Pandemic & The Poll
A total of 16,263,885 citizens will be eligible to cast their vote at Sri Lanka’s sixteenth Parliamentary Poll which will be held islandwide tomorrow, Wednesday, 5 August, according to the Election Commission’s 2019 voter registration list. This number includes those who were eligible to vote for the now concluded postal voting as well.
This number of 16,263,885 is an increase of 271,789 (1.70 per cent) from the 15,992,096 who were eligible to vote as per the recently concluded Presidential Polls of November 2019. Of the 15,992,096 who were eligible to vote at that Poll, the total number of votes finally counted was 13,387,951, representing 83.72 per cent voter participation.
Of this number of 13,387,951, the total number of valid votes counted was 13,252,499 comprising 82.87 per cent of the total eligible vote. The balance 135,452 votes cast comprised rejected votes. These 135,452 rejected votes were equivalent to 0.85 per cent of those (15,992,096) who were eligible to vote at that Election.
Sri Lanka is divided into 22 electoral districts. The split in the number of voters per electoral district in descending order for tomorrow’s elections according to the Election Commission are Gampaha (1,785,964), Colombo (1,709,209), Kurunegala (1,348,787), Kandy (1,129,100), Kalutara (972,319), Ratnapura (877,582), Galle (867,709), Anuradhapura (693,634), Kegalle (684,189), Badulla (668,166), Matara (659,587), Puttalam (614,370), Nuwara-Eliya (577,717), Jaffna (571,848), Digamadulla (513,979), Hambantota (493,192), Batticaloa (409,808), Matale (407,569), Moneragala (372,155), Polonnaruwa (331,109), Trincomalee (288,868) and Vanni (287,024), respectively.
A feature of this Poll is that it’s being held in a pandemic environment, namely COVID-19, for which no cure has been found and a disease which can be fatal to the aged and the sick. However, Sri Lanka has been able to control this pandemic by social distancing, quarantining victims and suspected victims, offices running skeletal staff, schools and universities being closed and overseas Sri Lankan returnees, especially those working in the Middle East, being brought down in clinical fashion and not carte blanche.
Another unique feature in this election is the split of the UNP, where its political future is in doubt for the first time in its history, similar to that of the SLFP. The UNP and the SLFP were the two major political parties in the country, voter numbers wise, post-Independence, except for a brief four-year period from 1947 (when the first Parliamentary Poll was held) to 1951, when the LSSP was the second most powerful party, simply because there was no SLFP then.
The SLFP, the first significant offshoot of the UNP, was formed in 1951 and went on to lead the Opposition when the country’s second Parliamentary Poll was held in the following year, i.e. in 1952.
However, the SLFP, vote wise, was first decimated to third place 66 years later at the 2018 Local Government Poll, when the SLPP, the most significant offshoot of the SLFP, swept the February 2018 Local Government (LG) Polls, with the UNP ending second.
Nonetheless, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) the fourth and most lethal offshoot of the UNP, for the first time in the UNP’s 74-year history is threatening its very survival. The second offshoot of the UNP (after the SLFP) was the Dudley Peramuna formed in 1976 and the third, the DUNF formed in 1990,which, however, posed no threat to the UNP
The SLFP, quick to realise that it had no future outside the SLPP, merged with it post-2018 LG Poll. It’s therefore likely, that post 5 August, would see the UNP inviting the SJB to takeover the reins of the Party, or, like the SLFP, merging itself as the junior partner of the SJB.
Therefore, in Sri Lanka’s 73-year Parliamentary history, post-5 August, a new chapter will be written, i.e. that the two frontline parties in the country’s political landscape would be two new parties, the SLPP and the SJB, with the SLFP and the UNP being relegated to the dustbins of history, in the event the latter doesn’t invite the SJB to takeover its reins.
The fear of the pandemic will impact on the vote base of all of the parties contesting the Poll. Meanwhile, the need to further strengthen the hand of the President will, ipso facto, aid the SLPP.