By Hilmy Ahamed –
It is unfortunate that Sri Lankans have begun to vote on ethnic considerations. Politicians from minority communities, except those aligned to the TNA have continued to exploit the political opportunities and ensure their wellbeing–always. The nexus between the TNA and the United National Party can be labeled as “nothing better”. The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and the Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC) are branded as amongst the worst wheeler-dealers. Is the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) joining the race? The declaration of the next presidential or general elections would bring out the contest amongst the two main political alliances to bid for allegiance of these sectarian parties. The price, this time around, would be indeed staggering, especially with the cash rich UNFPA with its desperate need to continue and an opposition that seems to have been revitalized, with their encouraging performance in Uva. Ministerial positions, diplomatic posting and chairmanship of various state entities would supplement the cash rewards for these pole-vaulters. Obviously, the prosperous and powerful incumbent administration would have a clear advantage, but can these politicians deliver the votes of their people to a government that has treated the minorities with contempt. This is even more baffling especially in a volatile political environment where there is talk of regime change.
The political nuptial between Rishard Bathiudeen, (All Ceylon Muslim Congress, ACMC) and Rauf Hakeem, (Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, SLMC) in the Uva provincial elections is an interesting experiment that turned out to be disastrous for the duo. Political observers have commented that the incumbent government had engineered their alliance to ensure that the decisive Muslim vote that would have gone to the opposition due of the hate campaign by the Bodu Bala Sena would be diverted. The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), that had won the confidence and admiration of a large number of Muslims in the western and southern provincial elections, was the victim of this alliance between the SLMC and ACMC.
The question that minorities need to ask is, whether these sectarian parties have delivered anything to their communities? The lot, in the plantation sector has had absolutely no opportunity to keep pace with the rest of the country in their march towards prosperity. The up-country youth, who may not be interested in being labourers in the plantation sector, have flown out to Colombo and other urban centers to work as salesmen and labourers in vegetable shops and grocery stores. They are usually compelled to work at least 15 hours a day, but they seem to be happy that they are not estate labourers anymore – progress indeed.
The Muslim community, in recent times has come under extreme pressure and is discriminated in education, employment and business with tacit support from the political leadership of the country. What has the Muslim politicians or Muslim political parties done to address the continuous threat to the Muslims by extremist forces?
The contribution of the Muslims to the economy and nation dates back to over a thousand years. Prior to Muslim communal politics that was introduced by Hon. A H M Ashraff,, the Muslim political leaders were part of the mainstream parties and many of them did not even need the Muslim vote to get elected. Today, the onslaught on the minorities by the Bodu Bala Sena, Sinhala Ravaya and Ravana Balaya has affected the fragile peace that existed between the Muslims and Buddhists. These extremist forces continue to intimidate with impunity, the Christian and Muslim community’s right to worship and practice their religion. There is absolute break down of law and order, when it comes to the hate campaign carried out by the saffron robed extremists.
It is time that the government of His Excellency, Mahinda Rajapaksa addressed this menace, for political reasons or otherwise and secure the confidence of the minorities. Failure on their part would ensure that sectarian politics would prosper, threating the peace and wellbeing of all communities.
Most observers comment that the incumbent government has lost the Tamil, Muslim and Christian votes. It is also claimed that they are beginning to lose the moderate Sinhala Buddhist votes. This may or may not be a valid argument in a presidential election, but this would certainly be a decisive factor in the next general elections. Should communities vote on a sectarian basis, the threats and further polarization would certainly lead to conflict and possible violence.
Further, with a split in the Sinhala Buddhist vote between the UPFA and UNP, the minority alliances would certainly become dominant players in future governments, creating further hatred. The Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) has announced their entry in to politics to save Buddhism at the next general elections,. The Sri Lankan Tamil political alliance in Sri Lanka along with their partners are certain of their dominance in the North and some parts of the East. If the Muslims vote on communal considerations and form a Muslim National Alliance across the country, they would probably be guaranteed of over 20 parliamentary representations. The CWC and other political representatives in the plantation sector could form their alliance too. Is this what we need for us to be the miracle of Asia?