The President is directly elected by majority popular vote for a five-year term and is eligible for a second term. The presidential election was last held on November 16, 2019 (next to be held in 2024). 2019 Presidential election results: Gotabaya Rajapaksa elected president; percent of vote — Gotabaya Rajapaksa (SLPP) 52.2 percent, Sajith Premadasa (UNP) 42 percent, other 5.8 percent. Voter turnout was 83.7 percent. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020]

The Legislative branch of Sri Lanka is comprised of a unicameral parliament with 225 seats. Total of 196 members are directly elected in multi-seat constituencies by proportional representation vote using a preferential method in which voters select three candidates in order of preference. The remaining 29 seats are allocated to other political parties and groups in proportion to share of national vote. Members are elected for and serve five-year terms.

Parliamentary elections were held on August 17, 2015. The next one was originally scheduled for April 25, 2020 but was postponed to due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Results for the 2015 election : percent of vote by coalition/party — SLFPA (Sri Lanka Freedom Party): 59.1 percent; SJB (Samagi Jana Balawegaya, a political alliance): 23.9 percent; JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, a Communist Marxist–Leninist party): 3.8 percent; TNA (Tamil National Alliance): 2.8 percent; UNP (United National Party): 2.2 percent; TNPF (Tamil National People's Front, a Sri Lankan political alliance): 0.6 percent, EPDP 0.5 percent, other 7.1 percent. seats by coalition/party —SLFPA 145, SJB 54, TNA 10, JVP 3, other 13. Voter turnout was 83.7 percent.

The Sri Lankan constitution, adopted in 1978, provides universal suffrage for all persons eighteen years of age and older and specifies a proportional representation system for elections. Legal voting age: 18 (compared to 16 in Ethiopia and Austria and 25 in United Arab Emirates, most country are 18) [Source: worldatlas.com]

Voter turnout: A) Parliament elections 75.9 percent in 2020,77.7 percent in 2015, 61.3 percent in 2010, 76 percent in 2004. B) Presidential elections: 83.7 percent in 2019, 81.5 percent in 2015, 74.5 percent in 2010, 72.9 percent in 2005. [Source: President IDEA idea.int ]

There were 12.4 million eligible voters in 2001. Voters receive a mark with indelible ink to make sure they don’t vote again.

History of Elections in Sri Lanka

In the late 1980s, popular elections were held, in principle at regular intervals, for the office of president, members of Parliament, and positions on local government bodies such as municipal and urban councils, district development councils, and the mandalaya. The Constitution grants the right to vote to all citizens aged eighteen years and over who are of sound mind and have not been convicted of major crimes. All qualified voters have the right to run for Parliament unless they are members of the armed forces, police, or certain branches of the civil service, hold other positions that might result in a conflict of interest, or have been convicted of bribery while serving in a previous term in Parliament within the past seven years. The qualifications for running for president are similar, though there is a minimum age requirement of thirty. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

The president is chosen by a simple majority vote. In the election of October 20, 1982, the country was divided into twenty-two election districts (the Constitution provides for a maximum of twenty-four electoral districts). Citizens could mark their ballots for a maximum of three presidential candidates in order of preference. Under this "single transferable vote system," if no candidate received more than half the votes, all but the two candidates with the largest percentages of the total votes cast would be eliminated. Persons who voted their top preference for a candidate who had been eliminated would have their second or third preferences counted if they had chosen one of the top two vote-getters. In the 1982 balloting, six candidates contested the presidency but it was reported that only a small number of voters indicated a second or third preference on their ballots.*

The 1946 and 1972 constitutions provided for the election of members of Parliament (or, between 1972 and 1978, the National State Assembly) from single-member constituencies similar to those found in Britain. Consequently, relatively small changes in the percentage of voters supporting a given party caused large variations in the number of seats that party won in Parliament, and majority parties were over-represented in terms of their percentage of the popular vote. For example, in the 1965 general election, the UNP won 39.3 percent of the vote and secured 66 out of 151 seats in Parliament; its share of the vote in the 1970 election dropped 1.4 percent to 37.9 percent, but it won only 17 seats. The 1978 Constitution replaced the single-member constituencies with a system of proportional representation in which the number of candidates returned from a single electoral district is determined on the basis of population. Although this system creates a closer correspondence between vote percentages and parliamentary representation, the equitable nature of proportional representation is diluted by a constitutional provision that grants the party with the largest percentage of votes in each district a "bonus" seat in addition to those gained through proportional representation.*

The Constitution stated that by-elections to fill vacancies in Parliament before a general election were not necessary because the political parties themselves could appoint successors. On February 20, 1983, however, Parliament passed a constitutional amendment, the fifth, which provides for byelections if the incumbent party fails to nominate a successor within thirty days of the seat becoming vacant. On May 18, 1983, by-elections for eighteen seats were held.*

Election Irregularities in Sri Lanka

Although regular elections at all levels of government have been held regularly since independence, there have often been allegations of tampering and violence. Vote-stealing, ballot stuffing, snatching of election cards, using vehicles to block access to polling stations all have traditionally been fixtures of Sri Lankan elections. In the 2001 general election, there were reports of armed gangs stuffing ballot boxes, shooting at voters, snatching polling cards, threatened to kill election monitors and using vehicles to block the roads in front of the polling stations. Guards associated with both major political parties and security forces loyal to the president were reportedly involved in some of the activities.

In the 2001 general election, there were reports that 130,000 Tamils were prevented from reaching the polls by the Sri Lankan army. The government said the Tamils were stopped because of worries that Tamil Tiger infiltrators might enter and attack the polling stations or disrupt the elections.

Human Rights groups reported many voting irregularities in election in 1999 and said the victory was tainted. There were widespread reports of ballot stuffing and voter impersonations. The groups said that the results in Tamil areas in northeast should be nullified and voting should be held again. In 1981, concomitant charges of voting irregularities and mishandling of ballots created the nation's first election scandal since the introduction of universal suffrage fifty years earlier.

Politics in Sri Lanka

There has traditionally been a strong two-party system in Sri Lanka dominated by the A) centrist A) United National Party, which was the governing party or in the governing coalition from 1947 to 1956, from 1965 to 1970, from 1977 to 1994, 2001 to 2004 and 2015 to 2019, and B) and the center-left Sri Lanka Freedom Party, which was the governing party or in the governing coalition from 1956 to 1965, from 1970 to 1977, from 1994 to 2001, from 2004 to 2015 and 2019 to present. Both are dominated by Sinhalese politicians and appeal to Sinhalese sentiment. [Source: Bryan Pfaffenberger, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures, Volume 3: South Asia,” edited by Paul Paul Hockings, 1992 |~|]

Sri Lanka’s multi-party democracy enjoys considerable stability despite relatively high levels of political violence. Sri Lankan politics are defined by patronage and big personalities. Members of parliament have traditionally selected candidates for government jobs based on political loyalty. This patterns has corrupted the objectivity of the civil service and the judiciary and has been a source of resentment among the Tamils and leftists who have staged violent uprisings. "While South Asian leaders say they encourage democracy, they have actually have encouraged the cult of personalities," one former diplomat told the Washington Post. "They are given an aura of authority once reserved for hereditary maharajahs and nawabs."

The so-called true Sinhalese control the government, military and economy. Bryan Pfaffenberger wrote: “The Sri Lankan state, an artifact of colonial rule, is excessively centralized and politicized; the provinces are governed by agents appointed by the president, and virtually all services — roads, railways, education, health services, tax collection, government-owned corporations, and land registry and allocation — are administered by centrally controlled ministries. Efforts to devolve power and resources to the provinces, including the Tamil Northern Province and Eastern Province, have been opposed by Sinhalese chauvinists, who see devolution as an erosion of Sinhala sovereignty. Members of parliament select the candidates for government positions, including the lowest menial jobs, on the basis of political loyalty. Politicization has eroded the autonomy of the civil service and the judiciary. The JVP insurgency and its popular support can be seen in part as a broad-based rejection of an unresponsive and corrupt political system. |~|

Bambi L. Chapin and Kalinga Tudor Silva wrote in “Countries and Their Cultures”: Although a spectrum of political parties campaign within Sri Lanka, political leadership is almost exclusively drawn from the traditional, propertied elite. Family lineage and caste affiliation figure prominently in selection of candidates at all levels. Since independence, only two parties have drawn the majority of their leadership from the lower classes and challenged the control of the elite: the ultraleft Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, who staged armed insurrections that posed a significant threat to the stability of the nation in 1971 and again between 1987 and 1989, and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). [Source: Bambi L. Chapin and Kalinga Tudor Silva, “Countries and Their Cultures”, The Gale Group Inc., 2001]

“Since political leaders distribute state-controlled benefits and resources, such as access to employment, quality schools, and even passports, their constituents work to stay in their good graces. These elected leaders, who typically distribute resources preferentially to their supporters, make an effort to be seen as benefactors and are often more personally accessible than many bureaucrats.”

Race, Religion, and Politics in Sri Lanka

Like other nations in the South Asia region, Sri Lanka has a diverse population. Various communities profess four of the world's major religions: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. The major ethnic groups include not only the Sinhalese and the Sri Lankan Tamils, who compose 74 and 12.6 percent of the population, respectively, but also Indian Tamils (5.5 percent of the population) who view themselves as separate from the Sri Lankan Tamils, as well as "Moors" or Muslims (7.1 percent), "Burghers" and other people of mixed European and Sri Lankan descent (0.4 percent), Malays (0.4 percent), and tiny percentages of others including the aboriginal Veddas, who are considered to be the island's original inhabitants. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

The society also possesses a caste system similar to that of India's. Caste in Sri Lanka is politically important for two reasons. First, members of the national political elite tend to be members of the higher status castes. Since independence the overwhelming majority of the prime ministers and the one president have been members of the Sinhalese Goyigama (cultivator) caste. Also, voters tend to support people of their own caste, though caste identification rarely becomes a campaign issue because electoral districts tend to be homogeneous in terms of caste and the major parties generally put up candidates of that caste.*

Among Sinhalese, there is also a historically significant distinction between people who live in the coastal and lowland areas and those who live in the mountainous central part of the island, the area that constituted the Kingdom of Kandy before its conquest by the British in the early nineteenth century. During the British colonial period and to a lesser extent in independent Sri Lanka, the two groups, which possess somewhat different cultures and ways of life, frequently perceived their interests to be divergent. During the 1920s, for example, the Kandyan National Assembly advocated a federal state in which the Kandyan community would be guaranteed regional autonomy.*

Apart from religion, ethnicity, and caste, there are social differences that emerged as a result of British colonialism. Despite a history of popular support for Marxist parties, especially the Trotskyite Ceylon Equal Society Party (Lanka Sama Samaja Party — LSSP), economically based classes in the European sense are poorly developed in Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, welldefined elite groups, including families with planter, merchant, and professional backgrounds, continued to be important in the late 1980s despite the redistributive policies of recent governments. Marks of their special status included not only wealth but education in the island's most prestigious schools or overseas, fluency in English, and a higher degree of Westernization than among other Sri Lankans. In a 1985 survey of government party parliamentarians since 1970, political scientist Robert Oberst discovered not only that there was a disproportionate number of graduates of a handful of elite schools among UNP and SLFP legislators, but also that elite secondary school graduates were more likely to assume ministerial posts and play a central role in the passage of bills than nonelite school graduates. Nonelite graduates tended to be backbenchers with limited influence.*

In a society as diverse as Sri Lanka's, social divisions have had a direct and weighty impact on politics. In the late 1980s, the ethnically, linguistically, and religiously based antagonism of the Sinhalese and Sri Lankan Tamils overshadowed all other social divisions: the civil war that resulted, especially since mid-1983, seemed to bode a permanent division of the country. Yet in the routine operation of day-to-day politics, allegiances based on family, caste, or region also continued to be of major importance.*

As in India, matters of religion, ethnicity, region, and language have become public rather than private issues. Persons have typically viewed personal advancement not only in terms of individual initiative but also in terms of the fortunes of their ethnic, caste, or religious community. In India, however, there are so many different groups, spread out over the country like a vast mosaic, that no single group has been strong enough to seriously destabilize the national-level political system. Dissident movements, such as the Sikh militants in the northwestern Indian state of Punjab have tended to be limited to a single region. India's ruling party, Congress (I), preserved national unity by forming electoral coalitions with disparate groups such as high-caste Hindus, Muslims, and untouchables and balancing them off against other groups loyal to opposition parties.*

In Sri Lanka, however, both the nature of diversity and the attitude of the government have been different. Within the island's much smaller geographical area, politics have become polarized because the politically prominent groups are few in number and clearly defined in terms of language, custom, religion, and geographical region. Successive governments moreover, have never attempted to adopt an impartial role in relation to ethnic rivalries.*

Concrete economic and social equity issues have played a major role in the ethnic antagonisms of Sinhalese and the Sri Lankan Tamils since independence. Ethnic rivalry, however, draws upon older and deeper roots. Each community views itself as possessing a unique and superior culture, based on religion, language, and race. The integrity of this culture is perceived to be threatened by the encroachments of the other group. Both Sinhalese and Tamils, occupying relatively well-defined geographical areas (the Sri Lankan Tamils in the Northern Province and parts of the Eastern Province, but with vulnerable enclaves in large cities; and the Sinhalese in the central and southern parts of the island), regard themselves as besieged minorities. The Sinhalese perceive themselves as the only group of "Aryans" and Buddhists in an overwhelmingly Dravidian and Hindu region (including the populous state of Tamil Nadu and other parts of southern India), while the Tamils see themselves as an endangered minority on the island itself. During the 1980s, this state of mutual paranoia, sharpened the ethnic boundaries of both groups and intensified economic and social conflicts.*

Buddhist Revivalists in Sri Lanka

In recent decades there has been a Buddhist revivalist movement in Sri Lanka that is not unlike the Hindu revivalist movement in India or even Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood or the Wahhabi .movement Sinhalese upset with performance of the traditional political parties are beginning to look to Sinhalese chauvinism and Buddhist values as a solution to Sri Lanka’s problems.

Buddhist nationalist movements have their it roots in 19th century movement in which Sri Lankans were encouraged to return to their Buddhist roots (See History) and Sri Lanka itself was viewed the home of Buddhism in its purest form and thus was it was the responsibility of Sri Lankans to preserve this purity. As the philosophy developed it took on an increasingly intolerant tone against European Christianity and Tamil Hinduism, which were regarded as corrupting influences.

As time has gone on Buddhism has become increasingly politicized in Sri Lanka. Some of the most ardent ones, who have taken the toughest and most intolerant stance against the Tamils, have been Buddhist monks. In some cases, the Buddhist clergy has pressured politicians into supporting their positions by threatening to accuse them of being anti-Buddhist.

Buddhist revivalists have not made their voices heard not through the creation of new political parties but by more by incorporating their views and agendas into existing political parties. The UPFA and JVP have both adopted Buddhist Revivalist positions. There are some Buddhist revivalist parties. In the election in 2004, the Sinhala Buddhist party fielded an all-monk group of candidates

Buddhist revivalist to some degree equate globalization and free market economics with greed, one of the evils traditionally despised by Buddhists.

Political Violence in Sri Lanka During the Civil War Era

Bombs and gunfire were fixtures of Sri Lankan elections in the past. More than 60 people were killed and a 700 were injured in the campaign before the election in 2001. In Kandy that year riots broke out and Muslims set fire to homes and gas stations after 10 Muslim party workers were killed as they accompanied a convoy taking ballot boxes to a counting station. Thirteen people were injured during the voting when a grenade was thrown into a polling station. A former deputy defense minister was charged with conspiracy to murder but was acquitted in connection with the murder of the 10 opposition Muslim party workers who were killed in a Kandy suburb as they took ballot boxes to a counting center .

Four people were killed and 20 were injured when a grenade was thrown into a rally for the United National Front on the eve of provincial elections in 2002. The election in 2004 was more peaceful than ones in the past. Still, there was some election violence. A Tamil politician was killed. A member of the United National Party was shot and injured. An election commissioner was shot in the jaw and neck but survived.

In 1981 Shortly before the elections, the leading candidate of the UNP was assassinated as he left a political rally. Sporadic communal violence that persisted over the following three months foreshadowed the devastating communal riots of 1983 that left hundreds dead and was regarded as the beginning of the Sri Lankan civil war which lasted until 2009

The prospect of Tamil autonomy in the north in 1987 together with the presence of Indian troops stirred up a wave of Sinhalese nationalism and a sudden growth of antigovernment violence. Much of the violence at that time was linked to the JVP (Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, a Communist Marxist–Leninist party) During 1987 a new group emerged that was an offshoot of the JVP — the Patriotic Liberation Organization (Deshapreni Janatha Viyaparaya — DJV). The DJV claimed responsibility for the August 1987 assassination attempts against the president and prime minister. In addition, the group launched a campaign of intimidation against the ruling party, killing more than seventy members of Parliament between July and November. [Source: Russell R. Ross and Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1988 *]

Capitalizing on opposition in the Sinhala community to the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, the JVP launched an intimidation campaign. Using terrorist tactics, including assassinations, strikes, and other weapons of intimidation, it brought the country to a virtual standstill several times in 1988 and 1989. Several thousand people died in JVP-instigated violence and much property, particularly government-owned property, was destroyed. The deaths included government officials, members of political parties who supported the Accord, and innocent civilians. The government fought back, killing another several thousand people suspected to be JVP party members, supporters, or their families. In late 1989, the JVP party leaders had virtually all been killed or arrested, and the JVP threat appeared to have failed. [Source: Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies, The Gale Group Inc., 2002]

Campaigning and Intimidation Before Elections in Tamil Areas in March 2008

Before the election, Somini Sengupta wrote in the New York Times: Some opposition politicians have refused to run, fearing retribution. Amnesty International reported last week that a man had been abducted after having refused to run on a T.M.V.P. ticket. Today, the T.M.V.P.’s heavily barricaded political offices are festooned with their party symbol, a boat, along with garish murals dedicated to their slain fighters. “Vote for the Boat,” goes one slogan. “It will ferry the wounded Tamils to the shore.” Oddly enough, the faction’s leader, the former Tamil Tiger commander known as Karuna, is not on these shores. He was detained in Britain last year on charges of traveling with a forged passport. [Source: Somini Sengupta, New York Times, March 10, 2008]

“The T.M.V.P. itself is hardly safe from violence. On a Sunday morning in February, a suicide bomber attacked a village not far from here, killing two T.M.V.P. workers who had tried to frisk him for weapons near the site of an election meeting. The government swiftly blamed the Tamil Tigers. Neither the T.M.V.P. nor other Tamil parties that oppose the Tigers have laid down their arms. The pro-Tiger party is not fielding candidates in these elections, saying they would not be not safe.

“Paffrel, an independent monitoring group, has called on all political parties to disarm. In February, it issued a report saying that while law and order had improved in the weeks leading up to the elections, several political parties and community leaders had told its observers that the presence of armed men was “an obstacle to free and fair elections.” Its observers found little enthusiasm for voting for particular candidates.

“Several accusations of coercion and violence have been made in recent weeks. Last week, two men on a motorcycle told women leaving a political meeting of the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front, a rival of the T.M.V.P., that their husbands would not live if they voted for the Liberation Front, according to the party’s leader, Erasaiyah Thurairatnam. Elsewhere, Mr. Thurairatnam said, armed cadres entered a party office and verbally threatened its workers. A member of another party, he said, was roughed up near a T.M.V.P. office a few days earlier.

“His party was hardly sitting idle. On a recent day, a large group of women bearing parasols in the midday sun marched through the narrow roads of nearby Batticaloa, stumping for their candidate. A woman with a bullhorn brought up the rear. “We think this election has been imposed on us,” she announced, and went on to urge people to vote. The candidate, Sellapillai Asirvithan, in a crisp white shirt and traditional wraparound loongi, knocked on doors and handed out leaflets. “Exercise your democratic right,” a supporter bellowed through the bullhorn. “You have the right to vote for the candidate of your choice.” Atanidas Arulanatham, poring over one of the leaflets, said he and his wife planned to vote. Asked whether people would be able to choose freely, he laughed. “Not sure,” was all he would say. “We hope those who win will bring peace.”“

“Here in Vavunathivu, a T.M.V.P. candidate named Jegannathan Jeyaraj sat under a wide-armed tree in the courtyard of a Hindu temple, making his case. Once a child soldier, he later studied computers in India and is now trying to make it as a politician. He told his audience that his party had given up hope for an independent ethnic Tamil homeland and had renounced armed struggle (though not yet their weapons, for fear of attacks by their rivals). He pledged economic development for the area. And he branded as terrorists his former masters, the Tamil Tigers, whom he had joined at age 7. The audience kept quiet, except for a very old woman. “I cultivated three acres and got nothing because of the war,” she told him. “The past is past,” he replied. “The T.M.V.P. will pave a new way.” Undeterred, the woman wagged a finger. “You admit you broke away from the L.T.T.E.,” she said. “Why are you blaming them now?” Then, finally, she said the unspeakable: “Why don’t you ask the government to give us a separate state?”“

Political Assassinations in Sri Lanka

Assassination victims in Sri Lanka have included a Sri Lankan president, a former prime minister, an opposition political leader, a minister of defense and various generals and politicians. Many of the assassination were carried out by the Tamil Tigers. Others were carried out by other groups. Shortly before the 1981 elections, the leading candidate of the UNP was assassinated as he left a political rally. The sporadic communal violence that persisted over the following three months foreshadowed the devastating communal riots of 1983 (See Above). In the early 1980s Sri Lanka was blessed with a number of charismatic rising political stars from many different parties. By the 1990s many were dead — victims of political assassinations.

Lailth Athulathmudali was a rising politician who was expected to be Sri Lanka's next president before he was assassinated at a political rally in 1994. He barely survived an 1987 attempt to blow up the cabinet of president Junius R. Jayewardene, of which he was a member. In 1998, two mayors of Jaffan were assassinated. Both were members of Tamil parties that supported peace. Once a UNP politician was murdered and his severed a hand and other body part were delivered in parcels to relatives. The politician, Ravi Karunanayake, was known as a corruption fighter. Among those that received body parts were his mother and mother-in-law.

1959, SLFP leader S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike (1899-1959) is assassinated and his widow becomes prime minister in 1960. Bandaranaike, was the prime minister of Ceylon from 1956 to 1959, when he was assassinated. He was shot to death on September 26, 1959 by a disgruntled Buddhist monk, partly over a business deal, establishing the trend of turning to violence to solve country’s problems. Rajasingham wrote: As the factional struggle within the SLFP grew, on the morning of September 25, 1959, Talduwe Somarama Thero called on Bandaranaike by appointment at his residence at Rosemead Place. Just when Bandaranaike was in the act of paying obeisance to the Buddhist monk, Somarama whipped out a revolver and shot at the Prime Minister, hitting him in the stomach at point blank range. It was later revealed that the disillusioned monk, the assassin, was manipulated by former supporters of the Prime Minister. On September 26, Bandaranaike succumbed to the gunshot injuries. [Source: K T Rajasingham, Asia Times]

Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was president of Sri Lanka, from 1994 to 2005. In She was the target of an assassination by the Tamil Tigers in October 1999 that left her lost vision in her right eye (permanent optic nerve damage). Kumaratunga once said that Sri Lanka was dominated by a "culture of assassination." She had lost her father and husband to assassins. Kumaratunga's husband, Vijaya Kumaratunga, an actor-turned politician who had supported concessions to the Tigers, was assassinated in 1989 in the driveway of their home by right wing extremists. Before he was shot dead he managed to push his two young children out of the line of fire. In 1995 Kumaratunga's two children were 12 and 14. After witnessing their father's death, they were "terrified", adding "they beg me all the time to give up politics.”

Assassinations by the Tamil Tigers

In the 1980s the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam initiated a full-scale guerrilla war against the army in the north and east that included assassination as one of their tactics. Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa was killed by a Tamil Tiger on May 1, 1993 by a suicide bomber who rammed his bicycle into the presidential party stand during a May Day parade. Twenty three others were killed.

Assassinations (Attack: Date, Location, Death toll):
Havelock Road bombing: Assassination of Ranjan Wijeratne: March 1991 on Havelock Road, Colombo, killing 19
Assassination of Gamini Dissanayake Ossie Abeyagoonasekera: October 1994 in Thotalanga, Colombo, killing 52
Assassination of C. V. Gunaratne: June 2000 in Ratmalana, Colombo District, killing 22
Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi May 1991 in Sriperumbudur, Chennai, in Tamil Nadu, India, killing 15
Assassination of Ranasinghe Premadasa in May 1993 Armour Street, Colombo, killing 11. [Source: Wikipedia]

In October 1994, 52-year-old presidential candidate Gamini Dissanyake had just told a crowd goodbye when a young woman with braided hair positioned herself 10 feet from the platform where he spoke and detonated a bomb beneath her T-shirt. Packed with ten pounds of ball bearings, the bomb killed 54 people and wounded more than 100. Among the dead were three former cabinet ministers and several wives and daughters of leading figures. The head of the unidentified suicide bomber was found more than 80 feet away on a second story rooftop.

Moderate Tamil politicians who spoke out against the Tigers have been assassinated. One such politician, Neeelan Tiruchelvam, was killed when a suicide bomber approached his car while it was stuck in Colombo traffic. Tiruchelvam was blown out of the car. The head of the suicide bomber flew over several cars and landed next to a car.

Astrologers and Sri Lanka Elections

Astrologers often get more attention than political analysts at election time. Voters are often keen to know what astrologers have say about the outcome of an election.. It is not uncommon for politicians to consult with astrologers before making policy or political decisions. Presidents have been sworn in and governments ousted at times deemed auspicious by astrologers.

Before the election in 2004, AFP reported: With opinion polls still in their infancy in Sri Lanka, fortune-tellers are in high demand ahead of the April 2 parliamentary election, with the 6,024 candidates keen to know where their stars lie. "Astrology plays a crucial role in politics and particularly at election time," said soothsayer Ariyarathne Hewapathirana. "Politicians are busy getting horoscopes read and buy lucky charms to fight evil influences." Hewapathirana, who is also a consultant to a group of astrologers seeking to preserve their profession, said that while legislator hopefuls paid through their noses for talismans and good readings, many of the supposed seers were fakes. [Source: AFP, March 26, 2004]

“The publicity mileage from predictions is seized upon by political parties to influence undecided voters among the 12.8 million electorate. But Hewapathirana said the candidates were expecting strictly favourable forecasts from their seers ahead of the vote, the third parliamentary poll in four years — and are canny about what they give away. "No leader will publicly declare his actual time of birth because a rival can take that information, prepare a birth chart and see what lies in store for him and initiate counter-measures," he said. He lamented that a majority of "astrologers" in the country earned their fortunes by preying on the gullible.

“But fortunes can also turn against the fortune-tellers. After the last parliamentary vote in 2001, some astrologers went into hiding as their predictions proved wrong. The English-language Island newspaper commented at the time that Sri Lanka's obsession with astrologers might make outsiders think the island was driven by "loony politics". An astrological paper, Ira Handa (Sun and Moon), apologised after the last election for rigging predictions in favour of the president's party, which was swept out of power. This time around, the state-run Daily News, which is controlled by Kumaratunga, said that a seer had predicted victory for her party as her horoscope was powerful. But another astrologer later disagreed with the Daily News, saying Kumaratunga's horoscope could not be used as she herself was not running in the election.

Methods of Sri Lanka’s Political Astrologers

According to AFP: “The politically influential here traditionally keep family astrologers, much like family doctors, to advise on choosing a marriage partner, starting a business or even before deciding when to start a foreign visit. President Chandrika Kumaratunga's close aide Mangala Samaraweera is on record saying that the head of state attends to important matters of state at auspicious times and notes it is a tradition of her predecessors. [Source: AFP, March 26, 2004]

“More affluent politicians from the island seek out astrologers from neighbouring India instead, hoping for a neutral prediction from an outsider. A former Sri Lankan president was once reported to have commissioned charmers from the southern Indian state of Kerala to help him ward off an impeachment attempt.

Frances Harrison of the BBC wrote: One fortune teller says the elections will throw up a hung parliament but eventually the opposition will form a government. She has deduced this from splitting a coconut and comparing the two halves of the shell. The pointy end, which is considered the male end, is compared with the rounded female end to contrast the chances of President Chandrika Kumaratunga and her rival Ranil Wickremesinghe. [Source: Frances Harrison, BBC, December 5, 2001]

“Another astrologer says he talks to the gods for intimations of the future. This is what his sources say about the outcome of the elections: "It's like a three horse race. The gods have told me that Ranil Wickremesinghe will win this election because he has a lot of educated people behind him. I have looked at his horoscope and according to the planetary positions there might be some obstacles but he will overcome them." So important are astrologers in Sri Lanka that their pronouncements are given more weight than those of political analysts and opinion polls on the nightly TV news. Needless to say the state run TV channel is foretelling victory for the governing People's Alliance.”

Astrologers Accused of Rigging Predictions Before 2001 Sri Lanka Elections

In 2001, astrologers were accused or corruption and prediction rigging before the election that year. Frances Harrison of the BBC wrote: “Sri Lanka's premier astrology magazine — Ira Handa or Sun and Moon — claims a circulation of half a million which is more than the national daily. Entering the politicians' date and time of birth in special computer programmes, the astrologers at Ira Handa magazine have calculated birth charts for the candidates and they have printed a list of which ones they think will be winners. They have even worked out a birth chart for the country as a whole using independence day as the date of birth. [Source: Frances Harrison, BBC, December 5, 2001]

“The magazine's editor says President Chandrika Kumaratunga's birth chart is especially powerful. He says the next government will be a combination of two colors — blue and red — which happen to be the party colors of the People's Alliance and the Marxists who are likely to form an alliance. You would not know the magazine had been hit by an embarrassing scandal when an employee recently resigned in protest at what he alleged was the rigging of the planetary positions in return for favours from the government.

“Chief editor Priyantha Ratnayake strongly denies the accusations. "He was not the editor as he claimed. He was not an astrologer at all, he was just a paste up artist on contract. "Basically he was bought for money so he went and told all those things. But he was never an astrologer or editor." Mr Ratnayake says in fact the opposition offered him money to predict an election victory for them. But even though money politics seems to be threatening Sri Lanka's astrological community their credibility seems untarnished among those who routinely consult the stars for guidance.”

Sri Lankan President Kumaratunga: "Politics Is a Terrible Game"

Chandrika Kumaratunga, the daughter of two Prime Ministers, and President of Sri Lanka from 1994 to 2005, told Time magazine: “There has been no transparency at all. And when I say good governance, I mean that there is [currently] a huge amount of corruption. Everybody's shocked and disgusted with it. [Source: Alex Perry Time Magazine, March 29, 2004]

“My daughter says, "I like your soul and your spirit, and all this is killing your soul. Please go out of politics fast." In Sri Lanka, politics is a terrible, terrible game. So dirty, absolutely filthy. Decent people do not want to have anything to do with it anymore. It is my dream that we move beyond [this]. I hope this will be realized before I get out of politics.

You want to quit? “Of course I do. I would love to leave. I am dreaming of a life beyond politics...I don't think any individual [is] indispensable. But there are times in the history of a country when circumstances converge in a particular manner where people are called upon to lead historic processes. That's how mankind has moved forward.

Why Sri Lankan Politics in Messed Up

On why Sri Lanka politics were messed up in the early 2000s, Latheef Farook wrote in the Gulf News: “The blame rests solely on the Colombo ruling class which control the two main political parties — UNP and Sri Lanka Freedom Party under the all powerful President Chandrika Bandaranaike and her family. Known for their links to British colonial rulers most of them were Christians but embraced Buddhism, the religion of the largest majority, after entering national politics. [Source: Latheef Farook, Gulf News, November 27, 2003]

“The tragedy was that the two parties which dominated the political scene since independence adopted short sighted policies aimed only at the next election and not the next generation or the country's long term interest. Every time they spoke of national interest they only meant their own interests. The intense personal rivalries within the ruling class continues to date, to the detriment of the country. This was demonstrated by the crisis triggered on November 4 after Chandrika fired three key ministers and suspended parliament.

“Leading columnists accused the two parties of being solely responsible for turning this once prosperous country, with all its wealth of human and natural resources and peaceful people, into one of the most mismanaged countries in the world. Instead of exploiting the gains under colonial rule to ensure further growth, the two parties competed with each other, indulging in communal politics aimed at Sinhalese votes, alienating the minorities. This trend, which emerged in the mid 1950s under Chandrika's father S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike founder of SLFP, continued with greater intensity in subsequent years. Frequent communal violence against minorities deeply divided communities sowing seeds of enmity and bitterness for future conflict. [Source: Latheef Farook, Gulf News, November 27, 2003]

“It was in such atmosphere the late Prime Minister Srimavo Bandaranaike's government passed the 1970 constitution depriving minorities of the safeguard enshrined in the previous Soulbury constitution, driving Tamil political parties to bury their differences and unite under the banner of Tamil United Liberation Front, TULF which, in turn fanned communalism in the North dividing communities further. But the Colombo ruling class failed to read the emerging threat to national unity and territorial integrity, especially in the context of widespread sympathy for Sri Lankan Tamils from the southern Indian state of Tamilnadu.

“In the late 1970s President J.R. Jayawardene got an excellent opportunity to sort out the minority problem when his party was voted to power with an overwhelming majority and the entire country was behind him. But Jayewardene made things worse by his 1978 constitution which further frustrated and isolated the minorities. In this desperate environment his failure to stop the July 1983 massacre of innocent Tamils forced Tamil youth to take to arms” and over two decades of civil war with the Tamil Tigers ensued, leaving tens of thousands dead and hundreds of thousands displaced.

Personal political rivalry was one of the greatest obstacle to making peace with the Tigers. “For example Chandrika, voted to power in 1994 with 62.2 per cent of the vote, offered regional councils on federal lines in her August 2000 draft constitution which was torn and burnt in the Parliament by the UNP led by Ranil Wickremasinghe who, according to Chandrika, had agreed to more than 90 per cent of the contents and assured his support. Thus she failed to solve the ethnic crisis. Once again Ranil Wickremasinghe, voted to power on December 5, 2001 on a peace plank, signed a ceasefire agreement with Tamil Tiger rebels in February 2002. Fighting stopped and the country enjoyed a period of peace though the Tamil Tiger rebels exploited the situation to strengthen their military power provoking people in the south.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Sri Lanka Tourism (srilanka.travel), Government of Sri Lanka (www.gov.lk), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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