16 June, 2024

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JVP’s Popularity & Ranil’s IMF Prop

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

There is a new dichotomy in the Sri Lankan political formation. The JVP appears to be outrunning others in the political race by quite a stretch. At the same time, Ranil Wickremesinghe is consolidating his position as the country’s only competent economic manager. His clever-by-half political forays have backfired spectacularly. Every one of them. Yet, he has established himself as a veritable one-man show, and not without some justification he is flaunting the IMF deal as his unique gift to the nation, which no other Sri Lankan could have delivered. So, we have Ranil Wickremesinghe at one end, standing tall and lonely on Sri Lanka’s economic dung hill. 

At the other end is the JVP, or its large tent outfit, the NPP, and rising apparently inexorably in political popularity. There is no electoral test to confirm this, but there is more than plausible evidence from the public opinion polling conducted by the Institute of Health Policy, the Sri Lankan strand of a global network which seems to be politically nondescript but statistically rigorous. The paradox at this end, however, is that the JVP does not seem too willing to engage vigorously with the IMF-economic cudgel that President Wickremesinghe is furiously wielding. Therein is the unprecedented dichotomy, between economic stewardship and political aspirations. Few seem to be taking note of this dichotomy, and even those who are railing against the IMF deal seem reluctant to acknowledge the JVP’s rising popularity.  

The JVP’s Rise

Based on a General Election Voting Intention Survey it conducted in February 2023, the Institute of Health Policy (IHP) has indicated that nationally the support for NPP/JVP has surged in the last few months to 43% from 30%, 13% over the SJB which seems to have stagnated at 30%. The SLPP and the UNP are way behind at 4%, while the SLFP is even further down at 2%. The IHP summary also indicates that if not for a gap in voter enthusiasm among potential JVP voters, the lead would be 15% (44% to 29%), both leads well over the margin of error of 2-5%. In a first-past-the-post parliamentary election, such a lead could translate to a landslide victory. 

A slightly different picture emerges from the provincial breakdown of the voting intentions. The JVP leads in four provinces – the Western Province, the Southern Province, Northwestern Province and the North Central Province. In the former two, the JVP’s lead is not clearcut, registering 36% in the Western Province to the SJB’s 31% and the UNP’s 10%, and 31% in the Southern Province to the SJB’s 22% and the SLPP’s 14%%. In the Northwestern and North Central provinces, the JVP is clearly ahead with 41% and 49%, respectively, to the SJB’s 23% and 14%. 

The SJB has a clear lead in the Central and the Eastern provinces, registering 39% and 28%, respectively, to the JVP’s 22% and 21%. The UNP fares somewhat respectably in both provinces with 11% and 9% support. In the Sabaragamuwa and Uva provinces, the SJB (at 28%) has a slight edge over the JVP (at 27% and 25%), with the SLPP registering 16% in Sabaragamuwa, and both the UNP and the SLPP at 12% in Uva. The Northern Province stands alone as always, the ITAK leading with 41%, followed by the SJB (26%), the JVP (10%), and the UNP (8%). The ITAK registers only 12% in the Eastern Province, which arguably undercuts its insistence on a merger of the Northern and Eastern provinces. 

The political landscape is changing quite rapidly and significantly with the JVP and the SJB emerging as the clear front runners, relegating the UNP and the SLPP to alternate between distant third and fourth places. The SLFP seems to be all toast now, except its lone elected MP from Jaffna is able to win again. Although off the radar at the national level, the Muslim and Upcountry Tamil minority parties will come into reckoning in a general election. Unfortunately, the survey includes no breakdown by administrative districts which would have shown the locational presence of the minority parties. Notably, the margin of error is higher in the four outer provinces – Eastern (6-11%), Northern (8-19%), North Central (4-10%) and Uva (5-10%) provinces.  

It is now a certainty that there will be no local government elections on April 25. So, there is no early opportunity for testing the IHP’s survey results and the JVP’s projected strength. Unless President Wickremesinghe chooses to be nice and not a New Year scrooge, there may not be any election in the foreseeable future. But there will be periodical surveys and enough grist of numbers for the political mills to grind. And the JVP will likely keep rising in popularity at the expense of others. 

The SJB seems to have lost the plot and there is no clear way for it to get competitive with the JVP on its own steam. An unlikely route for the SJB to shore up its fortunes would be to bring about a merger with the UNP. If the two were join forces and with reinforcements from the Muslim and Upcountry Tamil parties, the SJB and the UNP could potentially outperform the JVP by some margin in five provinces (Western, Southern, Central, Eastern and Uva), and be competitive with the ITAK in the north. As I noted, such a route is unlikely because of the presidential fly in the political ointment.     

Populism and Chauvinism

But these calculations and possibilities should not detract from the impressive strides that the JVP seems to have made over the last few months. As I noted, I have seen little commentary from the mainstream commentators or editorialists on what is now a JVP phenomenon, but there have been interventions from the Left. Writing compellingly, Ramindu Perera of the Open University of Sri Lanka, calls the NPP (JVP) factor the “rise of Left-wing populism in Sri Lanka.” He identifies two elements in the NPP’s populist narrative; one, “the left-leaning character of the socio-economic policies the NPP pursues,” and two, the NPP’s commitment “to strive for ‘national unity’ based on equality among national communities.” 

On the latter commitment, Ramindu Perera makes a disarmingly candid admission that one hardly, rather ever, would hear from political commentators in the south especially with regard to Sri Lanka’s so called national parties, the now moribund UNP and the SLFP. Perera acknowledges that “the NPP is a predominantly Sinhala formation. Claiming otherwise would be an exaggeration. Reaching out to minority communities is a challenge the NPP would face in the future. To that extent, they might have to reflect on their strategies, and think about new ways of establishing links with minorities.” Well said; and nothing more needs to be said at this time. And failure to follow these precepts will in no time turn what begins as left-wing populism into a reconditioned vehicle for crass old chauvinism.   

In a friendly rejoinder to Ramindu Perera, Dayan Jayatilleka would seem to emphasize the “structural absence” in the JVP-NPP (and formerly the JVP, as well as  the LTTE) of what he calls “a structural feature of Left Populism,” namely, eschewing the monopoly of a single political party and striving for the broad unity of left-leaning political factions and currents. The unity that is being emphasized is not mere electoral unity, or united front. But in the context of Sri Lanka, and more so now than ever before, the unity of political forces cannot avoid, and must necessarily emphasize electoral unity. 

Ironically, however, there are not too many parties and organizations left in today’s Sri Lanka for forging principled alliances or coalitions. For the JVP-NPP, buoyed by polling numbers, there is little or no incentive to join with anybody for electoral or other purposes. At the same time, the JVP and the NPP cannot ignore the criticisms that they are essentially Tweedledum and Tweedledee in Sri Lankan politics, and must genuinely try to broaden their unity and their platform to be palpably more inclusive. 

Operationally for contesting elections, this would mean expanding the candidate pool to manifest both socioeconomic inclusion and professional competence. The local elections, if and when they come, could be a trial run in candidate selection for the general election. All of this is water yet to flow under the bridge. What is flowing or trickling now is the extended facility from the IMF. Where does the JVP-NPP stand on the question of the IMF? How will it handle the political games of President Wickremesinghe who is still trying garner political mileage out of economic management?     

The IMF Bogey

Given the level of popularity that the President and the SLPP-UNP government are at, it is difficult to see any political gains accruing to them from the IMF agreement by itself, or in combination with small but quick improvements in the economy. The risk for the country is whether by continuing his penchant for political machinations and game-playing, President Wickremesinghe will undermine his own efforts to revive the economy. It is a paradox that the President enjoys not inconsiderable national goodwill and support for his efforts to revive the economy, but has no backing or constituency for his political undertakings. The paradox has become sustainable because of the presidential system, but it can be broken easily if the President overplays his hand for political advantages.       

In one step forward, the President is reported to have rebuffed the unseemly efforts of DIG Deshabandu Tennakoon and his sponsors to have him appointed as the successor to the current IGP Chandana Wickramaratna. Then, last Wednesday, taking many back steps backward, the President issued an Extraordinary Gazette Order for the Armed Forces to maintain public order throughout the country. This is certainly an overkill and is clearly intended to put down emerging protests without giving them time to dig in. This move is not going to please anyone in parliament other than Rajapaksas and their SLPP cohorts. The President has also said that he intends to get the approval of parliament for the IMF Agreement even though there is no formal need for it. But after his Emergency Gazette, he is not likely to get the support of Opposition MPs for the IMF deal. So, it will pass only with the support of the Rajapaksa-SLPP contingent. That is hardly the picture of unity that the President always insists that he wants to paint for the country.

And those who oppose the IMF Agreement, whether in parliament or out on the streets, have a responsibility to let the people know what their ultimate objective is – to thwart its implementation under President Wickremesinghe, or to tear it up after he is gone. If that is so, what alternative will they offer, and how soon they will be able implement it without disrupting the country to be even worse than it is now. And they will likely face the mirror-image of the Presidential paradox. That is the detractors of the President may have public support behind them when they confront him over his political machinations, but the people may not go the full distance with them against the President’s management of the economy. The JVP, in particular, faces a special challenge and even a dilemma in dealing with the IMF Agreement, given its newly elevated position of popularity among intending voters. 

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Latest comments

  • 13
    3

    “…those who oppose the IMF Agreement, whether in parliament or out on the streets, have a responsibility to let the people know what their ultimate objective is – to thwart its implementation under President Wickremesinghe, or to tear it up after he is gone.”
    Well said. But you also said:
    “So, we have Ranil Wickremesinghe at one end, standing tall and lonely on Sri Lanka’s economic dung hill.”
    Then why are the leaders NPP and SJB desperately scrambling up the very same dung hill?
    Has either offered an alternative ti the IMF deal?
    Has either the courage to say that they will scrap the deal if elected?

    • 2
      1

      These opinion polls might tempt voters to close ranks among first two leading political parties in order to prevent their main enemy among the first two from winning.

      This tendency could always be observable in Western democracies’ where multiparty democracy ultimately due to heat of elections result in rallying round the first two leading parties at the expense of other minor parties thus resulting in two party democracies.

      The same tendencies are observable in Sri Lanka too. Earlier it was UNP and their allies’ vs SLFP and their allies. Now it may be around NPP vs SJB, a welcome development as far as parliamentary democracy is concerned.

      But the people would have been taken for a ride in this system. Unless the system is radically changed the same rogues continue with continued suffering for people.

  • 8
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    It is just not Ranil Wickremesinghe but the entire majority believes that they are too clever by half. The annoying national question is the evidence of such a belief.
    .
    That ITAK registering only 12% in the Eastern Province is amply proves that the father of the Majority – DS – is truly the smart.
    .
    As far as Elections are concerned, look out for periodical announcements of Date and repetitive postponement. That is how to maintain Democracy!
    .
    The IMF deal provides only a temporary relief to Ranil. His ‘big’ Cabinet tactics will put the final nail on his coffin!

    • 0
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      The is in front of ‘amply’ is an error.(Regret.)

    • 3
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      The rising popularity of JVP may be due to other constituents of NPP, but the trend in the opinion polls suggests that still the voting pattern is determined by traditional JVP voters and what the professionals and academics have done to the popularity of JVP is to bring new respectability that was evading JVP long.
      But the regional dichotomy of JVP support should be disturbing to the policy makers of NPP and wanted them to test their real popularity in local government elections so that they could make polich changes to their polices attractive to minority and marginal communities also. Thus winning elections will be their priority against their long held beliefs and npp will transform themselves as a left wing populist political party.

  • 8
    4

    Ranil is selling off loss-making (and some profitable), overstaffed, corrupt State businesses. Good news at last. This should have been done long ago but he never had the opportunity. On the other hand there is the spectre of the JVP promising Utopia with out of date socialist ideas that even China has abandoned. It’s the best of times and the worst of times. Choose wisely.

  • 6
    1

    We should be able to analyze the current situation impartially without taking sides.
    Scholars are of the opinion that the SJB is still divided today, unable to digest the immaturity of its leader. Parliamentarian, Harin Fernando explained today that he understood that the SJB leader would never be able to compete with Ranil Wickramasinghe as a leader.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFSJ2GRJysU
    The breakup of the UNP just 2 months before the 2019 PE elections is believed to have been largely led by Harin Fernando as the chief organizer. I believe world leaders will respect RW and CBK as Sri Lankan followers compared to other leaders of our country. When we were raising TSUNAMI funds in Texas and Europe in 2004, I witnessed many of the above. Rajapakshes are branded as king of robbers and rascals to the world.

    tbc

    • 5
      1

      2
      This is my impression having listened and read to several European and US MPs and some political analysts. If late leaders like Lalith and Laxman Kadiragamar and several other able leaders were alive, the world leaders would have given them a green light too. However, by 2015, entire world stood against Rajapakshes and their men with their support in any of the steps taken for progress of srilanken nation.

      As another eternal beggar nation but overestimating Sri Lankan heritage, self-overstating sinhalanation (only 22 million), we cannot overcome any of our problems without such close ties with other world leaders. That is the basic facts that any politician should be well aware of.

      It can never succeed against the bogus conspiracy theories of Wimal Weerawansa, Gommanpila or any other type of pseudo-cognitivist. In a civilized world the kind of rabblerousers would be isolated by the public. ironically, the opposite is the reality in our hell.

      Unfortunately, some of those rhetoricians are university-educated candidates in order to brainnwash the 70% of gullible srilankens belonging to the average and that became manipulating completely the vulnerable in this country.

      tbc

      • 5
        1

        3
        Sinhalese racism polarized the country but the international community never accepted them. The Dr Safi saga broke all records by demonstrating the levels of racism against the Muslim minority under the leadership of the Rajapaksa camp. As per my understanding, Dr SAFI should be nominated for Noble Prize Award in 2023.

        Others who fed their blatant lies are Sinhala Buddhist monks of the “Rajapaksa Sect” (Madagoda Abeytissa, Elle Gunawamsa, Ghanasara, Ittakanda, Muruthettuwe, Kelaniya Viharadhipa Thero, Fort Harupaksha Sect (these people are Buddhist-Bin Ladens). “TV preachers). .”)) While true Buddhism is based on non-violence, ironically, Sinhala Buddhism is riddled with racism, thuggery and other divisive tactics.

        Likewise, the private television channels such as “Derana TV” and “Hiru TV” that brainwashed the innocent public by abusing the “web frequencies” provided by Rajapaksa for many years should be responislbe for the mess. There is plenty of prima facie evidence to prove the criminal behavior of the above mentioned two TV channels. The owners of two TV channels, including several journalists of Sirasa TV should have long been punished as of today, if the nation is blessed with proper law and order. However, Sri Lanka’s law and order has been disrupted by Rajapaksa’s powerful underworld groups.

        tbc

        • 5
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          4
          .
          I don’t consider self-proclaimed Dayan Jayathilaka as a neutral and reliable person, but he and several political analysts have repeatedly said that as a small nation, we should work together with all international allies. After becoming the Sri Lankan ambassador to Russia during 2016-2020, he became partisan silent. Unfortunately, anyone close to Rajapaksa politics will see that these people acted very selfishly for their own benefit – make hay when the sun shines – was their life motto.

          During the last government late minister Mangala Samaraweera was also had a good vision about external politics. However, he was publicly attacked by radical sinhala buddhist monks (sinhala buddhist monks are the deadly cancer of this nation).
          This is the truth that I have seen while living in Western countries for so long. We are surrounded by numerous problems in our country, not only the long-term ethnic problem. Even if outsiders do research, none of them summarized picture of the current state of the nation.

          This world is very unfavorable to the small poor nations of our nature if our leaders would stay hoodwinking further. It should be clearly understood by subtle thinkers. CBK and RW are capable of achieving something for the nation, so that’s why they can win it for the nation. Sadly, It has always been misinterpreted by RACISM dominated srilanka with facts based on ground realities being totally ignored.

          tbc

          • 4
            0

            5
            Many argue today that if the current opposition leader is strong, JVP will not be able to overcome them by now. On the other hand, the same numbers also participated in the 2020 campaign meetings of the Janata Vimukti Peramuna. So JVP allegations and attendance at their meetings alone will not be a predictor of the outcome of future elections.

            My permanent wish was that in 2019 and 2020 they would get significantly more seats in Parliament. We were all misled by the crowds that showed up at their rallies (so next time the crowds will not give us any sign that they will succeed) they should have become the main opposition before coming forward to rule this nation full of detractors. Only then should they mature and move forward in unity to rule this nation.

            If that were the case, since Sajith will appear as the leader of the opposition, Parliament will be strengthened so that Balu Gota (doggy) could not have passed other favorable agreements to weaken the opposition, including the 20th constitutional amendment.

            tbc

          • 4
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            “We are surrounded by numerous problems in our country, not only the long-term ethnic problem”.
            .
            Dear leelagemalli,
            Most of the problems are off-shoots of the ethnic problem.

            • 4
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              Dear N,
              .
              The whole society is turned upside down. After watching the news, I thought it is now a hell. All this did not happen suddenly, but as Sri Lankans living outside the country, we recognized a long time ago every time we travelled to the country. Their wasteful lifestyle is limited to some families in Sri Lanka. If you know that the majority of people in Sri Lanka can’t even dream, why on earth should they provide limousines to them in Sri Lanka like in Europe?
              All this happened through the extremely corrupt rule of the Rajapakse criminals.

              Unfortunately, the closeness of PSEUDO monks to Rajapaksa was read as not correct by vulnerable and stupid people. The fools were made more fools to grab their votes. This is like treating a terminally ill patient even more cruelly. But Mahinda and his henchmen did this by wearing Buddhist clothes and following auspiciousness.

              • 7
                0

                Dear leelagemalli,
                Our grouse is not not the answer. If at all there is a chance of a recovery it has to be a united effort from everyone irrespective of our ethnicity.
                Some sensible person with enough clout and adequate resources has to start somewhere.
                .
                I wish to be called Nathan. N is a No!
                Thank you.

                • 3
                  0

                  Dear Nathan,
                  “Our grouse is not not the answer. If at all there is a chance of a recovery it has to be a united effort from everyone irrespective of our ethnicity.”

                  Unfortunately, even today, many people do not care much about a concerted effort.
                  .
                  My assumption became more clear yesterday (in a YT video) after seeing a lawyer talking about the “Sinhalese Nation”. They still hang on to their “superiority” too much today. Most of them did not live abroad. Nor have they seen other progressive cultures. I’m speechless the way they still talk with their heads up. The so-called “nationality” blinds them. Of course, these are only on paper.

                  The saddest reality is that DERANA TV Channel (Sri Lanka’s most prominent racist TV channel) was again awarded as No. 01 yesterday. can you imagine That is why I have always said that it is the media that spoils this country.

                  To me, “Homo sapiens” is just another animal if they can’t think properly.

            • 2
              0

              I disagree N. Corruption for example is endemic and not connected to Race. Violence by the Police and military too are not connected to Race. SL Governments have never discriminated when using violence.

              • 2
                0

                Svenson,
                Please call him “Nathan”. Thank you.

  • 6
    2

    6
    No matter what anyone says or does today, those victimized mothers and their sufferings are shaking the land of Sri Lanka. The number of my friends and acquaintances who were killed in 89-92 is more than dozens.
    Tsunami casualties in Sri Lanka are said to be far less than the extra-judicial killings perpetrated by the JVP in the 89-92 period.

    Those killing tactics should not be prerequisites for any ruling party for the future of our motherland.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_killed_by_Janata_Vimukti_Peramuna

  • 3
    0

    Dear sensitive readers, open your eyes!
    How many people, not just me, have suffered from their barbaric killings? Is taking a young man’s life a joke?
    The number across the island is over 50,000. Persecutors were roaming every corners of the day, not allowing any 2-3 were allowed to communicate one another. May the kind of psychosis era like that of 89-92 never be dawned to our island nation.
    .
    It was the peak of Sri Lanka’s brutal era of 89-92. Every time I return to Sri Lanka today, how many mothers of the victims are crying without seeing their beloved sons physically? I was going to visit some of them, however, I didn’t have time to do so during the COVID period. Some of them are chronically mentally ill. A father in Imaduwe (Kulatunga) went mad not knowing that his only child had been abducted and killed by the Janata Vimukthi Peramuna. The mother, who was the only son of a mother in Angulagaha area, has committed suicide after years of unsuccessful waiting. There are dozens of examples that can move us to tears over and over again. As some of the children who disappeared in the tsunami, they are still waiting for their sons because they only know that their sons are missing.

    tbc

    • 3
      0

      cont.
      .
      Some stupid people in Sri Lanka find this funny, but these mothers had a dream to see their sons make them proud oneday.. Of course, some of them were not killed by the JVP but they kidnapped a large number of youths in Matara, Galle, Ratnapura and many other places across the country. Lalkantha and the same Nalin Hewege or similar people seem to have criminal power even today. Whenever I see them appear in videos it gives me an allergic reaction.
      .
      I have no words to describe what a mother said about her son. The meat packet was sent with the bones of his own son, so it must have been a different kind of meat. They were playing with the souls of innocent relatives of some young men as Malacha men, and this mother and family were forced to eat the bones and flesh of their son. The cruelty was such that after eating them, the mother was informed. The flesh and bones of her own sons…. Is this a Buddhist dominated country? my foot !.I think it is a land of barbarians.
      So even today I fall for their sugar coated fairy tales. I know they are hypocrites because these people have little chance of success but keep accusing others.

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