Maps lie. Most obviously, the world isn’t flat, but more relevant to Sri Lanka, ‘winning’ districts is not the same as winning votes.
All weekend I’ve been experimenting with maps to see how to accurately display the 2015 Presidential Election. I can’t. You can see different levels of mapping above. Each of them tells a different story and they’re all arbitrary.
The problem with this sort of mapping is that if you win by two votes the color of an area changes. It effectively erases the differences within whatever area you choose. Also a district with a million people can be smaller than a district with 100,000. It doesn’t make visual sense.
The best way to perceive this election is actually not a map at all, it’s regular graphs and charts. Let’s look at them together.
The Only Graph That Matters (The National Result)
America is the only place the map actually matters, because their system is weird. It actually allows someone to win Florida by 500 votes, lose America by 500,000 and still win the election (as George W. Bush did). My dad goes into it more on the Colombo Telegraph.
In Sri Lanka the winner of the popular vote wins the election. That’s it. This is much better.
Votes By Region
To go one step lower, we can break the country up into regions. The North-East, the Center (North-Central and Central), the West (North-West and Western), and the South (Uva, Sabaragamuwa, Southern). Mahinda had a margin only in the deep south and lost everywhere else. Maithripala actually performed well in the center of the country and Mahinda’s only real strength was the deep south.
Votes By Province
Finally, let’s look at the votes on a provincial level. If you look at the graph there are very few votes in the North and East. The bulk of Maithripala’s voter base is actually from the West and Center. Here you can also see the big population difference that distort the map. The Western Province has nearly as many voters as all the southern provinces put together, but it’s much smaller on the map.
I won’t really go into the district/divisional maps into detail, but you can see them here.
As you can see, it isn’t really a racial divide going on, it’s also rural vs. urban. Urban places have more people but take up less land, so they get misrepresented when you use maps to display voting data. It’s simply not the best way to do it, unless you do a cartogram or something that can warp space to match the actual numbers.
The Issues At Hand
Eelam Or Sri Lanka?
Now, the issue at debate is whether Maithripala was elected by minorities, aka Eelamists. This is a bit racist and divisive, but let’s look at it.
In 2005 the LTTE prevented people in much of the North and East from voting. This was land they claimed for Eelam. That backfired in that Mahinda turned out to be much stronger than they thought and actually beat them and ended the war (thanks again). This reunited Sri Lanka and brought those voters online. But what would happen if the North and East had been blocked from voting again?
In that case Mahinda would have won by about 200,000 votes. So, actually it is true that votes from the North and East made a big difference. Maithripala’s margin was about 650,000 there, enough to give him a win. At the same time, if you separate the Southern Province, Maithripala is obviously dominating the rest of the country. You can’t just randomly pull provinces out of a vote if you don’t like the result.
Anyways, what is not true is that minority votes somehow overpowered the Sinhalese. You could win 100% of the minority vote and it’s still not enough. Fonseka won the same regions last time and still lost soundly. Maithripala won because he won the most votes overall, including 49% outside of the North and East.
Anyways, there’s a chart for that, so read on.
King In The South?
The flipside of the Eelamist argument is Mahinda’s claim that he’s King Of The South. That is, that the southerners wanted Mahinda. To check that let’s look at how the votes broke down everywhere besides the North and East.
King in the South? Hardly. Mahinda’s margin is just 2% outside of the North and East. The ‘southern’ vote is basically divided. I guess if you want to be racist you’d strip Colombo and Nuwara Eliya out of those results but then you’re just being silly.
I mean, if you removed all the black people in America maybe Obama would have lost, but, you can’t just keep removing races from an electorate until you win. If Mahinda wanted them out he could have just not fought the war at all. If he wanted them to vote for him he could have acknowledged civilian deaths and implemented the LLRC report. As it is they’re part of our country, their votes count and he just lost.
I actually think it’s good that minorities play a decisive role in our democracy because it protects them and makes it a better country for all of us. However, I understand the discomfort many Sinhalese (or Sri Lankans in general) would see upon viewing a map that looks like Eelam. Eelam was a bad idea, paid for in blood and tears on both sides.
However, as you can see, the maps hide more information than they show. Maithripala won the popular vote and overall he did better everywhere except the south. Even in the south he polled close, a difference that is lost if you just flip that area to another color.
In Sri Lanka all that matters is the national result, and Maithripala won that clearly, and it was obvious that he’d won early in the count. He won 51.28% of the Sri Lankan vote, defeating Mahinda by 3.7%. That’s a margin of 449,000 votes. He’s the President of all Sri Lankans and he won it fair and square.