Colombo Telegraph

Neither Crowds Nor Votes: Re-Booting The Opposition

By Dayan Jayatilleka –

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

Karl Marx once remarked that the incredible flatness of present day bourgeois society was best evidenced by the height of its greatest intellects.  He was referring to Jeremy Bentham. In a similar vein one may well observe that the incredible diminution of the strength and status of the present day United National Party is best evidenced by the only person to write under his or her name in defence of the party’s present leadership and performance, namely the tattered if truculent Trotskyist, Dr Vickremabahu Karunaratne  (‘August 14 “Force for Unity” Opposition Protest which Mobilised Thousands of People Against a Fascist Type Govt was a Great Success).

He makes three points in defence of Mr Wickremesinghe and the UNP’s performance at the recent rally in Fort.

Firstly, the JVP and FSP didn’t decline to join because the optics of demonstrating under Mr Wickremesinghe’s leadership or even alongside him were wrong but because the JVP and FSP were opposed to the LLRC report and the 13th amendment, the defence of which was part of the platform of the joint Opposition.

Secondly, if the Fort rally were indeed unsuccessful, then Sajith Premadasa and Karu Jayasuriya were as responsible as Ranil Wickremesinghe since they were present, active and vocal on the occasion.

Thirdly, the numbers were adequate and the rally was in fact a success in the face of repression and impossible odds.

Now the very first argument is, to put it charitably, inaccurate. To put it less charitably it is at least partially untrue.  The rally in the Fort was NOT about the LLRC report or the 13th amendment. The LLRC report comes in only as part of the ten point program of the so-called Oppositional Unity platform which is to be signed on Thursday August 22nd.  It has no bearing on the rally and therefore, logically could NOT have been the principled reason that kept the JVP and FSP away.

The Fort rally was entirely to do with Governmental repression, the Weliweriya –Rathupaswela killings and the need “to overthrow the Rajapaksa tyranny”.  Though the last slogan was ill-timed, premature, way over the top and out of tune with the mass sentiment and mood– even a little corny (and I had expressed my views on this to a journalist sympathetic to the rally who sent me the flyer) — one would have thought that neither the JVP nor the FSP would have an insuperable problem with that agenda.

Thus the reason –whatever it may be –for the absence of both the JVP and the FSP has to be sought elsewhere, and certainly not in their opposition to the LLRC report!

The second point made by Dr Vickrembahu Karunaratne is support of the UNP’s current leadership is that if the rally were unsuccessful, then Karu and Sajith are also responsible since they were active participants.  This is truly pathetic argumentation. It is well known that Karu and Sajith have been marginalized within the party, even from the UNP’s nomination process and election campaign for the provincial councils. Reports in the mainstream (anti-government) newspapers have clearly identified those responsible for the organization of the rally.  Karu and Sajith were not among the names mentioned.

The third argument is that under the circumstances, the rally was a success. Well, not even the anti-Government, pro-UNP and usually pro-Ranil Sunday Times thought so. The Political Editor of the ST observed acerbically that:

“…a crowd of some 2,000 gathered for the protest…The organisers of the event had expected to muster a crowd of at least 5,000 from Colombo, Gampaha and Kalutara areas. The lower turnout to an event led by the country’s main opposition to protest the army killings at Weliweriya on August 1 – a fortnight ago, and other burning issues affecting the people, does not speak well for the grand old party…Going by the UNP’s own estimate of mustering a 5,000 crowd, not the best for the main opposition… ends up with a turnout of only some 2,000. Senior Police officials, who do not wish to be named, concede that there had been occasions when trade union events outside the Fort Railway Station have drawn crowds much higher than this number.” (‘As Pillay comes, Govt. faces more HR issues’, ST, Aug 18, 2013)

The UNP in opposition in the 1970s, with JRJ and R. Premadasa at the helm, did not need Trotskyists with mini-parties to defend it; there were mainstream newspapers, editors, journalists, poets, singers and literary figures who did so.  Under Emergency rule and when the LSSP, including its so-called left or ‘Vaama Samasamaja’ wing were hoarding sand-filled bottles to attack the UNP Satyagrahis based on the sinister nonsense that the democratic Opposition was engaged in “a fascist-style mobilisation as in Chile to oust the progressive UF government”, the UNP was able to muster impressive demonstrations numbering many thousands, on its own, as a single party with a large mass base and strong trade union, youth and student sections. Today after 19 years of Ranil Wickremesinghe’s leadership all that is gone with the wind, leaving a garrulous leader of a tiny Trotskyist sect as his sole ideological defender in the public domain.

The public instantly recalls this flamboyantly eccentric Trotskyist as one who has been far less critical of Velupillai Prabhakaran than Mahinda Rajapaksa, was vocally on the wrong side of the war to eliminate Tiger separatism and terrorism and reunify the country, and who attends conferences overseas in the company of avowed Tamil separatist speakers and organizations. With a leader like Ranil and allies like Vickremabahu, who turn-off national audiences, the UNP doesn’t need enemies. Today, the UNP and the so-called Force for Unity can neither mobilise crowds nor votes! It is likely that the results of the provincial council elections will furnish further empirical proof of this point.

The grapevine has it that the incumbent may hope to pre-empt the electoral consequences of a Greek type economic crisis by holding Presidential elections in 2014, even in the first half (or quarter). If so, the UNP will have to decide on the morning after the Provincial Council election in a month’s time, whether or not it is going to field Ranil Wickremesinghe as candidate. The fallback formula of Ranil as party and/or Opposition leader and someone else as candidate is doomed to fail because Ranil cannot motivate and mobilize UNPers to fight a campaign and he may not wish the stand-in candidate to do well anyway. The UNP and by extension the Opposition have to be ‘re-booted’ by booting him out.

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