The bomb that shattered Ranil’s chances

Last week we discussed the ‘Proclamation and Preliminary Planning’ on the fourth presidential election held on December 21, 1999. Nominations were accepted on November 16, CBK and RW were nominated by Governing PA and UNP respectively, while Nandana Gunathilake contested from JVP along with few others.

It was the height of Northern war. Kumaratunga wanted to continue action against LTTE, while her opponent Wickremesinghe campaigned under the theme “direct negotiations with Prabhakaran.” Copies of a letter signed by President Kumaratunga were delivered by mail in envelopes carrying the seal of Presidential Secretary, which stated, “I deeply appreciate the contributions you and your colleagues have made over a long period of time, both as individuals and as members of professional bodies, towards ensuring our nation’s medium and long-term prosperity. And I share with you common concerns regarding peace and freedom from tyranny in the future.”

Minority vote

The minority, especially the Tamil’s who voted en masse for Kumaratunga in 1994, was dwindling fast. Most of them had shifted their loyalty to Ranil Wickremesinghe as a mark of protest against the PA which promised a great deal and achieved little for them.

Many Tamils in Colombo were displeased with the government due to harassment at checkpoints. The CWC leader, Minister Arumugam Thondaman at discussion on campaign told CBK that they were not represented in the anti-harassment committee; and it was decided to include MP Yogarajah in it. Upcountry People’s Front Leader P. Chandrasekaran had left and joined the UNP. Chnadrasekeran issuing a statement on his decision to quit government said there are many things in common between minorities and the UNP and they have got a written assurance from Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP that their demands would be met once he was elected. We represent the estate population; we take decisions in their interest. We demanded from CBK that the up country youth who are in custody be released and wanted Tamil be made the official language in the estate sector. The estate sector will never believe her; she has lost our support. CBK dependent on the SLMC leader M. H. M. Ashraff to woo Muslim vote. In the East SLMC campaigned for Kumaratunga while SLMC parliamentarians in Colombo worked for her too. The SLMC actively supported CBK, on condition that the election should be free and fair. He believed that there was a greater chance of her getting re-elected. However, Minister Ashraff admitted that the political climate prevailed was not conducive for her to get a clear majority, with high CoL and government’s poor performance since CBK took over in 1994.

Election violence

The Centre for Monitoring Election Violence said on December 18 it had recorded more than 500 cases of violence of which 267 being classified as ‘serious incidents’ with five deaths recorded. Two deaths were from Bible where PA supporters had fired at a UNP rally. Minister Mangala Samaraweera responded regretting the incident and said five had been arrested.

The government and the UNP were spending Rs. 120,000 an hour for a helicopter ride during the election campaign, but queries were being raised as to whether President is using Air Force helicopters in her official capacity or as presidential candidate; in fact spokesperson for JVP Wimal Weerawansa told a journalist the President was taking undue benefits of her position.

Brother and sister clashes

UNP heavyweight Anura Bandaranaike warned he would personally destroy the cut-outs of his sister, the PA’s presidential candidate, if one more Ranil’s cut-out is damaged. He was reacting to the destruction of UNP Presidential candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe’s cut-out at Araliya Uyana, in Horogolla, Attanagalle.

He in fact erected a new and huge cut-out of his Royal buddy Wickremesinghe with powerful illumination and placed it right in front of Walauwwa gardens facing the Colombo-Kandy road.

Election misconduct is not a new occurrence in the Sri Lankan political landscape. Both the UNP and the SLFP had been accused of rigging and unprofessional conduct. But the Wayamba Polls a few months before was marred with rigging, impersonation and other malpractices that took place crudely and blatantly similar to 1982 Referundum.

The PA boasted that they were more prepared than the opposition, but it appeared, in spite of their governmental strength, the UNP grassroots campaign had been stronger. The military catastrophe in Wanni was a blessing in disguise for the UNP which was campaigning for unconditional talks with Prabhakaran.

The Town Hall Attack

Three days before the election, Kumaratunga was nearly killed by a Tamil Tiger assassination attempt at her final rally. It was around 9.20 p.m.; President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was leaving the premises of the UPFA final rally at Town Hall grounds: she was walking towards her car when BBC correspondent approached her with an inquiry. As she turned back to respond the suspected LTTE suicide bomber got atop a railing and exploded herself killing 26 including the Colombo Police chief Senior Deputy Inspector General T. N. de Silva and seriously injuring nearly 100 people. CBK survived the assassination bid but lost her right eye.

Prior to this, a grenade attack at the UNP rally in Ja-ela around 8.45 p.m. left eight persons dead; the victims included former Army Chief of Staff Major-General [retd.] Lucky Algama. Three ministers including Justice Minister G. L. Peiris, Kingsley Wickramaratne and Alavi Moulana who followed President also received injuries. Professor Peiris was seen on a pool of blood on the ground. Prof. Peiris’ security officers had carried the minister to hospital where he underwent surgery on his arm.

Presidential Secretary Balapatabendi appeared on state TV saying the president was appealing for calm and the government moved promptly to declare curfew in Colombo and Gampaha districts.

Condoling with the families of the dead and wishing President Kumaratunga and the injured a speedy recovery was UNP candidate Ranil Wickremesinghe. At UNP’s Ja-ela rally, party Chairman Karu Jayasuriya and Anura Bandaranaike had just spoken and left for the party’s main rally at Colombo Central, which was called off early following the two bomb attacks.

Tears and Sympathy

Appearing on TV on the eve of 21st election with bandages around the injured eye, CBK broke down emotionally causing a severe impact on the electorate. People, especially the fairer sex became emotional too. The senior voters remembered the mother, a weeping Sirimavo, when she appeared on stage at meetings following the assassination of her husband and pleaded votes for the SLFP, 40 years ago at March 1960 Parliamentary elections. Emotions have a major influence on the decisions we make, rather than logic and rationality we choose to vote for a candidate, guided purely by emotions, traditions or party loyalties.


How you choose to deal with emotions make all the difference; unless we understand how to control emotions— emotions will control us. It’s important to be aware of how our emotional reactivity can change our perceptions.

At the eighth Presidential election held on December 21st Electoral participation was 73.31%. Incumbent President, who lost her eye but narrowly escaped death was re-elected for a second term in spite of her poor performance. She received 4,312,157 votes, a clear 51.12 % of votes cast. Thus Ranil Wickremesinghe missed an opportunity to become the President receiving only 3,602,748 votes [42.71 %] mainly due to an emotionally motivated electorate casting their vote for the candidate victimized by brutal LTTE.

As responsible voters if we had harnessed emotions and applied them to responsibilities; then CBK’s pathetic poor performance and a stagnated economy would have ended six years before.


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