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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2730

Is the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna the only hope for Sri Lanka?

By Raj Gonsalkorale

Sri Lanka is suffering an acute paucity of political credibility and discipline, with both major political parties, the UNP and the SLFP being guilty of acts of gross misconduct, mismanagement and rank political opportunism over the years. The one party that gave hope to sections of the Sinhala Buddhist constituency, the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) has lost their credibility by joining the government and accepting a cabinet post and other perks and privileges, and displaying that they are no different or averse to the political opportunism shown by others. The facts that even the JHU monk members of Parliament have succumbed to temptation and joined the fray in the duty free car bonanza is evident of their duplicity, and this turn of events is bound to disappoint many people who supported them at the last election. In this muddied climate of opportunism, and self interest before national interest, the only party that appears to have maintained some degree of credibility and honesty, and consistency, is the Jathika Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP).

The JVP could have had the best cabinet posts if they so wished, had they decided to join the government. They could have had the plums with duty free car permits and even outdone the leader of the JHU who reportedly had a permit for Rs 23 Million and traded it for an undisclosed sum of money to a UNP businessman. The JHU leader is on record stating that the proceeds were always meant to augment party coffers and not for personal benefit. So far the JVP has resisted temptation and abided by their principles, and they alone stand tall in the Sri Lankan political landscape to give some hope to the future generations.

While details of the JVP stand on the burning national question, the ethnic conflict, is not well known or has not been given publicity, what is known is that they are firmly opposed to a Federal solution although they are in favour of devolution within a unitary State. It would benefit the country if the JVP articulated their own solution to this issue without simply opposing the stand taken by others. The public is entitled to know their stand. If they are to be taken as a serious contender for national office at a future point of time, it is important that they disclose their position on this issue. The JVP is viewed today mostly as a Sinhala chauvinistic party although they claim to be of Marxist orientation. They need to shed this image and demonstrate they are for pluralism and secularism if they are to be taken seriously as a future governing party as any solution to the national question has to be through a secular, pluralistic approach

In regard to economic management, the JVP is reportedly in favour of more and more indigenization of economic production and lessening the dependency on international lending agencies like the IMF and the World Bank. On the face of it, this is not a bad thing although the JVP must realize that we live in a global economy and that we do need international assistance for our development projects, and that such assistance sometimes is tied to our full partnership and cooperation with the global economic trends.

JVP leadership and participation in the Patriotic National Movement (PNM) and its “Deye Diviya” or Life of the Nation project demonstrates the alternative approach to national economic management suggested by the JVP. However, while this initiative is lauded, it is likely to just scratch the surface of the economy and the JVP will have to provide the electorate with alternate approaches that could address the bigger picture rather than the small print which might be popular at grass root levels, and turn voters towards them.
It could spell disaster for the country if a party that does not understand wider economic issues and has the capability and capacity to manage it gets elected through populist moves and flounders once elected.

The JVP has had a chequered history and many people do not trust them or take them kindly because of their violent history. To add to this mistrust, the JVP continues to hero worship their slain leader of the 1970s and 80s, Rohana Wijeweera, whose image amongst many people is that of a cold blooded killer, who orchestrated the killings of hundreds if not thousands of people, and who was responsible for generating a violent reprisal from the then UNP government resulting in thousands more deaths.

The insurrection of 1971, and the dark period of the late 1980s in particular evokes fear and misery in the minds of many people and while the JVP of today has embraced democracy, there is still some suspicion about their vision and long term plans considering they did embrace democracy when the jailed 1971 insurgents were released by the former President J R Jayewardena, only to renege on it and turn their back on democracy, preferring in its place, violent methods to take over the democratically elected government of country. The cold blooded killing of the very popular and charismatic political leader, actor turned politician, Mr Vijaya Kumaratunga, is also attributed to the JVP although his killers have never been brought to justice.

These historical aspects have, and are likely to continue to cast a shadow over the JVP although they have over the years managed to win the trust and confidence of many people and secure a substantial national vote.

Their constituency at present is Sinhala Buddhist in the main and they share this primarily with the SLFP, which obviously has a larger share of this constituency. An increase in the popularity of the JVP is bound to harm the SLFP more than the UNP. It is clear that the SLFP, in particular President Rajapaksa, realizes the threat posed by the JVP to his party, and the very hawkish stand taken by him as regards the war with the LTTE, is partly on account of the agenda set by the JVP in prosecuting such a war, a popular move within the Sinhala/Buddhist constituency.

The JVP has made inroads amongst the rank and file of the Armed Forces, and they have also made substantial inroads amongst the trade unions. This gathering strength places the JVP in a strong position to dictate government policy not just in regard to the war against the LTTE, but also in some key areas of economic activity like in the power and electricity industry, including the oil industry. The JVP has been greatly helped in their activities by the abject lethargy and total lack of counter measures and any kind of strategy or vision within the SLFP, and if not for the popularity of the President, the SLFP would have lost a substantial number of votes to the JVP.

Whereas the JVP is a well organised and disciplined political party, the SLFP has lost its organization capability and although few would acknowledge it, the defection of Mr Mangala Samaraweera, one of the ablest political organizers that the SLFP has had, is bound to add to the party’s woes. This is also a major worry for the JVP as well, as Mr Samaraweera is a potent force within the newly formed National Congress, and should some SLFP MPs cross over at the appropriate time, the JVP plans of getting closer to forming a government will have to be put on hold should a UNP/SLFP National Congress government comes into being as a result of change in numbers within the governing coalition.

The JVP naturally will not support the defeat of the current government as the formation of a National Congress government will be to their disadvantage and as they are better placed today to influence the Rajapaksa administration to follow their agenda, knowing full well that the popularity of the SLFP rests with the popularity of one person, Mahinda Rajapaksa. They will abandon the President if and when he loses his popularity and they will bide their time till then or till the President has completed his term (or terms) as President. The JVP has a long term vision unlike both the SLFP and the UNP which tends to take things for granted and assume that the electorate will support one of them no matter what. It will not be long before the third force, the JVP, comes into full bloom.

- Asian Tribune - -

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