By Kusal Perera –
It is certainly historic to have a broad trade union front in Colombo, meeting with the TNA leaders to appeal for the support of the Tamil voter in making their May 21st Token Strike a success. More so, when that trade union front includes the two major affiliates from the UNP and the JVP apart from other major trade unions like the FTZ&GSEU, LJEWU, UPTO and the FUTA playing lead roles. It is also historic and politically a new shift, when the TNA leadership made no bones about their opinion about especially the JVP and the UNP led trade unions in noting that the Tamil people especially in the North were in the dark without electricity for many years while the trade unions were not even bothered about their plight and that electricity for the Northerner is a luxury. But, the TNA pledged their support to this campaign and the token strike on 21 May with no conditions laid, for removal of tariff hike in electricity as a common man’s issue.
Meanwhile there is also much speculation in local media as to who would run as the CM for the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) Elections on the government side, the Rajapaksa regime says it would hold in early September this year. Accepting this announcement for NPC elections as one that would not be defaulted upon after the CHOGM gets all set after mid year, this is an attempt to draw attention to some issues the opposition parties should start working on, from this day.
The customary, alienated scavenging for election law violations and weeping over them during and after elections, will not be any answer for the NPC elections. Media briefings and heavy report writing had never been answers in curbing pre and post election violence and violation of laws during elections, even in the past. Change of social status in relation to ruling party politics does not necessarily start from the day of nominations for elections. That would certainly not be the case in the North and not how this regime would work in the North. Therefore, the government and the Elections Commissioner have to be held wholly responsible in maintaining a status quo on everything that is “North” and from now on.
Any change in land alienation, settlement and resettlement of persons what ever their numbers are, subtle changes of the voters registry if a tab is not kept from now on, are all values that would change the equation in any election. So would the role of State officials who would be called upon to perform the way, ruling party politicians in the province would want them to. Thus the political necessity to keep all State intrusions and interferences in the North under observation.
The electoral registry, the demography, military presence, police and their transfers, role of State officials right down to Grama Seva Niladharies (GSN), allocations for numerous State and semi State funded projects, details of land ownership, micro and small enterprises owned or managed by the security forces and by different ethnicities and anything else that could or would be thought of as factors that may infringe on a fair election, if not a free and fair election needs to have very close monitoring. All of these factors can and would impact on the Northern society if the Rajapaksa regime is allowed to tamper with them, from now on. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the opposition political parties to help maintain an environment that could give the people a fair and a reasonable opportunity in deciding the outcome of the election. That is one aspect of democracy and life begins there, at least for the Northern society.
- The call for international election monitors by the TNA is thus a necessary call, but not one that should stop where all election monitoring had stopped in the past. This call for election monitoring should be for a South Asian Election Monitoring Team, the Rajapaksa regime will not be able to label as “imperialist manipulations or as Western interference”. It should consist of men and women from human rights and democratic fora in South Asia. A recognised, reputed team of men and women from People’s SAARC forum, to start monitoring all State and political activities in the North, from now on.
- Election monitoring per se is no complete answer, but only an important imperative in the election for NPC. Politically, the more important factor is the alliance the Opposition could present to the Tamil people of North to vote for at the elections. It is here the role of Wickramasinghe‘s UNP count, in how they propose to position themselves in the North. It is positive and good, the UNP and Wickramasinghe has taken up issues of land grab and disappearances in the North, lately. That also has an agenda of creating a political base for the UNP. It is their political right to be there and work there. But it is also the responsibility of the UNP to ensure they don’t play too far in breaking up the anti Rajapaksa vote at the elections to the NPC. Therefore the best the UNP can offer the Tamil people in the North at this point of time, is to help boost the voter strength of the TNA. There is no space for now in the North for two separate slates against the Rajapaksa campaign. It has to be accepted, the best slate is that put forward by the TNA with the UNP providing its political support. If the UNP can assure the Tamil voter in the North from now on, they would go with the TNA at the NPC elections, that would be a winning move, to have a clear majority for the TNA governed NPC.
This would also help bridge the North-South gap, a necessary political requisite. For now the broadest alliance is being facilitated within the trade union movement although the May Day saw a scattered trade union and political party presence. The Rajapaksa regime has played catalyst in creating a broad trade union front that for the first time in recent history includes the JVP and UNP trade unions in alliance with other independent trade unions. The recent price hike on electricity tariff, despite the presidential compassion, has left the urban workers and the middle class uncompromisingly hurt and annoyed. The grand trade union alliance that was in the making forged themselves strong against the electricity tariff hike even before the May Day. They have now declared a “Token Strike” on 21 May against the electricity tariff hike and have politically gained the support of the UNP, the JVP and even the TNA.
This is a new political direction that once again paves opportunities for a participatory factory floor-ground level alliance against the Rajapaksa regime on issues that cut across ethnic and religious identities. One that has garnered support for and pledges for participation at the May 21st Token Strike from independent and respected trade unions like Bala Tampoe‘s CMU (Ceylon Mercantile, Industrial and General Workers Union) and the LSSP affiliate, the CFL, leaving a very sectarian Vikramabahu and his starved and lean collection of trade unions standing as “blacklegs” against the workers’ strike action and supporting this Rajapaksa regime by default as “Left” scabs in the TU movement.
That blacklegging by Vikramabahu has not been able to have any decisive impact on the working class campaign taking an anti Rajapaksa projection. The May 21st Token Strike if successful would therefore have a politically invigorating social psyche that would also provide another boost against the Rajapaksa regime at the NPC elections. Thus the Token Strike on 21st May and the impact it would have on a common political platform that comes as a decisive factor in the next few months. It is this political change the UNP would have to capitalise on with an alternate programme, if Wickramasinghe is, as he says, out to topple the regime in another year.