The extremely polarised presidential election in Sri Lanka has resulted in victory for Gotabaya c. As Defence Minister under the dictatorial president, his brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya ordered the bloody genocide at the end of the country’s civil war in 2009.
In last Saturday’s poll, he won over 52% of the votes (6,924,255) in comparison to his opponent, Sajith Premadasa of the United National Party (UNP), who won just under 42% (5,564,239). Votes for all the other main candidates fell sharply. The candidate of the so-called left JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna) came third but their previous vote was nearly halved to just over 3% (418,553).
The turnout of 83.72% is historically high for Sri Lanka, and the highest of anywhere in South Asia. This and the voting pattern shows how Sri Lanka stands sharply divided along ethnic lines. The vote for Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the Sinhala-dominated southern districts was very high. Meanwhile the majority in most of the Tamil-speaking districts was for the opposition.
The Tamil-speaking Hill Country voters defied the call for support for Gotabaya made by the CWC Ceylon Workers’ Congress which that claims to represent them. Instead they voted against Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The anti-Rajapaksa clan vote in these areas was even higher than in the 2015 presidential election that saw the temporary end of the Rajapaksas’ rule.
In 2015, all the minorities’ rejection of dictatorial rule, along with the division that existed inside the SLFP (Sri Lana Freedom Party), resulted in the unexpected defeat for the then president, Mahinda Rajapaksa. However, this time, the increase in the vote in the south made sure that this was not repeated. In a statement released soon after the election result, Mahinda Rajapaksa actually thanked voters for “decisively defeating the 2015-style attempt made to once again purloin the mandate of the people through backroom deals with various chauvinistic ethnic and religious groupings organised around narrow political agendas”. This is a direct attack on the Tamil and Muslim leaders who turned against the Rajapaksas and tried to make a deal with the UNP to defeat the Rajapaksas.
The terrorist bombing that took place at Easter, earlier this year, was also used by the Rajapksa clan to fan the flame of Sinhala nationalism. The ruling capitalist UNP-led privatisations and the IMF-led economic policies have also seen the deterioration of conditions for many.
“Strong leader” will fail masses
In this chaos, Gotabaya presented himself as a “strong” leader who will sort out the “terrorist” and other problems, once again. The return of Rajapaksa family is however seen as a return to a dictatorial period – a continuation of where they left off in 2015. Already announcements are being made about changing the country’s constitution to “strengthen” law and order, and making the country more “disciplined”. We have already seen some of the leading military personnel who stand accused of war crimes being promoted. All key ministers have resigned and their places will be filled by the Rajapaksa loyalists. They are expected to call parliamentary elections soon, with the aim of getting more control.
In what was a highly polarised election, the vote for the left, in general, declined. The United Socialist Party’s candidate, Siritunga Jayasuriya, received 3,944 votes. Despite the very favourable reception that the USP got during the election campaign, its vote declined due to the polarised situation. The class policies that Siritunga popularised during the election campaign are much more needed than ever. Creating a mass organisation or even a platform to bring together all those who are in struggle and demanding democratic and economic rights, is essential to strengthen the fight-back.
Gotabaya Rajapaksa will not be able to deliver on the empty promises of improving conditions for all workers and poor. He is likely to continue with the privatisation and IMF-led policies, just like the previous president. Declining economic growth and emerging geo-political tensions will see the conditions that the masses face deteriorate even further. There is an urgent need to build the fight-back. Trade unions, socialists and all activists should come forward to make sure that happens.
A more detailed election report and analysis will be posted on socialistworld.net.