Psychology trumps Politics in the Sri Lankan Electoral Process
Posted on June 19th, 2017

R Chandrasoma

In Sri Lanka, the political behaviour of voters is largely governed by concerns rooted in their social identity. The latter – that which we call social identity – is a mind-set that is in place long before the challenge of political choice. This observation may seem counter-intuitive in the sense that the very foundation of democratic elections is the choice made by the voters on the basis of proffered programs that demand realistic decision-making. This is indeed the ‘theory’ but the ‘praxis’ is very different. It is not the program that matters but the attitude of the voter to the individuals or party (or parties) that vie for his allegiance. This ‘attitude’ is rooted in ‘psychologisms’ – factors that have little to do with rational political choice.  Let us be more specific. Why does X vote for the UNP? Has X made a reasoned choice based on a comparative study of programs and promises? Is not political ‘stances’ largely an intuitive matter? The built-up rejection of MR is a case in point – where emotional opprobrium is harnessed to secure political ends. The vote against  this successful leader was based on what we adverted to earlier – psychologisms – not politics.

The naïve belief that a comparison of the political programmes of the contending parties is prior to the act of voting is a widespread myth.  The reality is that X votes for the UNP for reasons that are extra-political such as class affiliation and a distaste for the supposed nativisms of the masses. At the recent parliamentary elections young people in the metropolis voted overwhelmingly for the UNP. The naïve explanation is that there was a mass movement to the right among the urban elite. The real reason had little to do with politics – it was the widely-held belief that the UNP under RW represented modernity while MR’s party was the epitome of an old-fashioned system of strong-man politics. That MR ushered in a period of extraordinary political stability and economic well-being had little impact as a resentful mindset based on upbringing and class triumphed over objective assessment of the facts that truly matter.

On this subject of choice-making, the Nobel Prize-Winning psychologist Kahaneman has made a signal contribution. Most thinking (and decision-making) is ‘fast’ in the sense that raw intuitions act as our guide. ‘Slow Thinking’ is a recent evolutionary development and is best seen in the argumentation of mathematics, logic and science. The salient point is that in all matters of practical life, decisions are made not on the basis of a deep (or logical) analysis of the facts but by ‘spot on’ thinking  that have raw intuitions or ‘psychologisms’ as their foundation. All this bodes ill for the claim of authenticity in future elections. Let us give an example – the Tamil population of Sri Lanka will vote for the party that is least inimical to the separatist agenda that they ardently espouse. Their voting will violate the principle of free choice as the psychology of separatism rules out meaningful participation in free and fair elections in a unified state. The same is true –more or less – with regard to Muslim voters who place their religious identity as the keystone of whatever political affiliation they espouse. Few will disagree that such prior biases leads to a gross corruption of the foundations of participatory democracy.

5 Responses to “Psychology trumps Politics in the Sri Lankan Electoral Process”

  1. Ananda-USA Says:

    The SAD FACT is that while Tamils, Muslims and Christians vote along communal lines, the majority Sinhala Buddhist population is split right down the middle!

    Therefore, we are is unable to marshall our forces to preserve our inalienable rights as the majority community of Sri Lanka that DEFINES the VERY CHARACTER of our Motherland!

    We Sinhala Buddhists, imbued with, and often misled by, the TOLERANT MESSAGE of Buddhism, are our own WORST ENEMIES!

    Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala understood this INSTINCTIVELY nearly a hundred years ago. We Sinhala Buddhists would DO WELL to refresh our memories of his landmark vision and struggle to REVIVE, PRESERVE and DEFEND the Sinhala Buddhist ETHOS at a IMMENSELY DIFFICULT TIME time when British policies defined the state, and British policies reduced the Sinhala Buddhists to dangerous undesireable BARBARIANS!

    Today, in the Yamapalanaya, we have a PARA-GATHI Neo-Colonial PUPPET Government that serves Sri Lanka’s EXTERNAL & INTERNAL enemies just as the British Colonial Government did from 1815 to 1948!

    It is time for the Sinhala Buddhists to CAST OFF ALL ILLUSIONS and COME TOGETHER to OUST this PARA-GATHI Yamapalanaya from power and RESTORE a PATRIOTIC Government to our Motherland!

  2. Lorenzo Says:

    So should it be CLEAR now DEMO-CRAZY cannot save SL?

    Or as Einstein said should we CONTINUE to do the SAME THING but expect a DIFFERENT OUTCOME?

  3. Dilrook Says:

    Voters are always right. It is politicians’ fault for not gauging their sentiment correctly. Politicians and diapers must be changed regularly for the same reason!

    I have successfully predicted presidential election outcome to the correct percentage and parliamentary election party seats to +/- 5 seats since 2004. I have used similar logic (as the article) based on insights derived from studying all previous national election data (since 1947). There is a clear voting pattern driven by ethnicity and electorate/district. This changes very little (only by floating voters and deliberate absentee voters of a follow-up election). Floating voters’ choice can be estimated by public sentiment which can be gauged with help from “feelers” in a few key districts. These are brutally honest people living there (and trustworthy) who gauge the sentiment with reference to a reference point (e.g. compared to 2005 election).

    This is the voting pattern in all countries not just Sri Lanka. For instance, in USA, voting is heavily influenced by ethnicity. So is in India, UK, etc. This does not mean 100% of a particular ethnicity will vote for Party A. It means a large percentage (say 70%) of a particular ethnicity will definitely vote for Party A. The rest can be divided into likely voters to Party A, truly floating voters and deliberate absentees at an election.

    This pattern in Sri Lanka has been there since 1947 so politicians and their advisors cannot plead ignorance. Wasting 90% (or anything more than 25%) of borrowed funds on the north and east was a sure recipe for electoral wipe out as I told in 2013 in these columns.

    Based on current sentiment and historical patterns going into 2019 presidential election, it is obvious a candidate backed by the JO will not get over 15% of minority votes. In order to win, he/she need over 61% of Sinhala votes.

    He/she must get JVP on board (all new presidents were backed by the JVP). If JVP contest the presidential election, there is little chance of winning the presidential election. And they must take up a stand on hard demands of Sinhalas. Otherwise, the ruling party will field a third force (JHU) with hard demands to split the Sinhala vote. It is foolish to blame Sinhala voters for the split. Impotency of the challenger to blame. Meeting Modi at night while denouncing Modi in daytime type work will only lose both camps. Trying to justify such action loses more votes.

  4. Ananda-USA Says:

    Today it is CRYSTAL CLEAR to the most uninformed Sinhala Buddhist how he/she should vote to secure the interests of our community in Sri Lanka.

    If general elections are held today, the MR/UPFA/JO faction would win a landslide victory, irrespective of how the minoritis vote.

  5. Dilrook Says:


    In a general election (parliamentary election) MR’s party can win most number of seats though I doubt they can win more than 113 seats. Minority votes will go to TNA, SLMC, CWC and ACMC. Minorities are mostly irrelevant. CWC, SLMC and ACMC will join the winner.

    For this reason, the next national election will be presidential followed by a parliamentary election. (Unless the president has lost his marbles which is also possible). Minorities are very influential in a presidential election.

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