The real loser at Saturday`s election was Velupillai Prabhakaran. Easterners have routed his separatist project by electing a group of representatives independent of the LTTE to run their province which is the be-all and end-all of Eelam.
The UNP-SLMC combine turned that election into a referendum on the North-East merger and the politico-military strategy of the government. The government which had cleared the East of the LTTE and effected the de-merger secured about 52 per cent of the total number of valid votes, thus winning that `referendum`. The SLMC let the cat of South-Eastern Council out of the bag and that, too, was rejected lock stock and barrel by the people.
The election turned out to be a contest between the government and a collective of other powerful players the UNP, the SLMC and the LTTE/TNA combine. The LTTE, through its proxy alliance, ordered the Easterners to defeat the government on the eve of the election. But, even the Eastern Tamils whom he claims to represent defied that order. In fact, they overwhelmingly supported the UPFA-TMVP coalition, which obtained more than 58 per cent of the total number of valid votes in Batticaloa with a heavy Tamil presence.
The JVP which sought to eat into the UPFA vote bank had a pratfall. It got only one seat, which was more an accident under the PR system than an achievement as such.
The Eastern PC polls were not completely free and fair and the Opposition is right in having made an issue of that fact. But, we haven`t had any clean election since 1977 under both the UNP and the SLFP, have we? Nor will we have one so long as the SLFP and the UNP form governments! Results of far worse electoral exercises like the Referendum (1982), the Presidential Election (1982), the PC polls (1988), the Presidential Election (1988), the General Election (1989) and the Wayamba PC polls (1999) were foisted on us. Therefore, for want of a better alternative, the public has to accept the outcome of an election, if it is sanctioned by the Elections Commissioner, who has the powers to annul results if polling centres concerned are affected by violence, rigging etc.
There were several reasons for the defeat of the UNP. First of all, the UNP blundered badly by boycotting the Eastern Province Local Government polls in March. Had it contested those elections, it would have been able to mobilise its supporters and prepare the ground for a PC election. UNP National Organiser S. B. Dissanayake was the first to point out this mistake in an interview with The Island. The UNP also erred by granting the SLMC the right to appoint Chief Minister in the event of its victory thus isolating the crucial Tamil vote. This strategy may have worked in the predominantly Muslim areas in the Trincomalee District, which the UNP-SLMC won with a slim majority but it proved to be counter-productive in Batticaloa and Ampara. Anyone with an iota of common sense is aware that no one can win in the East without the support of all three communities. Worse, the LTTE, too, threw in its lot with the UNP-SLMC combine by asking the people to vote against the government. Thereafter, it exploded a bomb in Ampara killing 12 people and injuring 36, fired mortars and sank a ship in Trincomalee. Those attacks couldn`t have come at a better time for the government that kept on saying if the UNP won, the LTTE would make a comeback.
The government had the wisdom to make Pillaiyan and Hisbullah agree that he who got the highest number of councillors returned would be the Chief Minister. Thus, it had a formidable Tamil ally in the form of the TMVP while mustering the support of the Muslim community. Besides, the liberation of the East from the clutches of the LTTE and the launch of massive development projects there stood the government in good stead. Therefore, its victory didn`t come as a surprise.
With the help of the outcome of Saturday`s polls, President Mahinda Rajapaksa will seek to debunk his critics` claim that he lacks the support of minorities and silence his detractors in the international community, who project him as a Sinhala hardliner not capable of reaching out to other communities.
The Easterners made a wise decision by denying the winning party a steamroller majority. The government with 20 seats in hand has a clear working majority in the PC but it will have to be mindful of a strong Opposition with 17 seats including the UNP`s 15. The government will have to honour its election promises such as the construction of the Oluvil harbour, for which the foundation stone was laid for the umpteenth time the other day, if it is to avoid disaster at a future election.
We only hope that Pillaiyan will mend his ways and the UPFA will live up to the expectations of the easterners.