4 June, 2023


Next Round: Ranil Versus The JVP 

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

Readers may have observed that in recent weeks I have been suggesting that with the backing of global capitalism and India and with IMF support assured (Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva has backed the Staff Level Agreement), Ranil Wickremesinghe’s (RW) administration will be stable UP TO an election. It is an open question whether till then it will be authoritarian or revert to a democratic form which will delight liberals, the intellectual classes, the minorities and the carvings of those in SJB whose psyche never actually quit the UNP. None can foresee in these tumultuous times how liberal RW’s administration will be, or whether it will WIN an election in a few months. More problematic, can it win an election at the end of the tenure of the current parliament. These are not times in which intelligent people take bets.

However it seems reasonable to say that the medium-term choice (say in a few years) will be between RW as defined above (or a RW-Sajith alliance) and the JVP which is gaining ground. I grant that posing the question so bluntly is a short-cut that ignores intermediate options, but I am impatient to explore the Ranil-plus-global-capitalism versus the JVP-plus “socialist-market-dirigisme” alternatives. The relationship between the RW+ option and the JVP+ formula will revolve around two central issues; factors pertaining to the economy and social class, and the rights of the Tamil people (Muslims are less complicating) which is at the heart of the democracy and political stability question. 

Take the Tamil thing first. Historically and probably in the future the JVP is a on a very bad wicket about the Tamils, but internationally, on account of the dire state of the post-Covid, post-Ukraine/Russia world, and the Sino-US confrontation, it may be on a better wicket in the long-term. I am at a loss to think of a way in which the JVP can repair its relationship with the Tamils. Mind you as a member of the NPP I have a vested interest and a genuine wish that this be done; but it’s not going to be easy. The problem has two dimensions, a past and a present. The past stretches from Wijeweera’s lecture on Indian expansionism which was actually aimed against upcountry Tamils, rejection on 13A, Provincial Councils and devolution to the Tamils, all the way to the Somawansa-JVP’s successful Supreme Court petition in 2006 to axe the merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces. Although the merger had never been ratified by the people of the East, the JVP by this act fomented an anti-Tamil taste in the nation’s mouth. 

The JVP is still opposed to devolution of power to Tamil areas and the Provinces. Some leaders may have changed their minds but this will not be endorsed by the Central Committee because the CC still mentally lives in the petty-bourgeois world of its grandparents and also because it still, needlessly, fears a Sinhala-Buddhist electoral backlash. The leadership must take the bull by the horns and defeat this frame of mind in the cadre or it will get nowhere. If a JVP comes to power without ironing out this dispute it will drown. The options before a future JVP government are: Accept devolution or suffer political death while in office like the racists JR, Sirima, SWRD and even DS. 

Ranil’s ancestors were accustomed to mixing with Tamils, Burghers and Muslims of the same rank and attended socially diversified elite schools. His uncle Lakshman Wickremesinghe, Bishop of Kurunegala was a redoubtable scholar (top of the list in political science, University of Ceylon – not mere Peradeniya or U of SL) and then enrolled at Keeble College, Oxford, but quit to take up robes. He was pained by RW’s involvement in JR’s racist regime and in particular its attack on the Tamils. After Black July 1983 Bishop was one of the first leaders to go to Jaffna, but died of a heart attack in three months in October. RW is neither morally nor intellectually of the same stature but some of the liberalism may have rubbed off. 

Last week (11 Sept) I undertook an update of my previous RW SWOT appraisal and discussed economic prospects; I will not repeat any of this here but I would like to make some remarks about the changing international context. What I have termed a socialist-market-dirigisme option somewhat echoes China, Vietnam and a few emerging African states. Cuba and Venezuela have collapsed into basket cases but in the context of the leftward sweep across Latin America (Central and South America) there may be hope of resurrection. It’s this sweep that I wish to say a few words about because star-gazers may wish for a return of the 1960s and early 1970s but one has to a realist. Revolutionary columns led by Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos entered Havana on 1 January 1959; Saigon fell on 30 April 1975. Some may sing “Those were the days my friend we thought would never end!” So, mutatis mutandis, can we take hope from the leftist sweep rolling across Latin America now that neo-liberal and neo-conservative global supremacy will soon pass? The question must be approached with hard logic.

The swearing in of thirty-six-year-old Gabriel Boric who calls himself a “libertarian socialist” but is a Marxist as Chile’s president marks the most radical reshaping of the country’s politics in 50 years. It follows victory of former guerrilla Gustavo Petro in Colombia last month. Between 2018 and 2021 left-of-centre candidates won the presidency in Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, Argentina and Peru. Iris Xiomara Castro Sarmiento a Honduran leftist, in office since January 2022 promised: “My government will not continue the maelstrom of looting that has condemned generations of young people to debts incurred behind their back”. (Oh, for an Iris in Lanka). Many in the new crop are de facto Marxists. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva leads in opinion polls ahead of Brazil’s October election. Brazil is the most populous and important country next to the USA on the American Continent. Its gross GDP in PPP terms exceeds Canada’s.

The world is very different today from the 1960s. In so far as emergent left regimes, the world over are concerned. The big difference is the absence of a supportive Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. For reasons to do with trade, technology transfer, investment and global supply chains, China has a very different relationship with the US from the hostile stand-off between Stalin and the USA. Nevertheless, since the JVP does not live in circumstances that permit the capture of power by insurrection, the absence of old Soviet style support as for revolutions in Cuba and Vietnam may not make a great difference. The follies of 1971 and 1989-90 are long gone, a bad dream, a nightmare buried. If a JVP-NPP administration is to win in Sri Lanka it will have to triumph at a democratic election. (I confessed at the beginning that this jumps over possible intermediate events, but I feel that the dice is weighted against military dictatorship or Ranil autocracy).

Democracy is no longer a deception used by the ruling classes to fool the mases and perpetuate property rights and power. For reasons that are too complex to discuss at this point there has been an alteration in the significance of democratic expectations. Neither the JVP, or for that matter still authoritarian China can reverse the rootedness of democratic expectations in society at large. Democratic norms are the expectation of the masses. For better or worse the JVP is “stuck” with abiding by the outcome of a free and fair election; no more silly 1971 style insurrections or murderous grabs as in 1989-90. 

In so far as the Ranil-plus-global-capitalism versus JVP-plus socialist-market-dirigisme economic options are concerned and assuming the continuance of democracy, the choice depends on whether an RW-road feeds and clothes people for the next two or three years. The Ranil road of course includes variations such as a Ranil-Sajith alliance. Essentially it is the liberal, bourgeois-democratic, IMF-Western oriented economic road that the country has now set out on. Obviously, there will be belt-tightening but two years from now will people vote to stay with this capitalist road for another, say five-year parliamentary term? A factor is whether the Executive Presidency is abolished in between, but this will change appearances but probably not substance.

Otherwise it will have to be the JVP way; new wine in a new bottle. The new wine, a democratic JVP, the new bottle the new world order responding to a sweeping hurtle to the left in Latin America. Admittedly unprecedent global economic crises pose a huge challenge to these new Latin Am regimes. In Sri Lanka If the capitalist option is re-elected for another say five years one can envisage the JVP playing a left opposition parliamentary role as did the left parties in the 1950s and 1960s. Though “Che-group” was the pseudonym of the JVP in the 1960s and though Wijeweera modelled his headgear on Che’s iconic cap, it is impossible for tomorrow’s JVP to revert to the madness of its previous reckless incarnation whatever happens in Latin America.

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Latest comments

  • 8

    We need radical changes not only in the way parliamentary elections take place but also how are Defence departments are run. The NGR’s set up of the current Dept of Defence is not helping the Aragalaya movement to achieve the “SYSTEM CHANGE”.
    We need to get a NEW CONSTITUTION (NC) drafted and submitted to REFERENDUM . The NC should abolish Executive Presidency. NC should eliminate the chances of uneducated corrupt and convicted standing in the parliamentary elections. NC should have protection clauses for the minorities.
    I do hope Ranil W or Anura Dissanayake work for a pluralistic society that has equal rights assured to every one.

  • 14

    Kumar, “What for the talking?”

    Ye are too intelligent for this nonsense

    In your heart of hearts you know …………. we were all doomed the day we were born Lankan …….. how long has this crap been going on?

    We all daily go through this zany bizarre rigmarole ……. our entire lives.

    We go through our lives ……. hoping, wishing, praying, beseeching, ………. for change ………. change that newer comes.

    Then we die ……. and the next lot, the next generation starts hoping, wishing, praying, beseeching, ……….. and then the next …….

    Are you right ……. or am I right? ………. Only Mr Udurawana – wherever he is now – knows the right answer.

    The say …….. we all live in hope …….. although living in hope is what kills us all in the end.

    I’m the happiest man alive ……. I know and have accepted my “Lankan fate.” It’s crystal clear. ……… There’s no happiness like certainty …….. living in uncertainty is torture …….. misery.

    Finally Sinhala_Man has come to terms with his fate: enjoying life ……… riding his Honda standing backwards on the seat …….. you can teach an old dog new tricks …… if the mind is willing ……

    • 10

      I have a feeling that things aren’t going to be as clear-cut in 2 years as Prof. KD seems to think. Many are going to be pissed off with Ranil-style austerity. There is still a very large mass of people who think MR is God. I don’t expect that Aragalaya figures will do well at any election. Raising crowds doesn’t translate into parliamentary seats, as the JVP already knows. So, perhaps the same results as in 2020, but wit SJB and Pohottuwa trading places.

  • 15

    Professor David. Though you have matured in age, you write similar to your Peradeniya days still dreaming in a Marxist world, which is not possible in today’s context. One-time communist regimes such as Russia and China are in a fighting mood of capturing their Neighbours such as Ukraine and Taiwan respectively and the word Marxism or communism has become unpopular the world over. Sri Lanka is a pluralistic country that believes in democracy, equality, and peace among all communities, and therefore, Mahinda or J.V.P is not the choice and only a Systematic change with new faces would be the correct path.

    • 9

      Your comments on Taiwan and Ukraine issues are as superficial as your observation that the writer is “still dreaming in a Marxist world” (whatever the term ‘Marxist world’ may mean to you).

  • 18

    Kumar conveniently ignores those involved in aragalaya (other than the JVP) in this article. He also characterises JVP as socialist or left? JVP in our opinion has evolved from its early days to be a middle of the road party with connections to the diaspora. Through NPP it has included middle class elements as well.

    At the next election there will be alliances and so-called independent groupings that were formally affiliated with Podu Jana Peramuna. e.g. Weerawansa-Vasudeva group , and the one led by Prof. Peris. They will put up a show to win over some voters to their side and align with the party or alliance that forms government after the election. That is the nature of such breakaway parties and groupings.

    It is difficult to imagine that Ranil will join with SJB for the next election. Indications are that SJB will align with aragalaya elements.

    Finally where is liberalism in Ranil? Is there any liberalism left in him and his approach? Our view is that he is following an authoritarian model/approach that was the hallmark of Mahinda’s approach to governance together with crony capitalism. We need to identify the true character of our political leaders not from theory but from their practice. The practice seems to be to control what happens on ground by using the state machinery,police force, courts,media and much more.

    • 11

      I may disagree with you in some details. But, overall, you have a sound understanding of what is going on unlike our subjective soothsayers.

    • 5

      Ranil has a strategy and try to implement his strategy in his own way;.
      compromising wherever necessary, not forgetting that he is a prisoner of SLPP.

      Similarity between JR’S strategy in power as was Ranil’s strategy and that of JR’S is striking!.

      After all Ranil, as JR’S nephew is the political heir of JR in policy and temperament.

      JR commenced his regime with open economy and welfare measures thrown in as a sop to hoodwink the masses , but at the same time used authoritarian techniques to crush the trade unions and the opposition, never to recover , assuring the barons of stability and irreversibility for unbridled capitalist exploitation.

      In this ambitious process, he had destroyed democracy beyond recognition.

      But all his work outs collapsed on ethnic front that led to 30 year conflict and all round chaos that finally destroyed all what he stood for and painstakingly built up
      Will Ranil survive and succeed in his vision to build up Sri Lanka on a neo-liberal capitalist model.

      When Ranil fails’ will NPP/JVP is ready and capable to capture the opportunity or is it the turn of aragalaya youth to capture in a different permutation and combinations for a systemic change!

  • 13

    It was famously said that if you are not a Marxist at the age of 18 years; you are stupid and if you are still a Marxist at the age of 30 years you are stupid again.

  • 7

    The only way out is to wait until the 22nd amendment to the constitution is approved. At that point, SJB, SLFP, JVP and the Dulles group should join hands and claim to have the majority in the Parliament. When this happens there will be a few SLPP clean guys who will join this group and will push SLPP to the opposition. With this group joining hands and with a few SLPP guys supporting it will not be difficult to show 113 votes. Sajith at that point can become the PM and go for a referendum to extend the life of the Parliament until 2027. This new government can then have a small cabinet of a total of fewer than 30 ministers. This will give the time to revive the economy and give the ego-centric Ranil to be the President till 2027.

  • 9

    I’ve asked it before and I’ll ask it again:-
    Why do people expect that the same people who got you into this mess will get you out of this mess?
    It’s not logical – anyone want to answer this question?
    Kumar is still dreaming of a Marxist World – not going to happen!
    When people have a choice they chose freedom over the Slavery of Marxism. Democracy = Freedom.
    I get the impression Kumar is undergoing some kind of existential crisis.
    He has spent his whole life following the false idols of Marx and Mao – and on some level he know this but is unable to reconcile the truth with his beliefs. He’s an ‘Unrepentant Marxist’ (his words) after all!
    This is a cautionary tale folks – don’t follow the false idols of Marx and Mao.

  • 4

    Another day of boredom prepared me to read this rigmarole!
    I am late. Late to read; late to comment. No regrets! I could have skipped reading!!
    But, since I have wasted time reading it (and the comments, herein), let me make use of it to pass time.
    JVP is elections away from convincing anybody that they too are a contender! Even Kumar David is yet to endorse JVP. And, NPP is happy with it!
    The only thing that is in JVP’s favour is their successful effort to axe the merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces. With that effort they have buried any Tamil votes.
    Sinhala parties do not need Tamil votes. If they can say out loud that they don’t need Tamil votes, the Sinhalese would be more than willing to make up that loss for them!
    There are just two political parties for the Sinhalese. Not even a microscope can pick the difference between them. See, how easy it is for them to switch alliances!
    SLFP has a new name, SLPP. UNP has a new name, SLPP. See, my job is done!

  • 6

    A Real democracy should be established instead of Currently prevailing ethnic democracy in Sri Lanka. But, it’s very harder than Buffalo skin.

  • 3

    A Real democracy should be established instead of Currently prevailing ethnic democracy in Sri Lanka.

    • 6

      Agree fully.
      Tell us how.

  • 3

    Aragalaya Movement will stand up for REAL DEMOCRACY. (RD)
    RD could only be obtained only after a well thought out New Constitution for Republic of Lanka had been put to REFERENDUM.
    RD should have guaranteed equality to each and every Lankans. A secular country catering to all ethnic and religious groups. RD can be only achieved with independent Judiciary/Security Forces/Audit and Bribery commissions. We don’t need clergy involved in RD.

  • 4

    Prof. David: Can you please set aside all these “ISMS” and write something that the people of this country NEED for themselves and their future generations to come?

    I suggest a subject based on the above. How would “JVP/NPP” plans and execute the task of Governance DIFFERENTLY from what we have experienced so far?

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