This week marks the final stretch of the presidential campaign that has gripped the country for months. As the respective candidates make the final push ahead of Saturday’s vote, there is much speculation doing the rounds on how voters will decide on the next president of Sri Lanka.
Clearly the two frontrunners are Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa and New Democratic Front (DNF) presidential candidate Sajith Premadasa. The inclusion of National People’s Power (NPP) candidate Anura Kumara Dissanayake and National People’s Movement (NPM) candidate Mahesh Senanayake has prompted fierce speculation of what may happen if no candidate gets 50% and one vote at the election and a second count of preferential votes is held.
The core of the debate is on what will happen if people move away from the traditional vote given to one candidate and instead decides to give the three preferential votes to three different candidates. Political number crunchers fear such a step would give Rajapaksa an unintended lead and instead have proposed a “pragmatic” vote of simply marking all three preferential votes for Premadasa.
They argue that the moderate and minority voters can back Dissanayake or Senanayake at the General Election, which is likely to be held early next year but appeal for more binary thinking on 16 November. Their point is that building a third political force is more important at a general election to counter decisions taken by the winning party, and that it would be an essential part of protecting the constitution and fighting corruption. Voting for a third candidate at the Presidential Election, they contend, will not really make a difference as neither Dissanayake nor Senanayake will win the presidency.
Others argue that the current Government cannot be let off the hook completely for its multiple failures and transgressions, especially after the horrific Easter Sunday attacks and therefore marking a “protest vote” by giving one or more preferential votes to non-frontrunner candidates is justified. This desire to both protect Sri Lanka’s democracy but also hold the present Government accountable has the moderate voters caught in an impossible bind. Whichever decision is made, it will be one that will not rest easy on their conscience.
Barring a handful of incidents, polling is to be held at 12,845 booths where 15.9 million people will be eligible to vote. In the event, one of the candidates receives fifty percent plus one vote of the total vote, the results, according to the National Elections Commission, are likely to be declared by noon on Sunday. If it does not materialise, the announcement could be delayed by as many as two days.
More than 40,000 police officers are being deployed on polls duty and there are likely to be some fiery speeches as campaigning winds up on Wednesday. Forty-eight hours afterwards millions of voters will decide on Sri Lanka’s future. In doing so they will not just shape the country for the next five years but will open a new chapter in its collective history.