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Mahinda wins by big margin


Colombo, 27 Jan( President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who sought a second term on the promise of ushering in peace and prosperity after decisively winning the civil war against the separatist LTTE, scored a massive victory over his nearest rival and common opposition candidate, retired general Sarath Fonseka in the election for the sixth executive presidency held on Tuesday.

Mr Rajapaksa ended up with a tally of 6.02 million (58.16 per cent) against 4.12 million or 39.89 per cent got by Gen Fonseka.

Even before the results were formally declared by the Election Commission, supporters of the Sri Lanka Freedom Alliance came out onto the streets of Colombo and burst crackers in front of Temple Tree, the official residence of the President, while Gen Fonseka was holed up in a hotel, ringed by the armed forces, and his ally and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader Rauf Hakkim made a public appeal to the Government to enhance his security annd allow him freedom of movement.

Denying that Gen Fonseka's movement was being restricted, Ministers G L Pieris and Mahinda Samarasingha and UPFA chief Sushil Premajayantha told a hurriedly called press briefing that nine army deserters were arrested from the hotel. They said Gen Fonseka chose to move into a hotel on his own.

Denying rumours about his impending arrest, they asked, "why should a victorious candidate arrest a loser?"
Compared to his tally in his first election in November 2005, when he got 4.8 million(50.29 per cent) against 4.7 million secured by his nearest United National Party rival Ranil Wickremasinghe, Mr Rajapaksa has got one million votes more. He got close to the record 62 per cent got by his predecessor Chandrika Kumaratunga in the first election she contested in November 1994.

Mr Rajapaksa has improved his vote share right across the country except the Tamil majority north, the mixed population east and the Central Hills. Overall, he has made deep inroads into UNP vote bank.

The Jaffna and Vanni Tamils who stayed away with barely 20 per cent casting their vote, did not add much to the tally of Gen Fonseka. In fact, it became clear that the minority Tamil vote would become decisive only if the Sinhala vote was evenly divided as it happened in November 2005.

With the LTTE decimated, President Rajapaksa advanced the election as he got elected solely with the Sinhala vote last time and this time he wanted to give the Tamils also a chance to take part in the democratic process.

Guided by the short-sighted Tamil National Alliance and feelings of hurt, they threw their lot with the losing general, who polled more votes than Mr Rajapaksa in Batticaloa, Padiruppu Kalkudah divisions in Batticaloa district and Pottuvil division in Digamadulla (Ampara) district.

The same trend was discernible in Sammanthurai with Gen Fonseka getting 55.9 per cent and Mr Rajapaksa 4.42 per cent, and Pottuvil where the General got 59.89 per cent and Rajapaksa 37.4 per cent.

This was because these divisions have a sizable Tamil and Muslim presence and they felt alienated by Mr Rajapaksa’s statement that in post-war Sri Lanka, there would be no division on ethnic or majority-minority lines and all would be identified as Sri Lankans. The general maintained his edge in the east even in the predominantly Muslim Mutur division in Trincomalee district, getting 59 per cent vote against 38 per cent got by Mr Rajapaksa.

In the central hills, plantation Tamils of Indian origin in Kandy who are swayed by the Ceylon Workers Congress rooted for the President while the Sinhala vote was divided. Gen Fonseka scored over Rajapaksa in Nuwarelia-Maskeliya and Kotmale.

The verdict shows that the President has got the overwhelming support of the Sinhalese. He has swept his native southern province, once the stronghold of the Janata Vimukti Peramuna and extended his sway across Central, North-Central, North-Western and other Sinhala provinces.

The verdict also shows that the opposition campaign about the rising cost of living, “massive corruption and family rule” did not cut ice with the Sinhalese who were happy that Mr Rajapaksa had brought the prolonged civil war to an end.

Now that he has got a fresh mandate on the development plank, he will have to win over the Tamils, who bore the brunt of the war, especially in the closing stages, and thousands of whom are still roughing it out in make-shift camps.

His first priority, as he himself has said, will be rehabilitation of the displaced Tamils and reconstruction of the north and east. But Tamil activists say this will not mollify them as they sacrificed development for political rights in the struggle for Eelam in the past 30 years. Other more pragmatic observers feel that the President’s promise of devolving powers under the 13th amendment to the Constitution to the provinces, including the north and east, and creating a senate to give representation to the provinces will be the first step to address the concerns of minorities.

To evolve a permanent solution, the President needs two-thirds majority for the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party. He plans to change the electoral system and fill a part of the seats through first-past-the- post system as the present proportional representation system, which gives voice even to small parties and is good for a country still divided on ethnic lines, has thrown up fractured mandates or given the SLFP or the UNP only a bare majority.

- Asian Tribune - By S Murari



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