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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2681

Machiavelli Mahinda

By Geoffrey Evarts

Just before the last Presidential election, a story doing the rounds was that an influential section of the senior SLFP leadership (led by then President Chandrika Kumaratunge) was strongly against then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse joining hands with the JVP because the fear that the JVP will eat into the traditional SLFP grassroots vote base over the long term. The story went that the JVP leadership themselves foresaw this same probability and gleefully rubbed their hands at the tasty prospect of expanding their vote base and eroding the SLFP vote base – one reason among several other advantages of supporting Mahinda Rajapakse’s Presidential candidacy.

However, Rajapakse proved the doubters’ fears unfounded once he came to power.

He started by blowing the JVP trumpet louder than the JVP itself - by being strongly anti imperialist, anti colonialist anti LTTE and – last but not least - anti divisionist. Once on the Presidents throne, Rajapakse began a military campaign against the LTTE which has been the envy and drawn the admiration of voters not only within the JVP, but also within the main opposition UNP voter base as well. A significant pro-voting point for the JVP is its’ ferociously “anti LTTE / pro military solution” stance to the Islands’ ethnic conflict. The JVP also has a substantial (and growing) Extremist Sinhala Buddhist Nationalist base (led by Wimal Weerawansa) which the Rajapakse strategy started winning the admiration of.

Taking another leaf out of the Marxist comrades’ book, Rajapakse thwarted attempts by Western powers to influence and meddle in Sri Lankan affairs. And he did it with a panache and style that was much better than if the JVP itself were in power – somewhat moderately than a radical JVP approach to it - Norway was systematically removed from its involvement in Sri Lankan affairs. The President slapped away Western attempts at shamefully throwing aid money in the face of Sri Lanka by aligning the Island nation with anti western powers such as China and Iran. Even big brother India was not spared being slighted when attempting to assert influence over the Governments’ military strategy. Rajapakse even went on to make strong statements to the effect that Sri Lanka would rather starve than accept donations that were made in order to influence the nation. These statements were sweet music to the ears of anti western anti-imperialist forces that were mainly supporting the JVP. Even the likes of the JHU’s Patali Champaka Ranawaka and Udaya Gammanipilla were rapturous with admiration over the Presidents stance.

The President also showed his anti-privatization policies in no uncertain and very public terms when he got into a row with Emirates over the management of National carrier Sri Lankan Air Lines.

Somawansa is not a Sinhala Nationalist?

This writer is of the opinion that the JVP – even though it is a “pro-military solution / pro-nationalist” party, it is not primarily an extremist Sinhala Buddhist party. However, its stance on the ethnic conflict has drawn the votes of extremist Sinhala Buddhists like flies to rotting meat. This has led to the Sinhala Buddhists’ influence expanding within the ranks of the red brothers. It seems that part of the JVP has tried to resist this growing influence. However, recent events within the JVP have shown that these attempts at resistance had been in vain. The Sinhala Buddhist/nationalist elements within the JVP are now undoubtedly on a path towards reinforcing the Rajapakse administration.

As the events in the last few years have shown, crippling the main opposition UNP had been a cake walk (or paan walk) for the Rajapakse team - helped in no uncertain terms by the apparent political mistakes of UNP leader Ranil Wickramasinghe. The JHU chose to join the Rajapakse bandwagon rather than try to influence the Government from without. However, negating the influence of the JVP was another more difficult matter entirely. Rajapakse’s pragmatism however, achieved just that. Negating the JVP.

If the country were to go into a General Election tomorrow, it is uncertain if the Government would retain power, or if the UNP would gain power (however the scales seem to be tilting in favour of the ruling coalition at the moment despite the soaring cost of living). But what is certain is that if the JVP were to contest alone, it would find that its vote base has considerably eroded since the ascension of President Mahinda Rajapakse.

In Niccolo Machiavelli’s book “The Prince”, Machiavelli theorizes that a hereditary Prince has an easier task of coming to power and maintaining it because the people are accustomed to him. A “new Prince” on the other hand has the much more difficult task of stabilizing his newfound power, while also building a structure and a power base that will endure.

It seems that Mahinda Rajapakse is doing just that. And succeeding.

- Asian Tribune -

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