By Kumar David –
My theme today is the significance of the national People’s Power (PP) movement launched on 18 August at a rally where it also named a presidential candidate. But first let me entertain you to a numbers game. In January 2015 MS polled 51.3% to MR’s 47.7% and 1% to Others. The JVP in 2015 (parliamentary) and 2018 (LG) polled about 6.5% (see charts). It did not contest the presidency in Jan 2015 and worked flat out for MS. Had it contested and had it taken away just 1.3% of MS’s vote, the decision would have gone to a second-preference count. A close call; but it gets more interesting. Had it pulled 3.6% of MS’s vote (recall that its usual poll is 6.5%) Sirisena’s first-preferences would have fallen below Mahinda’s. Wow! Furthermore, had many JVPers abstained from marking MS as their second-preference, the party is notorious for its derring-do sectarianism, Percy Mahinda Rajapaksa would have been elected President of Sri Lanka for a third-term. Think of it!
Your Sunday morning arithmetic lesson is not over. It is pretty certain the count will go to second-preferences this time. The JVP has gained popularity and the PP alliance may, for arguments sake, poll 10%. This means that either Gota or the DNFer, to clear 50%, will have to press the rival below 40%. That’s not possible; the gap is too wide. Depending on how the 90% splits (47:43, 46:44 45:45) both will then hang on every hair of a PP beard. Since PP is strongly anti-Gota the portion that does not abstain from marking a second-preference will decide the outcome. Are you still with me? A+ for arithmetic.
Ok have a sip of Sunday morning coffee, let’s move on to my substantive topic; the post presidential election period could be dangerous for democracy. I mean the possible election of Gota as president, but I do not consider a Sajith presidency as free of apprehension. The difference is that Sajith does not have marauding racists, extremist monks and military brass, all hounds of hell baying to be unleashed, waiting in the wings. Sajith like Gota is bereft of an economic plan, he is empty headed on devolution and minority issues and is opposed of the 20-th Amendment (repeal executive presidency). In sum, since he will be unable to move beyond limits that have crippled this government, a Sajith regime too will, over time, descend to the use of state power in autocratic ways. But I grant, imminent peril and future threats are not the same.
Therefore, there are two important concerns: To foil a Gota presidency, and to prepare and mobilise mass and social movements to fight autocratic trends whoever becomes president. Although this is the chronological order in which these tasks will be posed the second is long-term and more significant. To reach these twin objectives it is necessary to strengthen the 30 organisation People’s Power alliance, the third-force that is now coalescing. More important is what PP does. Sure, the JVP would like to promote the candidacy of Anura Kumara; the other 29 while pulling their weight in this respect must also have wider objectives. Programmes and strategies have to be evolved via discourses where no one dominates others. They have to be finalised urgently and publicised soon.
I marched in the United Left 1963 May Day demo and was at its Galle Face meeting chaired by NM, Dr Wicks and Philip. I was also on a side-stage with a good overview at Sunday’s (18th) PP Galle Face rally. PP drew about 150,000 and was comparable in size to the 1963 May Day. More than 40 years after the 1977 election debacle destroyed the left, a radical left-democratic alternative has been born. It is an alliance of 30 self-thinking entities committed to mobilising a people’s movement untainted by corruption as an alternative to the two big parties. Things are on the move; a framework has been erected and a programme outlined. Globally this is the age of the third-force, the day of the “alternative”. PP now enters the stage of fleshing out its programme and coordinating strategies.
Last week’s column promoted a concerted effort to vote first-preference for the third-option and second-preference against Gota – that is in favour of the DNF candidate, be it Ranil, Sajith or Karu. It elicited hot reactions both for and against from anti and pro Gota camps. Some saw it as an excellent way of expressing dissent with the racist-reactionary Rajapaksas and failed yahapalana and promoting a third option while at the same time foiling Gota. Others feared it would be self-defeating.
I don’t get the point of those who fear that some who vote PP may neglect to cast a second-preference anti-Gota vote. It is true that there are world-is-their-oyster sectarians who may give first-preference to PP and refrain from a second choice, but such people are not going to vote for a DNFer, come what may. So, the DNF loses nothing by my first-for-PP, second-against-Gota tactic. It may actually gain. Cohorts of people are fed-up with both main parties. A refrain I often hear is “I’m not going to vote for either bastard”. These are PP targets; potential third-force voters. It is similar all over the world; France, Italy, UK and paradoxically even the Trump Base is fed-up with the rotten system. Support for an alternative comes from all who have lost faith in the “game”. It is global and is visible in Lanka (“ung okoma horu”). My conjecture that PP will poll high is influenced by this. Some may never go to the polls but for PP; they may bestow a scornful second-preference on the DNF. There is no reason to fear that my proposal will weaken an anti-Gota aggregation. The opposite is likely.
An important reason for forging PP is to sponsor a radical left-democratic identity; the gains made since 8 January 2015 are under threat. If MR had not been defeated, we would be living with no presidential term limits – a practise dictators long for. White-vans plying their trade, assassinations galore, political opponents careful not to sleep in the same place two nights in a row, Tamils and Muslims terrorised by the State, no oversight committees and commissions, Chief Justices treated like road-tarts, UPFA MPs like lick-spittle stooges; I could go on for another page. This has all ended, but the peril is that it may all return if Gota rides again. This is why foiling Gota is crucial.
Liberals, leftists and civil society took the lead in the January 8 victory and in promoting democratic, legislative and constitutional advances. That road achieved much, but it has reached its limit. Where further can an alliance with the UNP go? In economic orientation, devolution of power, constitutional advance and anti-corruption measures, it has reached its bound. It is time to make a conceptual and practical leap and strike out anew. Trade Unions, NGOs, the ULF, NSSP, post-Shan Left and all manner of progressives sang the praises of left unity all these years. Now when the real thing arrives in a practical form, warts and all, some who sang this chorus cringe in an un-Leninist funk. One thing about the great Bolshevik was his prescience and boldness of decisions making when circumstances demanded it. Remember the April Thesis?
In the Gota movement we have the convergence of a notorious personal authoritarian, a racially fired-up petty-bourgeoisie, Moor hating-and-baiting bigots in saffron robes, business lobbies with narrow nationalist and personal agendas, and retired and serving military brass smarting to stamp their cache on state-power. A dangerous nexus whose progression entails reversal of democratic gains made since January 2015. But my ‘voting logic’ also applies to eventual Gota voters who want to register dissent before marking support for their champion. It is in the interests of everyone to register dissent with the SLPP/SLFP and the UNP before giving an undeserved extension of life to either. Who will say “Don’t give both scoundrels a well-deserved thrashing?” No one! It would be a mistake, whether you are SLPP/SLFP or UNP, not to show dissent before you choose your side.
Whichever side you are at this moment, look 5-10 years ahead; we must get back to basics and renew uncorrupted roots. The maturing of People’s Power will be conditioned by the impact of all 30 members (for now, more soon) on and within it. PP is now at a crucial stage detailing development strategy, democracy, devolution and unification of communities and decency in public life. This is the most important element in the emerging dynamic; the forging of a movement for significant social change. Let’s say what needs to be done and what can be done; people don’t expect the moon. Let’s get on with the job!