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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2959

How to Win Friends and Influence People, JVP Style: They Engaged the SLFP and UNP and then enraged them

Sunday Discourse by Philip Fernando in Los Angeles

JVP has the unenviable task of increasing its voter pool over three hundred percent in three years—prior to the next election in order to cause their support climb from the current 12 to at least 40 percent, and the strength in Parliament from 38 to 113 MPs. So their every action is under the microscope: everyone is trying to dissect the inner workings of the JVP. The conclusions are as follows: JVP is on a path towards winning friends and influencing people at an unprecedented scale. Their short-term tactics are increasingly short-term said one critic and hence, they are viewed suspiciously. Surrender is not an option for them, but it happens occasionally. Their long-term goals are straight forward enough, that is to reject both SLFP and UNP political philosophies as totally unacceptable to Sri Lanka. Parliamentary Leader Wimal Weerawansa made that clear during his hour long speech ending the Budget debate.

Their tactics baffle some critics, especially after what happened in Parliament during the budget debate. They engaged the UNP and then enraged them with their Budget voting patter. They coalesced with the SLFP and then de-coalesced.

The hurdle faced by them is made harder due to the mathematical quagmire caused by the fragmented nature of the Sri Lankan electorate. The voters are in four main camps: SLFP, UNP, JVP and the Tamil block. There is also an additional dynamic which is the ever shifting independent vote. Scales will tip in any winning direction depending on how the categories mentioned above express their alliance at a particular given day.

Politics after all is about acquisition of power and a quest for its retention, said a critic soon after the budget. JVP could not acquire power immediately by causing the government to lose the budget. It would only complicate matters as the President could introduce a new budget or dissolve Parliament. Such an eventuality will make President Rajapaksa a key player while the country went through the exercise of getting a new budget or a new government.

What JVP did was to show that Rajapaksa government was weak by voting against it during the second reading. While JVP’s handling of the situation may be called good short-term tactics, it caused some problems for them, namely: their tactics went beyond the look of a budgetary episode. Their abstention caused UNP led conspiracy to trigger political chaos fail, they said. But that helped the SLFP to strengthen its position on its militarily popular position.

JVP made the people debate how weak the government was. Ranil Wickremesinghe assumed that the JVP would repeat their action during the third reading, misreading JVP’s long-term goals. That was a costly mistake for Ranil because he jumped the gun and was talking of a trump card the UNP would play at the third reading (actually Rukman Senanayake was the spokesman for the UNP who said that) No trump card was played as there was no trump card to be played. Anura Bandaranaike got burnt in the process.

JVP tactics at the budget debate showed many aspects of the current political scenario: the country showed an unmistakably clear mandate that the top priority for them was ending the war in the north, no not the budgetary duties of a government, secondly, the unusual position of the JVP expressing the desire not to let the government fall, also gave the opposite view that the government would not last too long anyway, a position they may not like too much on hind site and finally, the UNP with no sure strategy within earshot of anything, continued their quest for defeating the government with or without a trump card. That leaves the SLFP with a Hobson’s choice: to pursue a vigorous development option and several mega projects are now under way in the Eastern and southern provinces-a long-term goal aimed at the elections.

The JVP’s grass-root approach to politics has been proven to yield fantastic results. Their motivational methods leave all others way behind. That campaigning strategy has to jive with their Parliamentary position as a slick Opposition party. Playing second fiddle to the UNP –due to the number of JVP members in the House- causes a tactical problem. Weerawansa made it clear that they were never going to coalesce with the UNP but they are perceived as working with the UNP due to parliamentary procedures that call for collective action.

Being aggressively agitational and being superbly parliamentary call for a tight rope walk. It was reported during in 1948 D S Senanayake had remarked “it is better for us that they are inside and not outside Parliament”. Perhaps the left took that too seriously, they acted like true parliamentarians. There are not too many of them inside parliament today.

The traditional left had suffered immensely due to this dichotomy as the Communist Party, LSSP and Philip Gunawardene’s MEP locked horns all the time about tactics. The minor tremors reportedly heard within the JVP signify some degree of unrest about the subtle art of winning friends and influencing people, it is worthwhile watching how things shape up.

I must mention two other developments taking place as I write. The UNP seemed to be viewing its recent budgetary debacle more positively. The UNP announced that it will establish branches in Las Vegas and Los Angeles in the USA. Secretary, Tissa Attanayake, MP and Assistant Secretary Dr. Jayalath Jayawardena, MP were scheduled to be in Las Vegas and Los Angeles to launch new offices in those cities. Apparently, they were amazed at the Diaspora activity generated by the budget debate and the number of web sites functioning in USA.

While the UNP which is traditionally a parliamentary party is wooing the people through Sunday pola meetings, the JVP, traditionally grass-root by definition is starting to look more like parliamentarians: reversal in roles played. Then again, politics looks topsy-turvy on many occasions.

Philip Fernando is the former Deputy Editor of the Sunday Observer

- Asian Tribune -

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