The Fundamental Oppositions: Lakshman Gunasekara challenges Jayaweera & Roberts

Email Memo from Lakshman F. B. Gunasekara, 5 November 2019 directed at 

Mike, …. You quote with approval one ‘Rajeewa’ as saying: “The final result proved without ambiguitythe disconnect between the small group of elitist city dwellers and the rural masses.” ………………………..And then you say:-  … “leads me to present a thesis** that this political tussle was an instance of the provinces ranged against metropolitan Colombo – that is, the rural vs the city (with a proviso excluding the rural Tamils and rural Muslims of east and north-west from this simplification).”

Rajeewa, may be excused as a non-academic for this grossly inaccurate simplification. But YOU also seem to be indulging in the same gross simplicism. I remember in the 1950s and 1960-70s, many scholars and non-Maoist analysts poured scorn on this same simplicism by Mao Ze Dong during his mobilisation of the tens of millions of rural Chinese in his communist insurgency. That was decades ago and decades before urbanisation, semi-urbanisation and a host of other complicating factors (like minor land-owning workers commuting as paid labour in the city) took over throughout Asia as a whole (India still seems an exception, but not for long, sadly).

Leaving Rajeewa aside, I point out to YOU, the scholar, the hard voting statistics that clearly indicate that many rich, educated, property owning (and, culturally westernised) urbanites voted for Gotabaya. In fact, I dare say that a very significant number of the ‘urban elite’ (in Colombo, but also in Kandy, Galle, Kurunegala, etc) voted for the Flower Bud. Just look at the detailed vote map and it is very obvious. We have long transcended the urban/rural divide because ETHNICITY has been playing a critical role (in addition to a remnant of urban/rural demarcation) in electoral politics for decades (if not a century). The most clinching evidence in support of my argument is this:- For whom did over 80% of the (poorest, rural) Vanni population vote for ? Gotabaya?

The vote statistics starkly show that the northern (and probably the southern-based Sri Lankan Tamil) population largely if not entirely voted for Premadasa. Does not this indicate how ETHNICITY now dominates? If your simplification is to be validated, then the Vanni population should also have voted for the Flower Bud (as against the more urbanised Peninsula population). You offer a ‘proviso’ re the Tamil and Muslim/Moor vote, but then that ‘proviso’ – especially in the light of the overwhelming numbers that I point out – makes your simplification meaningless!    Unless, of course, your focus of analysis favours a deeper examination of merely the Sinhala vote and the side-lining of the ethnic minority vote banks. If that is the case, we are indeed on dangerous ground – we are forgetting the four decades of bitter violence that is the result of such side-lining since freedom from colonial rule.

Equally interesting is the hard, stark statistic that shows that this 80% of Tamils in the North voted for a southern Sinhala-Buddhist leader (deputy leader of a party that presided over the July 1983 anti-Tamil progrom) rather than for any Tamil ‘liberation’ politician like Shivajilingam. Actually, the Sri Lankan Tamil voters were not so much voting FOR Premadasa as voting in response to the call of the TNA which espouses a Tamil politics within a united Sri Lanka as against a radical secessionism.

Clearly the northern Tamils also ignored a boycott call by other secession-oriented groups preferring to express their moderate political aspirations. I just hope the Sinhala national leadership acknowledges this and seizes this opportunity to engage creatively. I think Gotabaya, given his frank acknowledgment of the ethnic-based vote pattern, has all the capacity to proceed to engage. As the vanquisher of Tamil secessionist insurgency, he, more than anyone else, has the greatest political legitimacy to act to address the ethnic conflict and modulate the crudities of Sinhala ethno-supremacism while genuinely meeting some basic ethnic minority citizenship needs and their sense of insecurity in this Dhamma Dveepa. Interestingly, I am finding that Gotabaya, himself, as well as the (rich, professional, urban) intelligentsia accompanying him, is clearly of a more intellectual calibre than the Mahinda Rajapaksa ethos. I wonder how far that intelligence will go, but I look forward with (perennial) hope.

*****  *****

** The highlighting emphasis is the work of The Editor, Thuppahi, viz Michael Roberts


A RESPONSE from Rajeewa Jayaweera, 26 November 2019 ++

Gunasekera seems to have misunderstood one aspect of my article when classifying it as a “grossly inaccurate simplification” from a non-academic that needs to be excused. Non-academic, I most certainly am.

Below are the results of Colombo Polling Divisions in the District of Colombo/Western Province.   .

Pol Division Reg Voters Total Polled Valid Votes  GR Sajith Sajith’s majority
Borella 61,169 49,424 48,752 18,850 27,436 8,586
Col. Central 124,354 100,836 99,680 16,341 80,076 63,735
Col. East 65,398 51,972 51,245 19,619 28,599 8,980
Col. North 93,705 73,998 72,643 16,986 52,983 35,997
Col. West 40,187 29,671 29,213 6,644 21,345 14,701
Dehiwala 58,892 47,101 46,525 19,122 25,004 5,882

In the Colombo District, GR received 53% of the popular vote, whereas Sajith received 41%, a creditable victory for GR, but by no means a clean sweep. The “rich, educated, property-owning (and culturally westernized) urbanites” referred by Gunasekera were among the 41% who voted for Sajith. The entirety of the Colombo population does not belong to the elite group. The highest percentage of the popular vote received by GR in any district was 67% in the Kurunagala district. SP polled over 70% in Batticaloa and Trincomalee Districts and over 80% in Jaffna and Vanni Districts. Voters were clear in their minds of what they wanted and more so over what they did not want. A vote over 75% is what I would call a ‘clean sweep.’

The parts of Colombo found in the chart is a part of the traditional UNP block vote. Substantial numbers of civil society among the Colombo elite, despite their opposition to Ranil W, found GR an unpalatable candidate for President. These are the people concerned with issues such as media freedom, freedom of speech, Right to Information, freedom of the judiciary, white van phobia, and general dislike for the provincial background of the Madamulana Rajapaksas. These are also a group mostly untouched by deaths in the family in the 30-year civil war. The Geneva Resolution did not bother them. Some NGO dependents even supported it.

The priorities of those in the rural areas were different. Fertilizer, price of Paddy etc. were major issues to them, issues not understood by elites in Colombo. They have little interest in issues such as media freedom, RTI, etc. Rural folk did not get ‘white vanned’ unlike political opponents and critics of Rajapaksas in Colombo. Had the Geneva Resolution been properly explained to them, I believe they would have given GR the magical 80% popular vote in areas such as Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Kurunagala, Matara etc. from where many of the dead and wounded soldiers originated. It was not done as Lotus Bud politicians were not sufficiently literate in the English language to understand the Geneva Resolution themselves. When Lotus Bud members talk to them of a unitary vs. federal state, they think of their sons and husbands who gave their lives for Mother Lanka to protect the Sinhala nation and Buddhism, factors many of the Colombo elite are unaware of or would prefer to ignore or forget. GR’s citizenship was an issue to the Colombo elite but was of no consequence to the rural folks. There were many in Colombo who were disappointed with the High Court verdict on the citizenship issue.

I do concede, a large section of the business community backed GR at the beginning. Sajith’s late entry to the contest prevented him from canvassing this important group. They were fed up with the Ranil/Mangala/Malik group. However, once Sajith entered the fray, he did begin to claw back lost ground. I have it from reliable sources, several directors in at least two blue chip companies had undergone a mood swing after Sajith’s presentations, but it was far too late.

My statement ‘The final result proved without ambiguity the disconnect between the small group of elite city dwellers and the rural masses.’ need to be understood in the context of such a backdrop.

++ = highlighting is an editorial intervention.


Filed under accountability, centre-periphery relations, chauvinism, communal relations, democratic measures, devolution, disparagement, ethnicity, governance, historical interpretation, landscape wondrous, life stories, Muslims in Lanka, politIcal discourse, power politics, Presidential elections, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, sri lankan society, Tamil civilians, world events & processes

3 responses to “The Fundamental Oppositions: Lakshman Gunasekara challenges Jayaweera & Roberts

  1. EMAIL COMMENT from Brendan SOSA in Kandy: “The situation will crystalize more accurately at the General Election in around April next year. ……………… Cheers”

  2. EMAIL RESPONSE to SOSA from RAJEEWA JAYAWEERA, 27 November 2019: “Yes, further crystallization is inevitable when Tamil and Muslim voters who voted for individual candidates in the 2019 Presidential elections vote on ethnic and religious lines in the 2020 Parliamentary elections when it is the party that matters most. Unless the UNP or whatever they will call themselves contest as an alliance with TNA, SLMC, ACMC et al. as alliance partners, their numbers are bound further deteriorate.”

  3. Pingback: Convenient Fairytales – e-Con e-News

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