By Laksiri Fernando –
The JVP candidate, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, supported by the National People’s Power (NPP), undoubtedly is well ahead of all other candidates in terms of ideas, principles and policies presented before the people at this election. Those are not just election promises or bogus gestures like what the other two main candidates have competitively put forward.
It would be completely unfortunate, in that context, if AKD receives just the third place in this competition. Therefore those who feel and believe that AKD has presented the best political program for the country should unreservedly support and vote for him first, before thinking of the ‘lesser evil’ between the two main candidates.
Perhaps this election is not about the immediate. But about the future.
Going in Circles!
Because of anti-democratic deviations of the Rajapaksa government, the people changed it in 2015. Because of terrible mistakes of the Yahapalana government, some people might be thinking of going back to a Rajapaksa regime again; while others are thinking of preventing such an eventuality under hopefully a new leadership. Whatever the means we think and feel in such a way, we are going in circles. What the country misses in the process is a long term plan and a strategy to get the country out of the present terrible mess.
I have never been supportive of the JVP before. The main reason being that the JVP movement was associated with violence in the past. My attitude of course became softened in recent years, but I was not confident openly supporting its candidate until I listened and read what AKD and the JVP/NPP have put forward at this election. This is quite pathbreaking.
As an independent person, my support of course is conditional. I still have a reservation on what they use as the English title for their broader alliance, the National People’s Power, while in Sinhala they might mean the National People’s Drive or Force (Jathika Jana Balawegaya). The reason for my reservation I believe is clear.
Principles and Policies
If there is any possibility of eliminating or curtailing corruption, waste and misuse of public funds in this country, that is undoubtedly through the pressure and involvement of the JVP in public and policy administration. They are undoubtedly clean and exemplary. In addition to their integrity, they appear to have policies in eliminating corruption, including open theft and fraud of public funds. The record of the UNP, the SLFP and now the SLPP are absolutely tainted and horrible in this respect.
A new political culture and a new leadership is necessary, as the JVP emphasizes to eliminate corruption. Young men and women, and new thinking people, should rally around the JVP/NPP in thousands for this task in the coming future. This election may be only a harbinger.
This is not the first time that the JVP is contesting a presidential election. However this is the first time, to my knowledge, it is contesting as a broader front consisting of 28 organizations of political parties, civil society organizations, intellectuals, artists and various professionals as the National People’s Power.
AKD in his various speeches has emphasized Sri Lanka’s development predicament in the following manner, highlighting who have been responsible.
“Throughout last 71 years the country was ruled by the SLFP and UNP governments. When we got independence, we were second in Asia. The per capita income in Japan was US$ 90. Ours was US$ 89. All other countries in Asia were below us. Since then the production was broken down. Agriculture was devastated. Exports dwindled, but imports increased. The trade balance widened. At present, the debt rate is 83% of the GNP. Sri Lanka’s debt to the world is Rs. 12,00,0000 million. This debt has been heaped on the people.”
We are of course yet to see the final Election Manifesto that the JVP/NPP would propose to uplift the country and the people from this economic quagmire. However, the main contours have been articulated with the emphasis on (1) a modernized agriculture, (2) the promotion of export industries, (3) the state sector taking over the responsibilities for transport and public services, (4) the public sector and private sector partnership and (5) strengthening of the education and higher education in order to utilize the manpower and human resources for development.
Of course the people are at the center of such an economic strategy addressing poverty, economic inequalities and uneven development between the urban and the rural, and different regions and provinces. The JVP/NPP are not visualizing a closed economy. Their perspectives are fundamentally modern.
A New Vision?
Although the final election manifesto is not yet out, the JVP/NPP have launched policies for several sectors, inviting experts and committed activists in those areas such as education, health, transport, environment, national unity, women activities, culture and agriculture. There have been several policy meetings and conferences held in this respect.
The JVP undoubtedly is the least racist or communalist in ethnic or religious terms. However they may yet to make proper inroads in the North and the East. As socialist idealists, they may naturally underestimate nationalist drives of ethnic minorities. However on the questions of ethnic and religious equality and justice, they are unequivocally committed and dedicated. Understandably, they naturally give more emphasis on class and economic issues than on other issues. A dialogue may be need in this respect.
I was impressed by the way Anura Kumara Dissanayake answered particularly the question of ‘rule of law’ at the common platform for presidential candidates, organized by the March 12 Movement at the Sugathadasa Stadium on 5 October. The common criticism of the practice of ‘rule of law’ is to highlight the two standards adopted for those who ‘with-power’ and those who ‘without-power.’
While of course admitting that unacceptable discrepancy, AKD also highlighted much more fundamental discrepancy that serves ‘one rule of law to the rich’ and ‘another discriminatory rule of law to the poor.’ This is something many middle class theoreticians usually miss. Likewise, for many political debates and issues he has brought new thinking and new vision during the presidential campaign.
In summary and conclusion, the importance of the JVP/NPP candidacy for the presidential election undoubtedly has been to elevate the political debate and campaign to a higher policy and programmatic level. This is the only way forward for the country. Perhaps this is the first time (first presidential election) where such a quality debate has taken place. It is hoped that the other two main candidates and their cohorts also follow suit (hopefully!).
Of course there are so many other ‘Vikalpa’ (alternative) candidates who are supposedly at the same wave length, although they have not been able to articulate their policies and principles in such a clarity and precision. Even at this stage, what they can do is to join the NPP or come to an understanding and support the candidacy of AKD. There is no point in posing too many ‘Vikalpa’ to the status quo.
This election can be a harbinger. The next parliamentary election can be more purposeful ground to put forward the JVP/NPP program before the people. This should lead to the next. Anyway, the Parliament is more important than a ‘one-man-show.’ At this election, defeating the most evil or most dangerous candidate is also important by casting people’s second preference. There is no contradiction. Second preference is a bonus to the people at this election. Casting that would not harm AKD’s exemplary candidacy or the JVP/NPP program.