Sri Lanka politics and commentary

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Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Colomboans and the 2010 General Election

by Malinda Seneviratne

A friend of mine alerted me to and interesting phenomenon in the results of the General Election in an email:

‘A quick glance at the Colombo GE 2010 results displays a complete disparity in the mindset of the people who live within the Colombo City Limits, Colombo 1 to 15 plus Dehiwela, and the rest of the suburbs.’

It was a foregone conclusion as far as I was concerned; the Colomboans would vote for the United National Party (UNP). A breakdown of the Colombo District results shows a stark divide. The most urban electorates (i.e. those within the jurisdiction of the Colombo Municipal Council plus Dehiwala) went to the UNP. The UNP got large chunks of the vote, ranging from 48.07% in Borella to 64.28% in Colombo West. Dehiwala was won narrowly, 44.14% to the 43.14% that the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) polled. In the other electorates the UNP polled between 22.83% (Kesbewa) and 38.21% (Ratmalana).

[It’s the UNF, i.e. the ‘United National Front’ we are talking about, but let’s not fool ourselves by giving too much credit to the several non-UNP three-wheel parties in that coalition].

People have a right to vote for the party/candidate of their choice. They have the right to stay at home on Election Day. We have a phenomenon, though. Those in Colombo prefer the UNP and here we have to consider the fact that in these electorates the Sinhalese are a minority. Today the electorates within Colombo municipal limits are the only ones that could be described as ‘UNP Strongholds’.

It is no secret that this is the preferred residence of the UNP’s traditional power-base, i.e. the business community, the rich, the English-speaking, the Anglicised. It is no secret that they are for the most part kepuwath kola types. This is not to say that there are no UNPers anywhere else of course. The UNP polled a total of 339,750 votes in the Colombo District and 2.13 million island-wide (not counting the Kandy and Trincomalee Districts). The 146,795 polled in the Colomboan-dominate electorates do not necessarily tell anything close to what could be called ‘a whole story’.

What is significant however is that these are the electorates that are dominated by the UNP and the ones which contain the addresses of the party leaders. We need to get some perspective, so let’s play with the related numbers.

The numbers that the UNP polled in the Colomboan electorates constitute just 14.83% of the total votes cast in the District and just 9.65% of the total number of electors. It is just 6.1% of the total number of votes that went the UNP way (excluding Kandy and Trincomalee; once these results are in, the proportion will shrink further, marginally of course).

Would any UNPer be bold enough to say that those who belong to this 6.1% of what can be termed the new UNP vote-base (I am being generous and throwing the floaters into the Elephant’s traditional vote basket) do not determine what is best for the party, does not set party agenda, deliberate on the nuts and bolts of party strategy in an election campaign and outside such exercises? I doubt it. These are the decision-makers.

Some years ago I read an observation about the Republican Party of the United States of America. ‘It began with Abraham Lincoln and ended with Dubya Bush!’ That says it all, the observer said. The United National Party has a corresponding tale: began with D.S. Senanayake and ended with Ranil Wickremesinghe. ‘Ended’ in both instances pointing to the present of course; parties don’t die that easily.

The UNP has essentially dropped the ‘N’ in the party name; there is no ‘nationalism’ to warrant the ‘National’ N in the acronym. The Colomboans, as many have pointed out, are nationalists only to the extent that they arrogantly believe that they not only comprise the ‘nation’, but believe that nationalism is coterminous with profit-making. To a large extent or a large number of these Colomboans assume that ‘West’ is ‘Best’, that we would have been better off had the British remained, that those who do not know English cannot think, are uncultured and in these and other ways deficient and uncivilized. That’s caricature I agree, but I am lampooning just to make a point.

The only reason I worry about the UNP’s dismal performance is that we have got a very weak opposition. I pointed out in a recent discussion that this by itself is not worrisome because we have the example of Sarath Muttetuwegama who in the eighties was a one-man opposition that was quite effective. The problem here is that the UNP leadership doesn’t have the kind of integrity, sense of responsibility and the nationalism that Muttetuwegama was endowed with. He might not have liked the term ‘nationalist’ given his ideological persuasions, but he was of and for the nation in ways that the Colomboan-cultured UNP leadership of the present day is certainly not.

My friend ended his email with this witty projection: ‘Someday, the City of Colombo may even seek a separate state under the Queen of England, who knows?’

I don’t think that Ranil Wickremesinghe would say this openly and I am pretty sure that most Colomboans wouldn’t have thought this was the ideal ‘way out’ although a lot of what would come to pass if this were to take place would probably make the majority of them quite happy. Still, it tells a story.

And it tells where the UNP has gone wrong and why. The breakdown deserves serious analysis by the UNP think-tanks (do they have any, one wonders) if they are interested in returning to power this side of being local puppets of some kind of invasion (a proposition which they would not say ‘no’ to, considering track record).

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who can be reached at

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