How race determines Sri Lankan elections
The Internet is full of election predictions, all of them nonsense. There is no proper, third party, public opinion polling in Sri Lanka, hence there is no data to draw from. Your uncle and a spreadsheet does not count as a poll. If you put bad data into a bunch of tables, maps and PowerPoint slides, it’s still bad data. You may as well flip a pol roti three times, same thing.
There is historical data, but we live in wildly unpredictable times. Our past seven elections have involved war, insurrection, boycotts, hoppers, eyeballs, and candidates exploding shortly before the election date. All of which makes history not a very good predictor for anything.
One place you can use history is to guess at a base vote. Some families just vote UNP (green) and some just vote SLFP (blue). Lately this requires more and more attention to just figure out where everybody is, but people do. According to some much more robust analysis by Nuwan Senaratne, the greens have a base of 39% and the blues 44%.
These are still very rough numbers because politicians have been hopping from one thachchi to another for decades now and blue and green are pretty thoroughly mixed.
The Floating Vote
This leaves a 17% ‘floating vote’, which is kind of a misnomer. This floating vote isn’t a bunch of voters thinking really hard, it’s mostly minorities trying to figure out who’s going to beat them less. The most floating voters are in the North, East, and Nuwara Eliya.
The floating vote is very much the minority vote.
That brings us to this election, and the fundamental question. How will the minority vote break? How racist are Sinhalese? That is essentially what this election is about.
Sajith is the non-racist candidate and Gota is the racist one. They each need different things in order to win.
What Sajith Needs To Win
Sajith needs three things.
First he needs Sinhalese to not be racist. This is hard because of the Easter Attacks, and the SLPP and its pocket media (ie, the media) have been actively spreading hate and lies for a year now. If you just trust Hiru and Divaina then Muslims are coming for your balls, Vote Gota! Also, free Duminda Silva and bricks on Mars.
Can Sinhalese not be racist? I think so. I mean, I hope so. The rest of the world has been voting racist and dumb, but I hope we can be different. That’s a prayer though, not a prediction.
Second, Sajith needs minorities to trust him and to turn out and vote. Sajith has the support of the mainstream Tamil and Muslim parties (the TNA and SLMC) and some of the smaller parties upcountry. They need to trust him and trust the system in order to turn out in numbers. Tamils are pretty familiar with Gota and Muslims should know what’s coming, but we’ll see.
So far this is all pretty historically standard. The wild card in this election is the Christian vote.
Christians, many of them on the western coast, were directly hit on Easter Sunday and the risk is that they’d go to the authoritarian candidate, despite the SLPP being the ones burning churches just weeks before. The Christian and Catholic vote may prove decisive this time. They don’t usually factor into the floating vote, but the bombs have dislodged them.
If, however, Sri Lankans can unite then Sajith can win.
What Gota Needs To Win
Gota needs everyone to be racist. He needs Sinhalese to be racist against everyone, and minorities to be racist against each other. The more divided the country is, the better it is for him. In fact, the best situation would be like in 2005 where his brother could just pay the LTTE to stop the North and East from voting altogether.
The core of Gota’s base is Sinhalese racism. This is partly why the citizenship issue doesn’t hit as hard as people thinks — because who cares, he’s still Sinhalese.
The SLPP knows what makes racists tick. Their deepest fears are fundamentally testicular and, by extension, fallopian. Hence they spread lies about Muslim Doctors sterilizing women, and terrorists targeting schools — hitting people right in the baby maker. They also gave the racists a few riots to let off some steam. The Sinhalese racists have been given their red meat and put in the kennel, to Gota a chance to trick some minorities.
The trick with minorities is to divide and confuse them among each other. Gota can’t attract any mainstream party, but he can attract thugs, grifters, and criminals from any race. As long as you’re corrupt and unscrupulous, you’re welcome in Gota’s camp. You can be a former terrorist, cop killer, a current extremist, just out of jail, or even in jail. Hizbullah, Pillayan, and Karuna-Amma are all welcome. It’s a beautiful story of how criminality and corruption cuts across racial lines. We can all sing kumbaya around the burning tires.
What he needs and gets these parties to do is play the races off each other. On the East coast Tamils and Muslims have beef eternal, so he gets parties to play that up. On the West coast Christians may be afraid of Muslims now, so he amplifies that. This inter-minority racism can either drive people to stay home, to vote for a local third party, or to vote for the authoritarian, even though his supporters were recently beating them. Or at least that’s the plan.
As long as we’re divided, Gota can win. This is wrong by the way. This is unethical, destructive, and Gota is a bad person for dividing the country this way. People have died, and will die. It’s no joke.
How AKD Can Mess It Up
In this election there, however, a historical anomaly. A really strong third party candidate. Anura Kumara Dissanayake is not my grandfather’s JVP (which killed people) or my father’s (which was racist, contained Wimal and backed Mahinda). No, this is the woke JVP. This JVP is actually very appealing to democratic, thinking voters — ie the usual idea of a floating vote.
Hence we may have the racial floating vote (which the UNP needs to get at least 11 out of 17%) and then up to 5–6% blowing out another side, which will either toss the race to Gota or take it to a second preferential count, which may then toss out up to 4x the amount of ballots because that’s confusing.
AKD is a good choice in a Parliamentary election, but sadly leads to door number racism in a Presidential. If he creates and then breaks a woke floating vote, then Gota wins, and Sri Lanka loses.
So Who Wins?
Ah, the money question. In general this feels like a change election, which should favor Gota. I find it crazy that people will change something that kinda sucks for something completely evil, but that happens. Before the coup the economy was meh and the UNP was sclerotic and he would have had a natural advantage there.
The coup, however, actually made the SLPP look as criminal and dumb as they are, which was bad. But then the Easter Attacks made an authoritarian look good, even though it was the SLPP’s fuckery that destabilized national security in the first place. Then the riots made their racist base happy, but scared the Muslims.
So it’s hard to say. Structurally things favor Gota, and he has all the main TV stations backing him, but Sri Lankans are surprisingly high information voters by now.
Gota is essentially the grease yaka to most minorities and that vote should float away from the obvious beating. However, as mentioned, Christians and the JVP are new wildcards that may play in his favor.
So in short, I don’t know, but I hope this analysis has given you a way to think about this thing which you cannot control. I also hope you see how politicians use race to divide us, and how we should stop that. I would love an election that was more about ideas rather than should we beat each other, yay or nay?
The answer, if you’re wondering, is nay. Don’t beat each other. I keep telling my children this but maybe I’m wrong. Should it be a family vote whether malli gets hit with a fly swatter or not? I think not. Why are we doing this as a nation?
Gota is the racist candidate and Sajith is the unity candidate. Be a decent Sri Lankan and vote for unity. It’s the right thing to do.
If you want to follow the election results live, Nuwan will be running a live tracker, with some context. You can follow him on Twitter here. He also has a fascinating set of analysis on Sri Lankan elections on Medium.