By Kumar David –
The mood a propos Western and Southern Provincial elections is not disinterest; it is mild indecision and gentle bemusement. I am not referring to anti-government folks only, though most of my associates belong in this category. Though UPFA supporters are lackadaisical now, this may change; Op-Eds in newspapers say preparations are afoot to bus thousands into Colombo to unleash frenzied xenophobia if the UNHRC enacts a regime-hostile resolution. This incitement is probably a prelude to presidential and parliamentary elections. A soda-bottle outburst is likely, depending on spending on advertising (top firms have been hired), food, goodies and transport. There is enough graft and drug loot in the kitty to bankroll it. If sanctions bite later in the year, things will first become ugly, then pain will turn people against the government. Whether the government accepts the Geneva resolution and strangles it in implementation, or rejects it outright, Lanka is headed for a year of tumult and turmoil.
Even pro-government folk now talk anti-government. Die hard anti-UNP leftists, paradoxically, are concerned that Fonseka is doing damage to the UNP– I will explain anon. Hard-leftists face a choice between Mano Ganesan, the NSSP-USP comedy, and the JVP. The UPFA will win in the South, and in the Western Province win by a reduced margin. The votes polled by parties that secured at least one seat in 2009 are as follows:
Western Province (April 2009)
UPFA: 1.5 million votes (65%) and 66 seats (+2 bonus)
UNP: 690,000 votes (30%) and 30 seats
JVP: 56,000 votes (2.4%) and 3 seats
SLMC: 49,000 votes (2.15) and 2 seats
DUA: 12,000 votes (0.5%) and 1 seat
Registered voters 3.8 million; valid votes 2.3 million.
Southern Province (October 2009)
UPFA: 800, 000 votes (68%) and 36 seats (+2 bonus)
UNP: 290,000 votes (25%) and 14 seats
JVP: 72,000 votes (6%) and 3 seats
Registered voters 1.8 million; valid votes 1.2 million.
Three trends must be watched: (a) How much, if at all, will be the government’s share of the vote decline? (b) How will Fonseka fare vis-à-vis the UNP? (c) How will the JVP fare after its leadership face lift? Anything startling in these indicators is a signal of a national shift that will affect parliamentary and presidential elections.
A bemused electorate
Even pro government folk who will eventually vote for the UPFA are vocal in their criticisms of rampant corruption, abuse of power and price inflation; no one has a good word for the UPFA but “Denna vena kawruth nahane” (there is no one else to vote for). But don’t take this remark literally; unpack it for a complex of attitudes such as the perennial desire to benefit from the winning side, war reminiscences, and the mayhem inside the UNP. This time it is a reluctant UPFA voter, accustomed to corruption and abuse; a public that is itself corrupt. Still, the ignorant will line up in sufficient numbers to give the UPFA victory in both provinces. But I expect its vote to decline by several percentage points in the Western Province; 2014 is not 2009 and inciting Sinhala-Buddhists into a post-Geneva frenzy will not yield the same dividends as war victory did. Furthermore, intelligent people know the lunatic fringe is bringing sanctions nearer and hardship will follow; they don’t like it.
I sent a questionnaire to fifteen people and some responses were surprising. A reaction that I did not anticipate from an anti-Rajapakse, non-UNP lady (Sinhala speaking left intellectual) was: “Fonseka is not eating into the UPFA vote bank; on the contrary he is eroding the UNP vote; this is bad because it helps the UPFA”. Then she added, “I will vote UNP this time to counter this trend”. Preferring the UNP, its internal shipwreck notwithstanding, over Fonseka is understandable; but why go so far as to vote for it? Yes, Fonseka has no liberal-democratic credentials, he is personally obnoxious and a chauvinist at heart. The lady’s thought processes are interesting as a backlash against Fonseka in the Sinhalese intelligentsia. The loser in this ‘vote UNP to restrain Fonseka’ ploy is going to be the JVP since these voters detest the Rajapakses and would not have given the UPFA a second glance.
The JVP and the anti-corruption drive
Lanka needs to take inspiration from India and form an Anti-Corruption Movement (ACM). Graft in India is on a gigantic scale unimaginable in Lanka, but the fight against graft has also snowballed into a great movement. In Lanka the educated and the plebeian, men in robes and men of the cloth, the fishmonger and newspaperman, all commend the idea, but no one took the initiative till recently. True the JVP is fighting an uphill battle, organisations like Transparency International are putting up rearguard action, and a few individuals have stood in courts, parliament or in public to denounce scandalous cases of large-scale graft via privatisation of public property. A JVP allied group known as Voice on Anti-Corruption” is active. Still existing anti-corruption mobilisation in Lanka is inadequate. The task is to build public consciousness and encourage awareness of the need for an organised drive.
Recently a significant number of old style liberals and leftists began to stir. A start-up is visible and I had the good fortune to be present at a preliminary brain-storming. Old liberals and old leftists (like this one) are one-foot-in-the-grave, so a contingent of swabasha speaking young people, if they could be persuaded to take up the challenge, would be perfect. Enter the JVP. It has a cadre of the right age group, is relatively uncorrupted by greed for money and position, and right now it is the leading force in anti-corruption parliamentary and court actions and public campaigns. If the JVP does well in the provincial elections it will be a salutary shot in the arm for strengthening an anti-corruption drive. To do well, it will have to poll more than in 2009 and in the region of 8%.
Is the JVP the best bet?
It is not a matter of seeking perfection; it never is in any election anywhere. Realism is to make the right choice between available alternatives. Unfortunately the UPFA, the worst option, is certain to win in the South and the likely winner in the West. Undeterred by this, the point is to make the right choice. Now practicality dictates that one discards the UNP since it is hopelessly divided within and against itself. If it defeats the UPFA I will send it a thank-you card, but not my vote before that.
Anyone with a brain should shun Fonseka; he has an erratic personality, no programme this time, and he stands for nothing ideologically. The UNP, at least in theory, denotes liberal-democracy, albeit on its last legs. Why on earth should anyone vote for Fonseka now? If the purpose is to register a non-leftist anti-government vote, the UNP is a less dicey option. Sans Fonseka and the UNP, we are left with just three other options, ignoring scores of minuscule names on the ballot slip best ignored except for special interests – Muslims and the SLMC, Upcountry Tamils and the erratic and unprincipled CWC. Even then, Tamils who feel motivated to vote for a Tamil party would be better off picking Mano Ganesan and ignoring the CWC.
The three left and leftish options are the NSSP-UPFA alliance, Mano Genesan’s DPP and the JVP. The Bahu-Siritunga alliance will at best poll a few thousand votes because the cock-up Bahu made of the Gampaha nomination list has erased credibility. There was a point in the thesis that the small-left contested not to win, but to keep the good policies before the public. But if you are decimated time and gain with 0.1% of the vote, you actually harm the credibility of the principles you advocate. The right move would have been not to contest, but instead extended support to Mano Ganesan and/or the JVP.
This brings me to the bottom line; Mano Ganesan’s DPP or the JVP? The JVP is lead by Lal Kantha in the Western Province, and I think by Nalin Hewage in the South. If Tamils choose Mano’s party, that’s fine. But others will want a national profile, then the JVP is the only sensible option. Clearly the JVP is the best choice available at these two provincial elections.
Though I say the JVP is the best available, it does not mean that the idiocy of 1971 and 1989-90, or the wrongheaded approach to the national question, should be forgotten or forgiven. The party has not undertaken a credible process of internal discussion and rectification to overcome these defects. Lenin at his best (Left Wing Communism an Infantile Disorder – 1920) had this to say:
“A political party’s attitude towards its own mistakes is one of the most important and surest ways of judging how earnest the party is and how it fulfils in practice its obligations towards its class and the working people. Frankly acknowledging a mistake, ascertaining the reasons for it, analysing the conditions that have led up to it, and thrashing out the means of its rectification — that is the hallmark of a serious party; that is how it should perform its duties, and how it should educate and train its class, and then the masses”.
The JVP has not undertaken this process of internal reflection; not embarked on a thorough discussion of its defects, nor “thrashed out the means of their rectification”. For this reason, while acknowledging the JVP as the best among the options at these PC elections, there is no need to offer extended promises beyond this stage. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.