What were the reasons for behaviour of ethnic minorities as reflected by ballot?
by Kumar Abeysinghe
Ending over a month-long acrimonious political campaign, the ‘silent majority’ of the country gave their verdict through the ballot on January 26.
The verdict was very clear. President Mahinda Rajapaksa who came into office in 2005 with only a majority of 150,000 votes, won the second term with more than six million votes surpassing his opponent by 1.8 million. The mileage he has gained in winning the confidence of the people of this country, barely within four years, is unquestionably commendable. The numerous messages embodied in the people’s verdict was very clear.
"You lead the country for the next six years. You are on the right track. We have confidence in you. More importantly, we know that our country is in safe hands". Probably that was the lighter side of the message, but then remains several unanswered questions. Nearly four million voters for some reason or the other voted for the opposition candidate. That is what democracy means. Maybe the majority of them were the diehard UNPers.
What were the reasons for the behaviour of the ethnic minorities that was reflected in the ballot? Challenging though, it is a question worthy of searching for answers. It is only through reflection, devoid of emotionalism, that one would be able to understand and correctly interpreted the meaning of the people’s verdict which embodied both their endorsement and resentment. It appears that the President was quick in grasping the meaning of the verdict.
Responding to a question posed by a journalist at a recent press conference on the electoral response of ethnic minorities, the president said: "It doesn’t matter who commanded the majority in those electorates but what is significant is that the people in those provinces have freely joined the democratic process." A response one can expect only from a true statesman.
The massive endorsement given by the people itself repose a great burden on the president and his government machinery in fulfilling those expectations with in the next six years. Probably that is why the president said that we have to get to work without loss of time. He seems to be very firm in his eagerness to implement the second volume of Mahinda Chinthanaya. Therefore, it is incumbent on all of us to gear ourselves to work hard with a commitment to make this country one of the strongest nations in the Asian region which, in my view, is not an impossible task. It is the only way that we can reciprocate the gratitude expressed by the people of this country.
The outcome of the election was a clear indication that politics is something more than slogans based on unsubstantiated, baseless charges. Cost of living, nepotism, corruption and family bandyism are some of the popular slogans which have been touted during elections over the years but have little relevance to the silent majority who live in the country side.
For the politically-sensitive electors, who live beyond the boundaries of the metropolis, who face the reality of life, the relevant issues are far more different to what are normally perceived by the urban elite.
For urban elite, the supermarket shopping housewives, it is ‘Bombay onions, and dhal politics’.
For the elitist businessmen it is the share market indices, tax concessions and subsidies what matters. But one should not forget the fact that still 75 percent of the population of Sri Lanka are rural-based. It was they who suffered enormously from the miserable war. It was their children who went to the battlefront. It was they who wept when the coffins bearing the bodies arrived in their villages. It was they who cried embracing coffins, sometimes not knowing whether the bodies of their loved ones were inside. Streams of white flags that decorated the villages are not to be seen anymore.
What you can experience in the countryside is a ‘air of relief’. For them, ‘Mahinda’ is their saviour. Moreover, the tangible results of the rural-based development strategy, pursued by the government is quite visible in the country side. The expectation of the rural masses are less sophisticated than that of the vocal elite. What they want is a road to be built leading to their villages, an anicut to be constructed, a block of land for cultivation, renovation of a channel, rural electrification scheme.
The wishlist is not that lengthy. When look at what is happening in the districts and the countryside, it appears that the government has made a genuine effort to fulfil some of these needs even though not to the desired level. The writer, who travelled to one of the hill-country districts, was able to witness miles and miles of rural roads being concretized, and a majority of the villages being provided with electricity, pipe-borne water etc. Not relying very much on the ‘trickle-down effect’ theory it appears the government is taking numerous initiatives through infrastructure oriented micro-level programs to resuscitate the rural economy of which the beneficiaries are the majority rural folk.
So if anyone needs and explanation as to why the rural electorates gave such a thumping majority for the president, they should travel to the countryside and see for themselves rather than trying to spin flimsy reason for their defeat. The latest is the possibility of the government resorting to ‘computer trickery’. No wonder, the opposition candidate who does not have the voting right, to have such wild imagination, about Sri Lanka’s electoral process which is the envy of other countries.
While we acknowledge the favourable outcome of the election, we also should not overlook the negative side of the electoral message given at this election. In spite of the fact that the government was able to relieve people in the north and east which consist of ethnic minorities, from decades long suffering, the electoral response the government received, is undoubtedly a compelling reason for serious reflection as to what went wrong. Sensitive to this issue, President Rajapaksa very correctly expressed his concern at a recent meeting with the media institutions.
He appealed to them to leave no room for racial hatred, or chauvinism.
He reminded them the most powerful role the media can play in building bridges. One could surmise several reasons for this situation.
Obviously suspicion, and distrust, still lingers in the minds of the people in those areas. Brainwashed by the politician who still believe in divisive, sectarian politics people in those areas find it difficult come to terms with the new realities of post-conflict era where the opportunities are abound.
In any country, post-conflict reconstruction is a formidable task.
It is not merely providing infrastructure, but winning the hearts and minds of the people who have suffered at both ends.
There is altogether a new generation who grew up in racial and cultural isolation, who need to be inducted to the mainstream of the society in which they can live and feel as equal partners in an undivided Sri Lanka.