By Malinda Seneviratne –
It’s been almost a week since the elections for the Sabaragamuwa, North Central and Eastern Provincial Councils were held. The votes were counted and the elected have been separated from the losers but the Chief Ministers have not been named yet.
In the North Central Province there is a tussle between incumbent strongman and aspirant strongman. Sabaragamuwa is quiet. The noise is coming from the East. There’s no clear winner and therefore many are claiming bragging rights.
The ruling party (UPFA) won the largest number of seats and therefore can say ‘we won’. The opposition, as a whole, can say, ‘the UPFA doesn’t have a clear majority, so it has lost; consequently, we won!’ The TNA says, tagging along so to speak, ‘we got the biggest slice out of the opposition (which won by the way) and therefore we are the winners’. The SLMC says ‘we are the king makers’. Wimal Weerawansa’s PNF, which was snubbed at the nominations by the SLFP-led UPFA, still managed a single seat (equal to the JVP) and can say ‘we won too’. The UNP and JVP can say (in consolation) ‘the UPFA lost’. They are not in a position to dictate in the post-election machinations.
Someone must cobble together a majority, either by aligning with one or more parties or by persuading a few people to join ranks. The latter seems to be the easier path. It might not be the best, though.
The difficult thing is to work with ‘sworn enemy’. The SLMC, during its campaign used the communal card in raw and distasteful ways, especially considering that its leader is a Cabinet Minister in this Government. The principled thing would have been to first resign. Now, after bad-mouthing, when the king-maker claim is tossed out, it implies a willingness to hold hands with the ‘baddies’. The TNA was no better, but it didn’t have the ‘cabinet-handicap’. On the other hand, a party that was so slavish to Prabhakaran cannot really point fingers at anyone. The UPFA may have some higher moral credit here, but then again there was the usual abuse of state machinery in the campaign. As the incumbent at the center, the UPFA can call the shots, hence the talk about ‘purchasing’ support or getting a few to defect.
It’s all about maneuvering and bargaining, brinkmanship and arm-twisting, promise of goodies and preying on vulnerabilities. But let’s face it neither the parties nor the elected can be called decent, respectable, democratic, principled entities. Take any party and you can find fault and 101 reasons not to work together. There are also 101 arguments for working together.
The TNA was the LTTE’s pawn. So what? They were victims of circumstances just as must as they were happily complicit in that sordid political story. The SLMC is made of politicians, just like the UPFA is. They ‘invest’ by campaigning and they want to recover investment. Just like anyone in any other party. No one is cool. The UPFA has the inside track, as mentioned above. For all the bragging, in the end, the UPFA’s decision will stand.
In these circumstances, the SLMC will have to play second-fiddle. The TNA cannot afford to do so. But the TNA cannot play communal politics and ever hope to do anything for the Tamil people in the East. Indeed, the election result (the three-way split) puts paid to all arguments for a North-East merger and rips apart the ‘Exclusive Traditional Homeland’ thesis. Demography counts and the count is now out there for everyone to see.
The UPFA can do without the TNA. This, interestingly, is the very reason that the UPFA can and must brush aside the TNA’s long history of scuttling discussions, dodging issues and playing the communal card as ‘what any political party in reduced circumstances and slipping fortunes would do’.
The UPFA can call the TNA bluff. The UPFA can do what the TNA will not be able to deal with. The UPFA can tell the TNA something like the following:
‘Look, we know your history. We know who is above you and who is below you. We know about strings and string-pullers, puppets and puppeteers. We know your strengths and weaknesses. And we know you know us too. Very well. So here’s the offer. You run the East. You pick your Chief Minister. We don’t want anything in return. We promise only one thing. Come budget-passing time, we will make sure that you don’t lose the vote. Take it. Do your best. Good luck!’
If the Government considers a puppet-TNA a headache, the above would be the palliative. The TNA cannot refuse and also claim that the ‘Sinhala’ Government is not interested in ‘power-sharing’. And if the TNA accepts, it would amount to a decision to work within the existing framework. That would be historic.
As for the SLMC, it might teach its leadership something about not being able to have it both ways. The SLMC’s headaches should not worry the Government. They will go away, by and by. The TNA, not the SLMC, is the party to work with. That’s the challenge.