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Nonentities hold main parties to ransom

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The UNP has reason to celebrate the clinching of a deal with the CWC and the SLMC in the run up to the presidential election, where numbers do matter most. In the on-going war for percentages, both candidates are desperate for alliances, big or small. The smaller parties, whose support they manage to secure are flaunted as kingmakers while others are rejected as jetsam and flotsam. It is a case of political sour grapes.

In the past, it was the SLFP which was considered incapable of capturing power without coalescing with smaller parties. But today even the UNP which boasts of the biggest vote bank has had to settle for a lot of humble coalition pie. This has been the natural outcome of the Proportional Representation System (PR), which precludes stable governments.

Smaller parties are in fact nonentities, unless they manage to ride the two main parties piggyback. But, strangely, they are in a position to dictate terms to their hosts. The SLFP and the UNP like the proverbial Arab, have let the camel of smaller parties into their political tents.

The presidential race appears to have become a battle not so much between Mahinda and Ranil but between CWC-SLMC and JVP-JHU, if their rhetoric is anything to go by. The JVP, which has become the self-appointed tooth battalion of the SLFP vows to defeat Ranil. SLMC Leader Rauff Hakeem has said he has never bet on the wrong horse. (We thought his horses were nowhere when he was shown the door by the PA in 2001 and when he was taken for a ride by the UNP, which refused to accommodate a separate Muslim delegation in the peace talks.) Thondaman has said the CWC will go all out to ensure Ranil's victory. The JHU says it will leave no stone unturned to ensure Mahinda's win.

Now, in the on-going battle for supremacy, the self-styled kingmakers will have to deliver as promised. We hear them talking of their votes in terms of millions. Their real strength is, in the jargon of ad guys promoting lingerie, 'seldom seen but much admired.' Or, it is like a ghost in an abandoned house–seen by none but feared by all. If one adds the number of votes each party claims to have–supposing one has nothing else to do–one will get a total far in excess of the number of registered voters countrywide!

There is no way of quantifying and verifying their claims as they have not contested a presidential election on their own, except the JVP (which in 1999 polled a little over four per cent). So, it could be argued that their claims of numerical strength are myths wrapped in rhetoric.

In some quarters, the percentages of past parliamentary elections are being used to predict the results of the November 17 presidential election. It is nothing but naivete. Calculating as they are, they are so weak in psychology. Voting patterns vary from presidential elections to parliamentary polls. A comparison should be made between two elections of the same kind, mutatis mutandis.

To gauge how much small allies could deliver to their captive hosts, a somewhat reliable basis will be results of the last presidential election. In 1999, the UNP polled 42.7 per cent and the PA 51 per cent. (A sympathy vote accrued to the PA because of the abortive attempt on its candidate's life). So, the task before the 'kingmakers' supporting the UNP will be to push the 42.7 per cent beyond the magic 50 per cent mark. Those backing the SLFP will have to help either retain its 51 per cent or prevent if from sliding below 50 per cent. Now that they have vowed to make their 'horses' win, come what may, let them trot out no lame excuses in the event of failure, if they are the kingmakers that they claim to be.

However, it doesn't usually happen so, after elections. The defeat will be debited to the candidate concerned and his party and the matter forgotten. The kingmakers will wash their hands of the matter. And they will return subsequently at parliamentary elections with a longer list of demands. They will be on a winning streak so long as the PR system, which allows them to go places on minuscule percentages, remains.

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