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Sri Lanka’s big Facebook spenders

As campaigning draws to a close for Sri Lanka’s parliamentary elections, we take a look at the island’s biggest spenders on Facebook advertisements over the last several months.

Drawing on work by Sanjana Hattotuwa, we examine the hundreds of thousands of dollars that were spent on advertisements across the island and in the North-East, as recorded by Facebook. 

According to Facebook's Ad Library report, from May to August 2 alone, $478,545​ was spent on 26,710 advertisements.


All island expenditure

The island’s biggest spender overall was the Samagi Jana Balawegaya’s Sajith Premadasa, who stumped up $20,081 on 111 adverts. The vast majority of that spending - $18,029 - was on the Western Province, as amidst his split with the United National Party, Premadasa looks to secure votes around the capital Colombo. Indeed the Western Province saw a total of $250,964 spent on advertisements, more than 5 times that of the next closest province - the Central Province.

A surprising second on the list was the Sri Lankan Freedom Party’s Angajan Ramanathan, who is contesting in Jaffna. Ramanathan - a close Rajapaksa associate whose father is reported to have made billions of rupees through people smuggling - spent $14,502 on at least 259 Facebook advertisements.

His appearance on the list, eclipses that of any other Tamil politician, spending almost nine times more than any other candidate in the Northern province.

In fact, until August 1st, no other politician running in the North-East appeared in the top 60 spenders across the whole island, with the Tamil National Alliance’s M A Sumanthiran running 61st on the list having spent a total of $1,508 on 36 advertisements at the time.

A final day push by the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna's Kader Masthan in the Northern Province, however, saw him promoted him to 40th on the list.

The other big spenders of the list are dominated by mainly Sinhala politicians contesting in the constituencies across the south. 

See the full list all-island list of expenditure here.


Northern Province

In the Northern Province, a final day spending spree saw Masthan edge past Sumanthiran to take second place on the big spender list. Masthan spent $1,608 to Sumanthiran's $1,530. After Sumanthiran, there were appearances from other TNA candidates and several other southern-based parties in the top ten spenders.

However, the biggest spender was by far the SLFP's Ramanathan, who clocked up nine times more spending than Masthan, and more than the next 24 candidates combined.

A total of $36,528 was spent on Facebook advertising in the Province.

See below for a chart of the top 25 spenders in the province, from May until August 1, alongside the party they are affiliated with.

See the full table of expenditure in the Northern Province here.


Eastern Province

In the Eastern Province, the highest spender was the TNA’s Shanakiyan Rajaputhiran Rasamanickam.

His budget of $1,337, - spent on his ‘Shanakiyan Rajaputhiran Rasamanickam’ page - at first glance, would only have ranked him the 4th biggest spender if he was in the Northern Province.

However, Rasamanickam spread his spending across 4 different pages, including one entitled ‘Vision for Batticaloa 2030’. In total, he spent $2,764, which would make him the second-biggest spender in the North-East overall.

Rasamanickam, a former SLFP organiser for the Paddiruppu area, is known to have been close to the Rajapaksa regime and previously campaigned for paramilitary leader Pillaiyan. Earlier this year, extremist Sinhala Buddhist monk Sumanarathna, known for his frequently violent racist outbursts, described his close relationship with the now TNA candidate.

Closely matching his spending were the several SLPP candidates in the Province. Apart from those two parties, other candidate spent over $1,000, with many parties spending significantly less.

A total of $16,448 was spent in the Province.

See below for a chart of the top 25 spenders in the province, from May until August 1, alongside the party they are affiliated with.

See the full table of expenditure in the Eastern Province here.

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