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Finally, the Tamils booted out Mahinda Rajapaksa
Saturday January 10, 2015 7:59 PM, M.R. Narayan Swamy, IANS

Just six years after he crushed the Tamil Tigers in a brutal war that also left thousands of innocent Tamils dead, the Tamil community finally had its revenge. If Mahinda Rajapaksa is no more the president of Sri Lanka, it is primarily because Tamils overwhelmingly voted against him.


[Indian envoy to Sri Lanka was first to greet Maithripala Sirisena after his victory.]

This is ironical because it is the same Tamil community which, by boycotting the 2005 presidential election on the orders of the then powerful Tamil Tigers, helped Rajapaksa score a wafer-thin victory over Ranil Wickremesinghe, now the prime minister.

An analysis of the voting pattern in the 22 electoral districts that make up Sri Lanka show that but for the Tamil areas of the north and east and the "Indian Tamils" living in the central plantations, Rajapaksa may have overcome the challenge of Maithripala Sirisena.

There are only three districts - Jaffna, Wanni (which includes former LTTE hub Kilinochchi) and Batticaloa - where the Tamils are the dominant community.

Tamils as well as Muslims, who too had been increasingly disenchanted with Rajapaksa, live in large numbers in cosmopolitan Colombo district. The Muslim community also has a significant presence in the nearby Puttalam and Digamadulla districts in the east.

Of the 18 electoral districts dominated by the Sinhalese, the majority community to which both Rajapaksa and Sirisena belong, the outgoing president got more votes in as many as 10, the highest in his stronghold Hambantota (63.02 percent).

Rajapaksa was also the clear winner in Kalutara, Matale, Galle, Matara, Kurunegala, Anuradhapura, Moneragala, Ratnapura and Kegalle - all overwhelmingly Sinhalese and where the outgoing president garnered four to as high as 24 percent more votes than Sirisena.

In two Sinhalese-majority districts, Gampaha and Badulla, Rajapaksa and Sirisena broke even (49 percent each).

In Sirisena's home turf Polonnaruwa, the new president decisively defeated Rajapaksa (57.80 to 41.27 percent). The other exception was Mahanuwara, where Sirisena got 54 percent of all votes.

Colombo also voted for Sirisena (55.93 percent). So did Puttalam but narrowly (50.04).

Sirisena swept the electorate in the Tamil majority districts of Jaffna (74.42 percent), Wanni (78.47) and Batticaloa (81.62).

In Trincomalee, where Tamils, Muslims and Sinhalese live in fairly equal numbers, a whopping 71.84 percent elected Sirisena.

Jaffna, Batticaloa, Wanni and Trincomalee were Sri Lanka's former war zone where the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) once held sway. The LTTE's last ditch battle was fought in the Wanni region.

This is also where Sri Lanka's war machinery killed tens of thousands of unarmed Tamils, simply because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Digamadulla, home to thousands of Tamil-speaking Muslims, also went the Sirisena way (65.22 percent). So did Nuwara Eliya, home to Tamils of Indian origin in the tea plantations where Sirisena got 63.88 percent of the votes.

In retrospect, it is clear that Rajapaksa, having read the Sinhalese vote, called for an early presidential election because he felt he had a fair chance of winning.

Had Rajapaksa been pitted against the urbane Wickremesinghe, he would have polled many more votes in Sinhalese areas and thus nullified the Tamil tsunami.

Unlike Wickremesinghe, Sirisena is as hardline a Sinhalese-Buddhist as Rajapaksa. Thus, he undercut Rajapaksa's Sinhalese base.

The outcome of the presidential election can only reinforce the ethnic differences that still plague Sri Lanka. Many in the majority community are bound to ponder over the mass voting by the Tamil minority -- and what it achieved.

With the support Rajapaksa has retained in Sinhalese areas, despite the charges of corruption and nepotism against him and his family, Sirisena is unlikely to find the going easy.

He may also not be able to reach out to the disgruntled Tamils -- something Rajapaksa could have in the immediate aftermath of the war in 2009. Nor is Sirisena likely to abolish the presidency within 100 days as he promised unless he can command a decisive parliamentary majority.

(M.R. Narayan Swamy is a long-time Sri Lanka watcher and the author of three books on the LTTE. He can be reached on narayan.swamy@ians.in. The views expressed are personal.)



 

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