By Kumar David –
Choosing between urgent immediacy and long-term perspectives
If it is certain that Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR) will not be the next Prime Minister, it makes sense to use ones vote to craft a meaningful opposition instead of increasing the Ranil Wickremesinghe (RW) UNF-GG parliamentary majority. A strong JVP serves two objectives: (a) an opposition that can keep the next government on a tight leash (the debauched UPFA opposition can serve no such purpose); (b) test out a dish that may mature into an alternative government one day. Yes, I can hear voices in protest: “Kumar, you are crazy, you are playing with fire! How can one be sure till the votes are counted that the UPFA has been defeated? How can we take a chance? We must pool every vote to defeat MR; we can think of the JVP afterwards, that is after the immediate peril has receded”.
I grant the dilemma but have a simple and I think plausible solution. Vote JVP in every district where it has a good chance of securing a seat; in other places vote for the UNF-GG. (The North and East are a different story). This can be called tactical voting adjusted for the PR system. A corollary is that one must vote JVP in Colombo District and push two into parliament – Anura Kumara and Lal Kantha. There are six other districts where the JVP will secure one or two seats – Vijitha Herath and Bimal Ratnayake (Gampaha), Nihal Galapathi in Hambantota, Sunil Handunneththi (Matara), Samantha Vidyaratne (Monaragala) and possibly Vasantha Samarasinghe (Anuradhapura). I must also make special mention of my politically principled and thoroughly decent friend Dr Nalinda Jayatissa in Kalutara.
Getting say 12 to 15 JVPers (including Appointed MPs) into parliament is not a waste of anti-MR votes; but on the contrary it will help bury the rent-seeking Paksa family and its crony mafia. However, there is one possible source of confusion in the minds of tactical voters which the JVP must dispel by announcing that it will never allow MR to become PM and that the alternative is “less worse!”
Let me explain. I refuse to make predictions but qualitatively there is rather a fine balance. On 8 January Sirisena (MS) polled 62 lakhs which included the UNP mass base vote which RW with cleverly managed to keep in line for the Swan; MR polled 58 lakhs. The minorities to a man and JVP voters backed Sirisena. That is the problem! In this election about 4 lakhs of Jaffna and Vannie Tamils will vote for their own parties (the Muslims are within the UNF-GG umbrella) and say 3 lakhs of JVP voters will also go their own way. If other things remain the same the UNF-GG vote falls to 55 lakhs.
Of course other things have not remained unchanged. MR cannot use state machinery (vehicles, police and government servants) and money, corruption has been exposed and most serious, the SLFP is in a spin. A few lakhs of UPFA voters will keep away and a few lakhs switch allegiance. MR himself now personally engages in explicit communal racial rabble rousing at the hustings; however, I am unable to judge its effectiveness. All this number counting, of course, is speculative and may be off the mark; the point is that it is wise to appreciate that the outcome may be finely balanced.
What is easier to predict is that RW is likely to be the next PM. I am confident that the MR-camp will not secure an absolute majority (113 seats). In that is case President Sirisena has the discretion to ask RW to form a government on the “He is the person most likely to secure support in parliament” principle. This is a decision within his prerogative if the UPFA fails to get a majority. RW will then go ahead and the TNA will give the President a wink. The JVP can do itself a favour and win over marginal voters worried about “wasting” their vote by reassuring the anti-MR public that it (the JVP) will “reluctantly” facilitate the choice of RW over MR since the latter is the “more worse” alternative.
[In parenthesis let me deal with a tangential matter. If the UPFA secures more seats than the UNF-GG alone, say 90-plus UPFA to 90-minus UNF-GG, and if RW forms a government its legitimacy will be contested. “We won the election, they formed the government! What mockery! It’s a Tamil plot!” The anger may extend to burn, loot and mayhem. Therefore a RW government, based on plurality, needs to win at least one seat more than the UPFA (say 90-plus UNF-GG to 90-minus UPFA 80) for moral legitimacy. For that the UNF-GG needs to make gains in Kegalle, Kalutara and Anuradhapura Districts where Sirisena polled 4.8%, 6.2% and 8.2%, respectively, less than MR in January 2015. In general the UNF-GG must secure a +5% swing in Sinhalese areas].
The JVP grows up
I now return to the theme of this essay, the JVP option. Allow me to say good things before I balance it out with critical remarks. Anura Kumara has matured into an able leader; he comes thoroughly prepared, his points are well argued and correctly presented and his delivery is sober. With the old left leaders (NM, Colvin, Pieter and Bernard) no longer heard in the Chamber, AKD and his colleagues are beginning to fill the void. The existing slew of UPFA politicos are the dregs; it is unimaginable that NM, Dr Wicks and their contemporaries, or Anura Kumara and his comrades would debase themselves and call an opponent a pakaya in parliament. JVP parliamentarians are a cut above UPFA garbage and in most cases higher quality than the UNP’s ranks – there are of course some 10 or 20 quality people in the UNP parliamentary group as well.
Let us not judge the world by Westminster behavioural standards alone; what of the JVP as a national political entity. It is the most serious minded and far thinking of all parties currently represented in parliament. I have three reasons for arriving at this judgement. First the JVP seems to have undertaken an evaluation of some mistakes of its past – and they were gross – recognised them and moved away. It has issued no confession or apology but to judge from its current behaviour it seems to have recognised some, if not many of its former defects. Only a serious party can review and learn from past mistakes. See how badly the Dead-Left has failed, or indeed regressed, in this respect.
The second reason is that the JVP seems to be struggling to evolve an economic strategy that takes into account current global realities. After the end of the Soviet Union and a new model of mixed economic growth became apparent in China, which of us socialists is not grappling with the complexities of globalisation and with both the crises and the survival of world capitalism? The JVP manifesto is an honest attempt to cut a way through this maze. Superficially it may read like RW’s 60-month plan and the UPFA’s load of platitudes (these days economic strategy, verbally, all over the developing world read like photocopies of each other). Still I sense an underlying seriousness; The JVP grasps the need for a mixed economy, creating opportunities for the middle classes, and guaranteeing protection for the masses. Crucially it sees that all this must be embedded in strong directive principles. Economists call it a dirigisme approach. The JVP has not worked through the details in this first shot, but it is thinking seriously.
My third point is controversial; I see the JVP inching in a progressive direction on the national question. It has a long way to go; it is unwilling to accept the right of Tamil people to govern themselves in their traditional homelands. Nobody expects the JVP ever to adopt a Marxist position on the right of nations to self-determination; it is too rooted in its past to escape. It even gets loose bowels at the mention of devolution and the word federalism gives it diarrhoea. Nevertheless a recent statement was vouched in interesting language. I quote from a web-report of about 10 days ago.
JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva said that the TNA had failed to meet the expectations of the Tamils in the North and now it is attempting to use the communal issue to win votes. He said the TNA election manifesto will go in favour of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as it speaks of a Federal solution and devolution of powers. He said hard-line Sinhalese are opposed to a Federal solution and Mahinda Rajapaksa is using this to win votes.
This is a damned sight better than the hot chauvinism years ago. The emphasis is not that devolution or federalism are bad per se, but that the TNA is playing into the hands of Sinhala chauvinists. I don’t mind at all if these JVP chaps move towards a reasonable position on the national question without admitting that they were all wrong in the past; something is better than nothing. After all it is only a person of Lenin’s calibre, for whom educating party and the class was bounden duty, that could openly discuss mistakes, why the party erred, and how to avoid them in future. It is not reasonable to judge the JVP by this yardstick.
The big lacuna
Where the JVP has failed badly is in managing its relationship with other left parties. Let me give the most recent washout. In recent months alternative focal points emerged in the LSSP and the CP rejecting MR and proposing support for MS. Many leading figures were expelled from both parties without discussion of the issues. I have a relationship with them and have been assured that they have the support of the majority in both parties, but bureaucracy and structure are manipulated to prevent them gaining control of the formal machinery. In this context they made overtures to the JVP about a unified left but the JVP leadership gave them short shrift in no uncertain terms. This is the latest example; from long ago the JVP thought itself a cut above others and showed no interest in dialogue with anyone else on the left. Its hot but short-lived love affairs were with Chandrika, MR and Sarath Fonseka.
It is hard to believe but true that the leadership is so short-sighted. Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain and HDP in Turkey, all multi-party left alliances, are examples lost on the JVP. There is no way the JVP will ever form a left government in Lanka except as leader of a left alliance. Unfortunately, as always, it learns its lessons very late.