The Rajpal Abeynayake Column                     By Rajpal Abeynayake  

From a vantage point: numbers guts and end-games
HAMBANTHOTA: This is as good a town as any to end a series of articles in this column on the 2005 Presidential poll. For one, it's a place that seems to be split almost obscenely down the middle. As many men and women say they are for Wickremesinghe, as they are for Rajapakse. That's like everyman's electorate, anywhere. Good to retain journalistic objectivity and whatnot.

I've been asking the same question from Galle down to Tangalle and then to Hambanthota. "Who is gong to win, and are you going to vote for the winner?"

A rice-mill owner proceeding towards his daily swig of arrack in a urban pub in Matara says this will be like "getting the Dalada Maligawa -- the temple of the tooth -- down to the south of the country.''

For a moment I'm flummoxed. I ask him what the Buddha's tooth relic has got to do with a vulgar Presidential election. He grins and says "if Rajapakse wins, it will be the first time we southerners will be able to say our neighbour is the President.''

That kind of almost incestuous (oops, nepotism is the right word isn't it?) support for Rajapakse is quite the thing here. But, you'd be surprised how many of them in this southern cauldron also don't give a damn for such regional vanities.

A waiter in Tangalle is offended when I assume that his area is for Rajapakse, because it is quite cheek by jowl with Weeraketiya the PM's pocket burrow. He walks out when I say "everybody here is for Rajapakse, right?'' Later, I overhear him complaining to a fellow waiter grumpily that he couldn't possibly tell me the truth when I sounded so cocksure myself.

The truth I learn from quite a bit of the others as well, is that almost 50 per cent of folks in this the Prime Minister's pocket burrow are for the other bloke. Most of that discontent is tsunami related. Others feel that Sajith Premadasa has worked while the Prime Minister has been busy minding the country.

If everybody in the south, the deep-south and the rest of the country have made up their minds about which of these men they will vote for, isn't it a miracle of modern-day ignorance that we still have no idea whatsoever as to which candidate will take those oaths and attempt to govern us from Thursday onwards?

Damned right we can all wait for Thursday and stay glued to our seats, but then what are journalists and newspapers for?? In the absence of any proper polling that can be called respectable even by a bookmaker, the only alchemy that we have to go by is a combination of number crunching, gut instinct and vox populi.

So here goes:
Here are the relevant vital statistics of the last significant poll held in this country, the general election of 2004 April:

UPFA 45.6 per cent of the vote./ UNF (UNP + CWC) 37.8 percent/ Illankai Tamil Arasu Katchi 6.8 percent / National heritage Party JHU 6.0 percent /Up-Country People's Front 5 percent /EPDP: 0.3 percent .
If UNP candidate Wickremesinghe gets half of the North East (Tamil Arasu Katchi/TNA) vote from what the UP got last time, he can add 3.4 per cent to his 37.8 per cent from last time. (41.2)

It's fairly well assumed that most of the JHU vote from last time was from the traditionally UNP vote bank. Assuming that there is some disenchantment with the monks after some of their electoral posturing -- and the defection to the UNP of the telegenic Uduwe Dhammaloka Thero, a further 3 percent from last time's 6 p.c for the JHU can be counted for Wickremesinghe.

That leaves Wickremesinghe with 37.8 + 3.4+ 3, which will be 44.2. The SLMC's 2 p.c can also be added for the UNP even though it's is on a give or take a few percentage points basis.

That brings Wickremesinghe upto 46.2 p.c.
This country's swing vote can yo-yo from an acceptable 8 per cent to a violent 15 to 18 per cent, at the odd election.

But assuming that the swing towards Wickremesinghe is only 5 per cent from the traditional southern vote base, it means that Wickremesinghe would have won this election even though barely at 51.2 percent. If the swing in the heartland is 10 per cent however, he would win by a landslide 54 per cent or thereabouts. If the swing is over 15 per cent in the traditional Sinhala vote base his victory will be phenomenal - almost nudging towards the Presidential best of Chandrika's 62.28 per cent in November 1994.

(Ranil Wickremesinghe's vital statistics were re-worked here from the cumulative votes of the last general election for the simple reason it's easier to make an assessment that way -- so please hold the critique, if you have any, that this analysis is Wickremesinghe centered.)

If the vox populi in Mr Rajapakse's pocket burrow seems to be almost 50 / 50 -- allright Rajapakse has the palpable edge there let us say -- the swing towards Wickremesinghe there will be around 13 per cent at least.

If that's the swing in Rajapakse area, the swing towards the UNP in the rest of the country -- particularly the urban swathe, will be the same or more, by a clinical estimation.

That would theoretically at least give Wickremesinghe a 55 and counting (55+) victory at this election, provided that the North East vote is not disturbed, disrupted or otherwise messed up. All of which also has to be qualified by saying that nothing untoward can happen from now until the last vote is counted, such as an attempted assassination attempt or something outlandish that the LTTE can notoriously get itself upto.

Some people say mathematical gut-readings - the fuzzy logic procedure adopted above - - is for clinically safe individual analysts. They are of the view that Rajapakse is the runaway favourite as he is getting the overwhelming majority of the majority community's preference, which will be something extraordinary and unimaginable for human minds that work on the basis of analyzing a microcosm of the electorate.

I don't know about that. Sitting here in cool Tangalle, watching the boats bobbing around in this excruciatingly scenic Tangalle Bay, I feel light headed. They almost bob to the sway of the people's verdicts here which bounce between Wickremesinghe and Rajapakse alternately.
I will go and spoil that vote myself -- how to choose between an alien and an obscurantist, no??

Hang the numbers. My beer-gut says Wickremesinghe will probably win. The vagueness there is my escape clause, but have a closer look at those above numbers and see if they mean something to you?

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