THE EMERGING ALTERNATIVE
(1999 April 14)
The elections to the five provincial councils are over and the country is now preparing for the Southern provincial council elections. Some speculate that there will be more elections including a presidential election before the end of the year. In August the present parliament completes five years and thereafter the MPs would be entitled to their pensions and even a general election is on the cards before the end of the millennium as some people would like to express it. Whether it is the end of the year or the end of the millennium as far as the PA is concerned it would be more advantages to have an early election before they lose more votes, unless they are capable of performing a miracle sometime next year. However this does not mean that the UNP will do better with the present or any other leadership, as the current tendency of the electorate is not to give an absolute majority to either party.
It is a difficult task to interpret the election results in Sri Lanka. One does not know how thuggery and corruption have affected the outcome of the elections. In certain areas in the central and uva provinces there have been terror and corruption or dooshanaya ha bheeshanaya certainly to the disadvantage of the opposition parties. A few hundred thousand people, especially women are abroad and we do not know how they would have voted at the elections. However with all these deficiencies that are bound to be in any analysis, certain tendencies are clear from the election results.
Before we make an attempt to analyse the data it has to be mentioned that in this election there was hardly any discussion of the issues involved. Each party more or less criticised the other parties and the electorate was not interested in listening to what the politicians had to say at the meetings. They all knew in advance what the candidates and their supporters had to say. It is a well-known fact in Sri Lanka that not only the political meetings but also the crowds are organised by the politicians in the case of more important political parties. The package, the military victories over the LTTE were not discussed. The NGO lobby is not in a position to claim that the people have approved the package or the Sinhala Chauvinists have been trounced as they themselves did not raise the relevant issues at the elections. In any case the new left front, which boasts that they are in the forefront of the struggle against Sinhala Chauvinism have fared badly even in the so-called working class electorates and also among the Tamils.
When the election results are analysed there are three important tendencies that emerge. Firstly the reduction of the votes for the PA and the UNP. The UNP has increased its vote with respect to the PA but the combined vote of the two major parties has come down. Secondly the JVP has increased its vote and has 15 members in the five provincial councils. Thirdly but most importantly the number of spoilt votes and the number of those who did not vote have increased considerably. The emerging alternative is this third category and is not to be found in the JVP. The JVP is only a third force in the sense that it is not one of the major parties. It has only two alternatives. The JVP can either take up arms again and commit suicide or follow the LSSP and the CP into oblivion.
Marxist or Neo Marxist parties have no future especially after the collapse of the former Soviet Union. Russia would emerge again as a world power by giving leadership to the countries with a Greek Orthodox civilisation and not by being a Marxist country of any variety. It is undergoing a transitional period and will soon play its natural role as the leader of the Greek Orthodox countries. Similarly India is destined to become the leader of a South Asian civilisation based on a Hindu -Buddhist tradition. The limited Russian intervention in Serbia, the Agni missile, the Indian nuclear bomb all point in these directions. Countries such as Sri Lanka will have to be very vigilant to make sure that India remains a leader and not a big brother dictating terms to the other countries in South Asia. China will be the other world power giving leadership to the Confucian - Buddhist civilisation. Marxism was only a deception as far as the Soviet Union and the other countries of the former socialist block were concerned. The JVP being a Marxist party will continue to attract a few youth as long as Castro lives. With the demise of Castro Marxist parties like the JVP will die a natural death unless they decide to commit suicide prior to that.
It is the percentages of the votes that the parties have obtained that will give some meaningful comparisons not only among the parties but also with respect to the performance of any one party over the years. Now the percentage of votes that a party has gained can be calculated with respect to (i) the total number of registered votes, (ii) the number of votes polled, (iii) the number of valid votes. The commissioner of elections usually give the percentages of votes obtained by each party with respect to the number of valid votes. This is not quite satisfactory, as the number of votes spoilt or rejected is not reflected in the process. Even if the percentages are calculated with respect to the number of votes polled that would leave out the category of voters who did not go to a polling booth in order to cast their votes.
The most interesting feature in the elections held in connection with the five provincial councils is the increase in the number of voters who decided to stay at home rather than vote for any of the political parties. Sri Lanka before the eighties had a very high turn out at the elections and the number of votes polled had been in the region of eighty five percent then. However it fell to seventies with the JVP "insurgency" (please note that the word war is not used in connection with the JVP by the enlightened journalists and the academics of various sorts) but rose again soon after. At the 1994 general election the voter turn out was 76 percent while at the last local government (pradeshiya sabhas , urban councils etc.,) elections held in 1998, it increased marginally to 77 percent. At the five provincial council elections held two weeks ago the number of votes polled as a percentage was a mere 67.6. Thus the percentage has dropped by about 10 within a year. The poor weather would account for part of that 10 percent but it is clear that a large number of voters had decided that there was no suitable party to vote. Now the JVP polled only 3.5 percent of the total number of registered voters (it was 5.2 percent of the number of votes polled and 5.6 percent of the number of valid votes), which is much less than the drop in the turn out. Even after accounting for those who stayed at home due to bad weather it is clear that the number of voters who decided that none of the parties was good enough to cast their votes would have exceeded the number that voted for the JVP. Strictly speaking the drop in the turn out has to be compared with the increase in the vote for the JVP but due to the non availability of figures this could not be done. In any case the increase in the percentage of those who voted for the JVP has to be less than 3.5 and the increase in the number of voters who did not go to a polling booth has to be very much more than the increase in the number of votes for the JVP.
According to the figures given by a Sinhala weekly, in absolute terms and not in percentages, the JVP has gained only 83427 votes more than what they were able to poll at the local government elections held in 1998. During the same period the number of votes polled by the PA and the UNP has been reduced by 340164 and 105846 respectively. It is interesting to note that not only the PA but also the UNP has lost votes within a year. While the PA and the UNP lost 446010 votes within a year the JVP has gained only 83427 more votes during the same period. Though not in percentages, these figures indicate that a large number of voters have lost faith in the political parties.
When we look into the number of votes spoilt, the picture becomes clearer. It is well known that many voters have deliberately spoilt their votes this time. The number of votes spoilt as a percentage against the total number of votes polled is 7.1 while as a percentage against the total number of registered voters it is 4.8. The respective figures in the case of the number of votes polled by the JVP are 5.2 and 3.5 . It is true that there may have been votes spoilt as a result of carelessness, unfamiliarity of the system etc., but what cannot be ignored is that a large number of voters have "voted" against the political party system.
In each district, other than Gampaha and Kolomba the number of votes rejected was more than the number of votes polled by the JVP. In Gampaha and Kolomba districts the JVP polled 58277 and 55361 votes respectively while the number of votes rejected were 42262 and 50435. Significantly it was in these two districts that the MEP was successful. In the Kalutara district where the MEP narrowly missed gaining representation in the western province provincial council (the MEP polled 7149 votes against the 7230 polled by the SLMC which won 1 seat in the Kalutara district.), the number of votes polled by the JVP was only slightly less than the number of rejected votes, the relevant figures being 28347 and 28441 respectively. Do these figures give us a message? I am of the opinion that in the western province some of the voters who have lost faith in the political parties and the political party system decided to vote for the MEP as a last resort.
The sector of voters who either stayed at home or deliberately spoilt their votes is the emerging alternative. Their numbers are much more than the number voted for the JVP, which is only a third force (political party) compared to the two major parties. The emerging alternative has no faith in the political party system and they are awaiting a strong national movement. The MEP with a metamorphism from a political party to a national movement like the Mavbima Surakeeme Vyaparaya has a good opportunity of giving leadership to this emerging alternative