newspaper pointed out that on the basis of the survey trends, the SLPP, SLFP, and UNP would fail to win seats in many districts if a Parliamentary Election was held today. The votes they poll, may be insufficient to gain seats. He also stated that according to the latest poll, he electorate appeared to be moving away from the confusion that followed the collapse of the administration led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. In earlier polls, potential voters had been repeatedly switching between parties, without any party dominating.
Straws in the Wind.
Opinion polls and surveys do not necessarily reflect voting trends correctly at all times. If so there wont be a need for elections. The minds of voters can be assessed correctly only in an election. However some surveys if done correctly do serve as straws in the wind. The IHP is a research centre based in Colombo In the case of the IHP/SLOTS the methodology adopted according to media reports has been as follows-
“The SLOTS combines interviews from a national sample of adults (aged 18 years and over) reached by the random digit dialling of mobile numbers, with the others coming from a national panel of respondents who were previously recruited through random selection. The IHP estimates voting intent using an adaptation of the MRP, which exploits data from all the SLOTS interviews to estimate voting in a particular month.”
“ The February 2023 MRP estimates are based on 421 interviews conducted in February, and 10,050 interviews conducted overall from 31 August 2021 and 12 March 2023, with a margin of error assessed as 2-5% for leading parties. All estimates are adjusted to ensure that the sample matches the national population with respect to age, sex, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, education, geographical location, and voting in the 2019 Presidential and 2020 General Elections.”
Two Intelligence Reports
The SLOTS estimates say the JVP/NPP has surged ahead in popularity in February 2023 and established a clear lead.The IHP/SLOTS reports have received some coverage in the media. Apart from this there were also two “intelligence”reports that stated the JVP/NPP was ahead of other parties in popularity. The intelligence reports noted that the JVP led NPP enjoyed wide support in both rural and urban areas. Support in the rural areas was higher than in urban areas. The JVP/NPP was tipped to come first in most Local Government authorities if elections were to be held in March.
I myself have no access to these intelligence reports but very reliable Govt sources have disclosed the essence of these intelligence reports to me. It appears that these reports have heavily influenced the powers that be in preventing LG elections being held this year. This also means that there is very little chance of the LG polls being ever held this year.
JVP/NPP Best, SJB Next
If the opinion polls, surveys and intelligence reports are correct, elections to the local authorities will result in the JVP/NPP doing best with the SJB coming next in most Sinhala majority councils. The minority parties would do well in many local bodies in the Northern, Eastern and Up Country Provinces. But parties like the SLPP, SLFP and UNP are expected to fare miserably.
A grand slam by opposition parties would not affect the President or his Govt. A defeat in LG polls will not bring about a change of Govt. However victory in LG polls will result in the opposition parties intensifying their call for an early Parliamentary poll. Demands asking President Wickremesinghe to quit may escalate. The JVP fortified with an impressive performance in the Local Govt polls could spearhead this anti- Govt movement. This obviously is the main reason for the Wickremesinghe Govt obstructing LG polls.
“The Media Analysis”
The current situation in which the JVP and SJB are the chief contenders for the electoral crown is a new development in Sri Lankan politics. “The Media Analysis”report of “Verite Reearch” dated Feb 13-19 pinpoints the JVP’s current ascendancy in electoral politics. Here are excerpts –
“For the first time, the JVP/NPP appears to be viewed as one of the two big players in the election competition. Thus far, the party has always occupied an important position in electoral races, but one that was limited to being considered either the third- or fourth-ranked party in the electoral competition.”
“ However, the unusual and relatively disproportionate attention and criticism received by the party suggests that the NPP is being viewed as a major competitor and a ’threat’ to the electoral base of the other major parties.”
“ Thus, in the current dynamics of election campaigning, the NPP appears to have captured the space of a mainstream political party, despite only holding three seats in parliament.”
It is therefore quite clear that the JVP is going to do well if Local Govt elections are held soon. The JVP led NPP has scented the sweet smell of success in Local Govt polls. The filing of a FR petition seeking LG elections is a manifestation of the party’s fervent desire to bring about a speedy poll. This is understandable. The JVP has also threatened Island-wide protests if LG elections are not held early.
From Also Ran to Winner
Why is the JVP led NPP expected to do well in electoral politics? How did the party which was an “also ran” emerge as a potential winner? What is the particular appeal of the JVP to voters in the current situation? In short what has enabled the JVP led NPP to scent the sweet smell of success in polls? These questions will be delved into in detail in the second part of this article.
D.B.S. Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article appears in the “Political Pulse” Column of the “Daily FT” dated 22 March 2023.It can be accessed here –