3 Maps to understand Sri Lanka’s Minority-Majority divide in today’s vote

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As personalities, both President Mahinda Rajapaksa and common candidate Maithripala Sirisena appeals to the same rural Sinhala vote base. Their political coalitions however means that candidate Maithripala will draw in the majority of the votes from the minority communities, while President Rajapska is expected to win in bulk of the areas where there is a Sinhala-Buddhist Majority.

The South Asia blog has helpfully developed three maps that visualizes the geographic ethnic distribution which may resemble their vote when Sri Lankans go to the polls today.

Map 1 & 2: The Language and ethnic divide 

The politics of the ethnic Tamils has always been very different to that of the rest of the country, the recent attack on the Muslims  has also put the community on a collision course with the ruling regime. The result is that all major minority parties are now backing the opposition candidate, with only the powerful CWC backing the incumbent President. CWC has somewhat of a block vote in the hill country with “Up Country Tamils”.   The Tamils especially, will feel that their issues were largely left on the sidewalk during the election,  as the opposition candidate largely followed a strategy aimed at dividing the Sinhala vote with the assumption that minorities will vote for him anyway.

In spite of that, the majority of the minority vote will go to the common candidate Maithripala, the only questions are around turnout in the Tamil-dominated Northern province and the block-vote the minority parties backing President Rajapaksa can get.

In the 2013 provincial elections the voter turnout was around 63% in the Northern Province, with the turnout in 2010 being exceptionally low. However the last presidential election was conducted immediately after the war using an older registered voter list that heavily overestimated the number of voters actually residing in the North.

Minister Douglas Devananda is the only Northern Tamil player backing President Rajapaksa. His stronghold of Kytes was the only electorate President Rajapaksa  won in 2010 in the Northern Province with 46% of the vote. There are signs that his grip on the electorate has been loosening however, with UPFA loosing Kytes to TNA in the 2013 provincial council elections.

On the question of the Up-country Tamil vote,  CWC was with President Rajapaksa in 2010 when General Sarath Fonseka ran against the incumbent.  There Fonseka managed to win the electorates which CWC-usually dominates in the up-country, but with less majority than he would have hoped for.  With further splintering of the Up-country vote by the crossover of P.Digambaram to the common opposition,  Maithripala campaign will expect to do well in the electorates in Badulla and Nuwara-eliya districts where the up-country Tamil vote is prominent.  The block-vote phenomenon also tend to matters less when it’s a national-level election but it is not non-existent.

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Map 3: The geography of religious distribution

Apart from ethnicity which has always been the surest indicator of voting patterns in national elections,  Sri Lanka’s Sinhala Catholics has traditionally voted with the UNP over the last couple of decades.  This relatively changed with the 2009 war victory, with more Christians voting with the UPFA and president Rajapaksa.  As the map shows, Sri Lankan Christians predominantly occupy the North-western coastal belt of Sri Lanka starting form about Wattala to areas in the Puttlam district.  In 2010, challenger Fonseka marginally won the Negombo electorate, the spiritual capital of Sinhalese Catholics with the President Rajapska edging out a close victory in Wattala.  With the opposition surge, Maithripala campaign would be hoping to win in the catholic-dominated areas, but President has been campaigning hard for the catholic vote this election cycle. Last month, Negombo was chosen  as the location for one of the largest rally for the president in the Gampaha district. Catholic politicians have also been deployed to  Mannar, another area with a heavy christian presence to exploit differences the Catholics have with Rishad Bathiudeen, the former minister who put his weight behind the common candidate after being part of President Rajapaksa’s campaign.

The minority-majority split in who their leader should be would be likely the most pronounced in this election cycle, with only the extent of the divide ever in question.

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See the South Asia Blog for large versions of the Maps (1, 2 and 3) as well as the related article Sri Lanka’s demographics.