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|Trans State Nation
Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha
When 'Eelam Wave' swept the 1977 General Election...
My heart was in Point Pedro, but my Vote was in Colombo West
20 October 2001
Again a general election is around the corner in the blessed and equally cursed island of Lanka. Let me count the years in which they had been held: 1947, 1952, 1956, 1960 (two), 1965, 1970, 1977, 1989, 1994, and 2000. I reached the voter�s age in 1971 and voted only in the 1977 general election, and at that time my residency was in a newly-demarcated Colombo West constituency, which was previously incorporated under the Colombo South seat. By 1981, I had left the island and though I still hold the legal citizenship, I have never exercised my legitimate rights in the last three general elections (1989, 1994 and 2000). Thus, the 1977 general election was etched in my memories, for more than one reason.
My vote was registered in Colombo West in 1977, and the leading contenders for my vote in that election were J.R.Jayewardene (UNP) and Bernard Soyza (LSSP). But, my heart was in Point Pedro, our native town in Eelam. Due to residential regulations, I couldn�t be in the voter�s register for the Point Pedro constituency. But since 1960, the only year I resided in Point Pedro and which saw two general elections, my interest has been mainly focused on the results of Point Pedro constituency, and whether K.Thurairatnam (FP, and later TULF) retained his seat was the first answer I awaited during the election night in the 1960s and 1970s.
The 1977 general election also permitted me to mark my entry as a writer in English, and the following analysis which I wrote and submitted to the Colombo Tribune weekly, edited by veteran journalist S.P.Amarasingam, was my first piece of writing to appear in print in English. When I read it now, 24 years later, the words and phrases seem somewhat amateurish. But I still love it for the pungent message it delivered.
Soon after the 1977 general elections, Tamils were at the receiving end of the Sinhala hooliganism in August. My piece on �Eelam vote� appeared in the Tribune weekly in August 27, 1977. Obviously, I felt so happy to see my name in English print. But the message of my article did not go well with the Sinhala intelligentsia during those tension-filled days.
At the height of the 1977 riots, there was a meeting held at the Thurston College Hall, and one Ananda Mangala Thero was the chief speaker. I also attended this meeting. To my surprise, Ananda Mangala Thero held the Tribune weekly of August 27 in his hand, and started reading passages from my article, and with gesticulation, condemned strongly the message delivered by the Eelam Tamils, as presented in my article. He screamed: �Look � These are the people who are going to divide our island�. At the end of the meeting, somehow I learnt that this Thero was staying at Colombo 5. That night, I was filled with mixed emotions; partly, I was a bit scared that my first piece of English writing had become marked publicly, to be screamed at a public stage by a Buddhist priest. But it also tickled my fancy, that I could write something which can irritate the bowels (and possibly the brains) of some folks!
Next day, I plucked some courage and I went and introduced myself to him, stating that I was the author who wrote the article which he was referring in his lecture on the previous night. Puzzlingly for me, he was calm and smiling, and he did not use any harsh words on me. I was not sure whether he was tactful, or he was surprised to see a youth in his mid-20s and not an aged Tamil he had in mind, or that his private persona was different from the public persona he exhibited at the previous night.
24 years have passed, and I was only sad that in the only general election I had a chance to vote in Lanka, I couldn�t vote for the Eelam plebiscite. I could vote only in Colombo West, and in 1977, I voted for Bernard Soyza of LSSP. Reason: the veteran LSSPer came to our apartment and solicited my vote for him. J.R.Jayewardene, only solicited my vote, through his ward-agents. He didn�t come directly and ask my vote. Of course, Bernard Soyza lost in that election. But, it didn�t bother me. What bothered me in 1977 was, why Thurairatnam could not score a resounding victory in Point Pedro for the Eelam plebiscite.
Now, to my recorded thoughts on this Eelam vote in 1977.
Plebiscite Verdict for TULF
[Colombo Tribune, August 27, 1977]
�One of the major criticisms leveled at parliamentary institutions in Asian countries is that more often than is desirable, a candidate is elected on a plurality of votes which is less than the absolute majority of votes cast�, noted Weerawardana in his [book] �Ceylon General Election 1956�.
The reason of course is simple enough. In almost all the constituencies, except that of Kankesanthurai, more than two candidates contested the 1977 General Election and many of the MPs were elected on a plurality, which was less than half the votes cast. Of the 154 single-member seats, the UNP was victorious in 132. The UNP could muster only 4 seats, with a thumping majority of above 15,000. These are, Colombo West (17,938), Moratuwa (16,874), Ja-ela (16,252) and Colombo North (15,142).
The irony of the situation is that, Colombo West and Colombo North have a commandable population of Tamil-speaking people. Moratuwa and Ja-ela are urban industrial electorates close to the Capital, and having a large population of Catholics. The �so-called� landslide UNP victory, could not bring a single seat (with more than 80% Sinhala Buddhist population), to boast of, with an above 15,000 majority. The party which polled 51% of the total votes polled, had to depend on the minorities (race-wise and religion-wise) to register thumping victories in only 4 seats.
Let us have a look into the situation in the Eelam part of the island. Five seats of Jaffna district showed their outright support of plebiscite to TULF by returning their candidates with massive majorities, even exceeding the UNP�s achievement in other seven provinces. They are, Nallur (28,137), Kankesanthurai (25,833), Manipay (24,250), Kopay (22,353) and Vaddukoddai (18,208). In two of these five seats, UNP also contested, but had to suffer the fate of losing the deposits resoundingly.
Altogether, in 15 of the single-member seats they contested, TULF�s winning candidates polled an absolute majority of the votes. These 15 electorates had shown absolute faith in Tamil Eelam. The details of electorate and the votes polled are as follows:
Votes for TULF
Total votes against TULF
Only Paddiruppu was the exceptional single member seat, where TULF won, polling 15,877 votes, whereas the total votes polled against TULF were 16,412 � a meager number of 535 votes going against TULF to tilt the scale of above 50% faith.
In the Northern Province, Tamil Eelam wave swept away all the 14 seats, and majority of the Independents had to forfeit their deposits clearly.
(1) In Kopay, Nallur and Manipay, all the candidates who opposed the TULF nominees were unable to save their deposits.
(2) The conquest in Udupiddy was a prestigious one for TULF. Mr. Sivasithamparam, one of the leaders of TULF, had campaigned, �Even if we win all the other seats, and lose the Udupiddy seat, it will be the hardest blow for our Front�. Of the eight who opposed the TULF, only one was able to save his deposit.
(3) Even the two stalwarts who supported the SLFP in the last Assembly (Messers Arulampalam and Martyn) paid the penalty for their association and lost their deposits.
Two of the seasoned Tamil politicians of yester year, Messers V.Navaratnam and V.Kumaraswamy, who pitted against TULF (but claiming they were also for Tamil Eelam) also lost the battle to TULF stalwarts Messers K.P.Ratnam and V.N.Navaratnam respectively. There were some �rebel� candidates in Northern Province, who came forward as Independents, when they were rejected by the TULF nomination board. They were, Veeravagu (Point Pedro), G.G.Kumar Ponnambalam (Jaffna), Sandasegari (Mullaitivu) and John Mark (Mannar). They also campaigned and asked the mandate from the people for Tamil Eelam, but they failed to get the mass support.
TULF gained the Mannar seat, which it had lost previously to UNP, in a by-election, after the demise of Mr.Alegacone. Incidentally, Mr.Raheem was the only sitting UNP MP, who had to suffer the defeat at the  General Election. Some cynics may point out that the majorities of TULF in Vavuniya and Trincomalee are not that of commandable proportions. But, we have to accept the fact, these two electorates have a sizeable proportion of Sinhala voters � Vavuniya having 21.10% and Trincomalee (even after the demarcation of Seruwavila) having 23.28%. This shows the potential danger faced by these two Tamil electorates in the future hustings, due to Sinhala encroachment policy of the past Governments.
Let us look into the seats, UNP contested and lost in the Eastern Province.
Electorate Votes polled by UNP Total votes cast against UNP
This shows that, only in Sammanthurai, UNP gained an absolute victory. The other three electorates have not shown absolute faith in the UNP. TULF polled 7,520 in Mutur; 12,595 in Kalkudah; 8,615 in Sammanthurai; 7,093 in Kalmunai. Of these fours seats, TULF came 2nd in three, excluding Mutur, where it came third. But it should be noted that in Mutur, the margin between the losing SLFP candidate and the TULF man was only 280 votes.
In Kalkudah, the only Tamil candidate to win a seat from UNP ticket, Mr. Davanayagam, narrowly made it by a slender margin of 545 votes. This number might have been the marginal Sinhala votes definitely going against TULF. And J.R.Jayewardene had to campaign vehemently in support of Devanayagam, and even exactly before one month of the election date, he had to categorically play the card, �If you elect Mr.Devanayagam, I�ll make him a Minister�. Only in Kalkudah, J.R.Jayewardene was forced to let the cat out of the bag to enable a register a win for his friend and to save the �United National� party of his party�s label.
Actually, Mr.Devanayagam had a tough time. This can be verified by comparing the number of votes he had polled in 1970 and 1977 respectively. In 1970, Devanayagam polled 11,205 compared to FP opponent�s 8,420 and won by a majority of 2,785. In 1977, his majority was slashed to 545, as he was able to increase his strength by 1,935 votes only, polling 13,140. Whereas, the �fresher� TULF candidate polled a close 12,595. TULF increased its votes by 4,157. Devanayagam was able to scrape through with the help of 545 possible Sinhala votes.
Even in Sammanthurai and Kalmunai, the showing of TULF was not that bad, because it managed to come second, pushing the other national party SLFP, to the poor third placing. In Kalmunai, the 3rd placed SLFP candidate was the Member of that seat in the last Assembly. Sammanthurai was a newly carved seat, and here also the SLFP candidate came a poor third, trailing behind TULF nominee by over 6,000 votes.
Regarding the two-member Batticaloa seat, there were two candidates (Mr.Rajadurai and Mr.Kasi Anandan) and both obtained a combined 26,648 plus 22,443 equivalent to 49,091 votes for Eelam, out of a total number polled 107,893. The proportion is approximately a little less than half. Ex-Education Minister Dr.Badiuddin Mahmud, the self-claimed, undisputed leader of the Muslims, who contested a seat for the first time in his so-called 50-year span of political career, was pushed to fourth place, and suffered a humiliating defeat. Even Kasi Anandan got ahead of him. Rajan Selvanayagam, another Tamil MP of the last Assembly who supported SLFP, paid the penalty for his fault and was placed a poor fifth.
The total number of registered voters in Batticaloa were 63,039: i.e., the expected number of votes were 126,078, whereas only 107,893 were registered on the day of decision. Violence erupted during the vigorous campaign; a close relative who was working for the UNP candidate was killed. This incident in fact, would, have diverted sufficient amount of sympathy votes in favor of the UNP�s Muslim candidate. Another lady, said to be sympathizer of Kasi Anandan, was also killed. Nearly 9,000-odd voters had not performed their civic rights in fear of intimidation and violence.
It can be seen from the above comprehensive analysis, that Tamil Eelam part of the island, had given their outright verdict in support of TULF. Now we have to wait for the verdict of another two-member constituency, Pottuvil, and we will see how it responds to the call of Thamil Eelam.�
Note added in 2001:
The TULF candidate for Pottuvil, M.Kanagaratnam got elected as the 2nd MP for Pottuvil, and then he became a turn-coat, not an atypical behavior for the political prostitutes of any era. Personally, the first-shot of �adrenalin thrill� which I derived from writing this article had enabled me to climb the steps as a practitioner of English writing so that, I came to be recognized by an entry in the Contemporary Writers �reference series, last year.