By Dayan Jayatilleka –
1. As Prof Kumar David says, when there is a fire, one must not chase away anyone who can be enlisted to put out the fire. I’d add the caveat UNLESS it is the same person who started the fire, or is carrying a bucket of gasoline, or whose clothes are soaked with gasoline. So, it is with any slogan of uniting with the UNP while it still led by Ranil Wickremesinghe, in the struggle to defeat the repressive, ultranationalist-militarist Gotabaya Rajapaksa regime.
2. How did the SLFP and its successor party the SLPP, produce Presidents since 1994, and the UNP keep losing from 1994? How can there not be a causal connection? What is it that the UNP has in common for a quarter century, the very period in which it has never led the country? Surely it is the fact that it has been led by a single personality?
3. Therefore, isn’t it entirely obvious that as long as the UNP has that one leader, and that figure is on the platform, the other side, under whichever leader, or more accurately, whichever one of the Rajapaksas lead it, will win, even if briefly loses power as during the Yahapalanaya interlude?
4. When Ranasinghe Premadasa beat Sirimavo Bandaranaike, at the height of the UNP’s unpopularity, the only question he had to pose the electorate was to you really want to go back to the era of scarcities that you experienced under the Bandaranaike-led government?
5. However bad the Sri Lankan crisis gets, if Ranil Wickremesinghe who is toxic to the Sinhala Buddhist majority is part of the oppositional mix, the present government can prevail in an election, referendum or even a political battle.
6. So long as the polarization of forces can be depicted as the patriotic forces vs. the unpatriotic forces, the regime will always have an advantage. So long as Ranil Wickremesinghe is part of the picture it will be possible to polarize it along those lines at least in the eyes of a significant number of Sinhalese Buddhists.
7. If that advantage is to be removed, the opposition must present a platform that is pluralist, multiethnic, multireligious, multilingual but is decidedly patriotic and has a solid record on national security issues.
8. The global picture shows that ultranationalism can be defeated only by a mix which includes populism of a progressive sort. In the Global South the component of populism is more relevant and necessary.
9. Today the Opposition is led by a young centrist-populist democrat of patriotic-populist lineage. His party is chaired by the war-winning ex-army chief. The Opposition has repositioned itself in a manner that it can pick up on the socioeconomic issues generated by the economic crisis.
10. Only a saboteur or agent-provocateur who objectively serves the interests of the enemy (which is how Ho Chi Minh described Vietnam’s Trotskyists), can argue for the inclusion in any Opposition formation, of a figure who immediately helps the regime by triggering in the mass mind, memories of the Bond scam, the sellout to the Tigers (the CFA), the handover of Hambantota and the collusion in Geneva 2015.
11. Given the Rajapaksas and a Premadasa, the people will eventually choose the latter because he represents a socially caring and concerned alternative which is also patriotic and nationalist in a pluralist sense.
12. Given a Rajapaksa and any platform which includes Wickremasinghe, or any Premadasa-Wickremesinghe combination whatsoever, public opinion, and certain the vast social – and electoral—base that is the military, the veterans and their families, will hold their noses and opt for a Rajapaksa.
13. Or worse, they will back an outright military takeover.
14. The slogan of opposition unity must begin with understanding that not all Opposition elements are equal. The main force and the leading force of the opposition is the SJB led by Sajith Premadasa, who has repeatedly declared the social democratic character of his party’s project.
15. In any Opposition bloc, the key link must be between the SJB and the JVP, not the SJB and the UNP.
16. This in no way means that the UNP should be excluded; it only means that a party with at least a few seats (the JVP) and a trade union base, should be given greater priority than one which has zero seats (the UNP).
17. It also means that the UNP must dump Ranil/Ranilism which are the greatest assets of any Rajapaksa administration, especially the present ultranationalist one, and the greatest liability of the Opposition. They are magnets for Sinhala nationalist propaganda and fuel for the Sinhala nationalist cause.
18. The Opposition must first exorcise that which has kept it from acceptability as the country’s leader, before it moves forward.
19. The Opposition must move forwards and upwards, which it cannot do while being dragged backwards and downwards by Ranil Wickremesinghe.
20. Taking him along to the battlefield where the people must crown democracy with victory would be as appropriate as taking along a decomposing corpse when attending a wedding.