By Kumar David –
This column will argue two points; a) democrats, leftists and liberals should use both first and second preferences in the manner suggested below in the presidential election, and b) the second preference should be used to ensure that current front runner Gota’s bid is foiled. I will close with a brief para suggesting that it will serve the personal interests of two powerful men to jointly push 20A or something akin, and this will also be in the public interest.
Gota, a probable dictator and scourge of Tamils and Muslims, is embroiled in a slew of cases at home where he is indicted for financial corruption. Two legal actions are also in process in the USA alleging he was party to a murder and was a master architect of torture and human rights abuse. There can’t be such voluminous clouds of smoke without some fire. Hence there is justification for a united ‘anyone-but-Gota’ stand, the Sirisena as common-candidate farce notwithstanding.
We may not know for a while who the UNP/ DNF/UNF candidate will be. Even the name and form of the Alliance has still to be finalised. It will be one of Ranil/Sajith/Karu. Pathetic, but none of them constitutes a mortal danger to democracy as Gota does. The argument that Gota though he is a Terminator will unite the country and bring economic development is a fallacy. He is unlikely to succeed on either count; running a national economy is far different from cleaning up Colombo City and there is no dazzling meritocracy clustering around him. The saffron robbed in his wake, casting about for a new Hitler, chill the bones of the minorities. And he is strongly opposed to devolution.
My suggestion is this: In a three-cornered contest between Gota, a DNFer and the JVP (say Anura or Nalinda) the case is open and shut. No question, first preference the JVP candidate. Not that the JVP is without baggage; it has still to come to terms with its disastrous adventures of 1971 and 1989-90, it lacks a sincere programme for minorities as it is still fudging its chauvinist past, and its economics is half-baked. But it is not stuffed with rogues, it’s the most credible of the Southern parties, it showed intelligence in managing the constitutional bedlam created by our disoriented top-clown, and it is the most respected party in the South, even among those who may not vote for it.
But there’s a conundrum. We must find a way to long-term left-democratic mobilisation that can be sustained well beyond this election cycle and at the same time we must ensure Gota’s defeat. Both are vital. So, give first preference to the left-democratic-JVP candidate whose name we will learn at the 18 August rally, and give second preference to Gota’s DNF opponent. Eureka QED!
This serves two objectives. First, a left-democratic candidate is acknowledged, second Gota is foiled. Imagine this stylised scenario with three candidates: On first-preferences say Gota polls 47%, the DNFer 43% and JVP 10%. No winner, so second-preferences are tallied. If everyone who voted JVP refrained from indicating a second preference, Gota will be elected on the second count with 52.2% (47/90), but had all JVP voters indicated the DNF as their second preference Gota will be defeated by a 47% to 53%. Therefore, there is nothing lost in making the JVP the first choice. If Gota grabs over 50% first preferences, then what one does with one’s first choice doesn’t matter. If not, the tallying of second preference is crucial. I am sure that this time it will go to a tallying of second preference votes. (If Sajith is the nominee his father’s massacre of 60,000 youth in 1989-91 may discourage JVPers from adopting my second-preference strategy).
Ceylon Tamils, Muslims and Upcountry Tamils (let’s add Catholics to round off) add to about 30% of the population. If these minorities vote as a block against any candidate, as happened to MR in 2015, he is finished. But will a goodly portion of Tamils (both variants) and Muslims abstain this time? I believe the poll in Tamil and Muslim areas in 2015 was large, in the vicinity of 80%; were this to fall to say 65%, Gota will benefit. My fear is abstentions, not that any Tamil or Muslim will vote for Gota. None but the stupidest.
Do Muslims bear a reasonable grudge against the UNP-part of the yahapalana government? Well yes, the PM and the UNP failed to take a firm stand to defend them when Moor-haters and mad-monks were on the rampage after the Easter Sunday bomb blasts. This is my view though I cannot say how the community as a whole will judge these opportunists. But then, all Lanka’s politicians, except for the Left in its gilded age, are born-again free-loaders; perhaps the Muslim community is more forgiving then dastardly opportunists deserve.
Some Tamils may abstain because there is not much the UNP-part of yahapalana did to meet their pleas. An overstatement may be, but let me press the point. Tamils were promised constitutional changes on issues that mattered – devolution, scope for regional economic improvement etc. This did not come to fruition. The racist-stuffed SLPP, the no better SLFP and Sirisena were the obstacles, but saffron-scared UNP MPs and leaders did not fight for minority friendly measures. Would a harder push have produced the requisite 2/3 majority? Maybe not, but that’s another side of the story.
Are there legitimate grounds for Tamils and Muslims to abstain in numbers? I think there are grounds for Tamils to be fed-up – but which government hasn’t played them for suckers? There are grounds for Muslims to feel let down. But to abstain would be unwise. Gota is a proven terminator of Tamils and political opponents, and no friend of Muslims. A future President Gota will be a menace to minorities, subaltern classes and political opponents. Far seeing Tamils, Muslims, Catholics and all Sinhalese not in thraldom to the Rajapaksa mystique must say NO to the risk of a Gota presidency.
The prospect of a wide alignment behind a third candidate looks good. All over the world this seems to be the era of the third-force. I was pleased to hear, (only a rumour) that there is discussion among Tamils in the North that it would be better to go with a third-force than to tail behind the UNP/DNF candidate. This is sensible if at the same time the second preference is used to block Gota. A Tamil swing behind the JVP will motivate it to discard the last vestiges of its anti-Tamil flavour. I have also smelt a whiff of a rumour that the JHU is mulling over similar thoughts. This is all good news (or good rumour) but then it becomes important to have a strong vote-pulling candidate. I have no problem with Anura or Nalinda, both are fine. Any all-round vote-puller will be fine.
The JVP led alliance hopes to poll a million votes; to do this it has to raise its steady 6.5% to 11% – not impossible. It is famed for spectacular mobilisations; with the backing of left and popular entities the ground can be prepared build a force to resist the attack on democratic rights which will follow the election of Gota or a DNFer.
A Sirisena farce again!
“Kumar, isn’t voting for some chap to keep Gota out similar to what you got us to do last time; elect a creep to deny MR a third-term? Aren’t you making as ass of yourself again?” you may say. I beg you to hear me out while I explain why last time was not a mistake at all.
There is no denying that I was the initiator of the Single-Issue Common-Candidate (SI-CC) idea; that strategy was correct and achieved its objective. Its failure was subjective – the man himself. Single Issue meant: ‘Stop free-fall to Dictatorship!’ The backdrop was MR’s grab for a third term and thereafter, autocracy. The slogan ‘Either Mahinda goes, or it will be Dictatorship’ stands vindicated. SI coiled together three strands; defeat MR, reimpose term limits, repeal the Executive Presidency. 19A achieved the first two but the third remains half done. There has been some restoration of democratic breathing spaces, oversight bodies (Missing Persons, Right to Info, Constitutional Council, Police, Elections) have been established and there is less fear and more freedom of speech and press.
Expectation that the corrupt would be punished flopped. Somewhere in the nexus between MS, MR and RW it fizzled out. Punishment of rogues was not on the Single-Issue agenda but a hoped-for bonus that did not materialise. A second hoped for bonus not originally in SI (the Single Issue was thwarting tyranny) was a brand-new constitution; that too wilted. To sum up; two-thirds of SI-fundamentals were achieved, but no luck with the one-third and the two bonuses
It is the Common Candidate part of SI-CC that has been an unmitigated flop. The need for a CC was acknowledgement of MR’s strength. He had won a war, had charisma, his machine could bend and abuse every organ of state power and a mountain of money stood behind him. Sans a joint candidate behind whom everyone stood, MR could not have been ousted. The best name was Sobitha Thero but there were restraints on a monk.
There is no denying the selected CC is gaga. But had we seen warning signs of personality disorder could we have rejected him after Ranil and Chandrika made their move? I think not; the ‘remove MR’ imperative was overriding. I am not mincing my words about how unsuitable the creep has been, but I make bold to repeat, had I known he was bonkers I would not have changed my mind. That would have implied allowing MR a third term and annulling the essential project. Yes, I entered into a Mephistophelean contract that I could not have voided. SI firmly took priority over CC. Anyone who says otherwise has not grasped the crux of the Single-Issue. The parallel with my ‘stop-Gota’ case in this column today is clear; you gotta do what you gotta do.
Here’s the last para I promised. Mahinda is not happy to be eclipsed by Gota and Ranil will be miserable if UNP nomination goes to Sajith. Hence there is a sound selfish motive for MR and RW to combine their forces to secure a 2/3-rd parliamentary majority and push through 20A which trims the president down to a ceremonial ninny and establishes the primacy of parliament and PM. Don’t be surprised, stranger things have happened!