By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“Maithripala’s impure alliance must be defeated.”Galagoda-Atte Gnanasara Thera [i]
It may not measure up to any ideal. But given the Lankan condition, it may be the only possible alliance of moderates.
A key problem with the Common Opposition was that, for a while, it looked too much like the common Southern opposition. True, most of the minorities, alienated by Rajapaksa extremism, were likely to vote for Maithripala Sirisena. But at the party-level, there were no minority stakeholders with sufficient gravitas in the opposition camp.
The decision by the TNA to support Maithripala Sirisena, which followed similar decisions by the SLMC and several other minority parties, corrected this unpropitious imbalance. The Opposition is now in fact a Common Opposition and an authentically Lankan one. It contains within its fold the most eclectic collection of political parties, personalities and ideologies. And in that vital sense it is infinitely more reflective of Sri Lanka than the government is.
The regime is reacting all too predictably to the decision by the SLMC and the TNA to back Mr. Sirisena. ‘SLMC now a LTTE’[ii], screamed the Daily News in a banner headline. Soon after the TNA announced its decision in Jaffna, the BBS retaliated in Colombo; Galagoda-Atte Gnanasara Thera claimed that the “TNA was supporting the common opposition because they want to accomplish their aim of spreading Tamil extremism again in the country”[iii]. The state media managed to outdo even the BBS in extremist fear-mongering. “Maithri-Prabha Mugs appear in London, Toronto. Photographs appear side by side in key Tamil Tiger haunts. Sirisena, Ranil in Jaffna today to herald this ‘pact with Tamil Tigers’”[iv], shrieked the Daily News.
It is not only the regime and its Sinhala-Buddhist supremacist allies who are furious about the TNA’s choice. Tamil hardliners here and elsewhere seem equally discomposed. Tamil Net accused the TNA of supporting Mr. Sirisena “despite strong opposition from various sections of Eezham Tamils”. Just as the BBS accused Mr. Sirisena of betraying the Sinhalese, the Tamils Net accused the TNA leaders of betraying the Tamils: “Tamil people should realise that this group is trying to transform the nation of Eezham Tamils into a minority in the genocidal Sri Lanka, political observers in Jaffna said…… Some members of this group have already been promised with ministerial portfolios by Chandrika Kumaratunga.”[v]
Sinhala extremists and Tamil extremists want Tamils to reject both candidates; which, in reality, means helping the Rajapaksas win – like in 2005. For the pro-Tiger Diaspora hardliners that may be an unmixed-blessing; in the Rajapaksas they have an enemy who can be opposed justly and vilified effortlessly. These Diaspora elements did nothing to prevent the LTTE from dragging Lankan Tamils to Nandikadal. Now they want a repeat of 2005.
What the continuation of Rajapaksa rule might mean to ordinary Tamils struggling to live their ordinary lives here in Sri Lanka was demonstrated, again, by the Mathakal Fisheries Harbour incident. The regime is trying to take away a four-perch strip of land used by the fishermen to tether their boats and prepare dry fish. The land has been declared ‘state-owned’ and surveyors sent to commence the process of expropriation. The people protested: “We have been involved in fishing for many generations, but after the war, Coastal Security Forces have put up a camp where our boats were anchored at the Mathakal Harbour. We don’t understand their sudden move to interfere to our livelihood activities…. We will not give our lands to anyone. We will commit suicide if you grab our lands by force.”[vi] The Mathakal people, with the help of the TNA, managed to impede the surveyors twice, once in September and once in November. Maithripala Sirisena may or may not deliver a political solution to the ethnic problem. But under a post-Rajapaksa administration, there is a more realistic chance of preventing acts of barefaced theft such as the planned acquisition of Mathakal land.
When democracy and rule of law are in abeyance, there is nothing to prevent the state from treating ordinary people with rank injustice. The current deadly imbalance of power between the state and the people (this imbalance is extremely acute vis-à-vis the minorities but is existent vis-à-vis Sinhalese as well, as Rathupaswala demonstrated) can only get worse if the Rajapaksas win. But if Rajapaksa rule is ended on January 8th there is a realistic chance of ameliorating this imbalance to some extent. Such piecemeal improvements may not matter to armchair-hardliners living in safety and comfort outside Sri Lanka. But if that four-perch land can be saved, it would mean a world to the people of Mathakal.
Is this the Rajapaksas’ winter of defeat?
For the first time since 2005, the counter-Midas touch seems to be afflicting the Rajapaksas. The advent of a Bollywood-superstar into the Rajapaksa campaign, instead of being the election-winning masterstroke its organisers intended, became something of a comic disaster. Lankan public did not swoon in ecstasy. Tamil Nadu howled, prompting Salman Khan to depart in some hurry. The Rajapaksas may have intended the presence of a Bollywood star to be seen as the crowning glory of a winning campaign. Instead this first ever involvement of a foreign artiste in a Lankan election campaign seemed more like a sign of desperation.
The attack on a group of young Lankan artistes campaigning against the government in Kurunegala did not help matters. The attack, allegedly by Nil Balakaya thugs, led by a provincial councillor, was roundly condemned, including by many senior artistes who had stayed out of the fray up to that point. Taking a leaf from Basil Rajapaksa’s book, Parliamentarian and Nil Balakaya spokesman Eric Weerawardana claimed that the attack was staged by the victims themselves: “These actors, they were wearing our caps and our T shirts … This I think is a part of their mega drama which was staged at Kumbukgate.”[vii]. BBS, which is rapidly becoming the regime’s BSF (Best Soul Friend) agreed “It was planned by somebody who wanted to place the blame on President Mahinda Rajapaksa,” Galagoda-Atte Gnanasara Thera claimed[viii].
This week the Mahiyangana office of Gen Sarath Fonseka’s party was attacked. The victims included a retired army officer who had lost a leg in the war. The marauding thugs not only beat up Colonel (rtd) M. Chandrasena and his 15 year old son; they reportedly took away the disabled officer’s artificial limb![ix] So much for protecting ‘war heroes’! Will the BBS claim that this attack too was staged, to soil its presidential patron’s pristine image?
One of the most remarkable things about this campaign is the increasing absence of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s trademark grin. He obviously makes an effort to be his usual self but the act lacks his customary joie de verve. Such observations have no scientific validity; but in the absence of reliable opinion polling on what voters feel about the two candidates, even these signs count for something. The importation of Bollywood stars, the rising violence, the ethno-religious fear/hate mongering and the increasing use of bizarre propaganda tactics fit into this unprecedented picture of a president who has lots his electoral-mastery, and perhaps even knows that he is not quite on a winning streak.
[vii] Ada Derana News – 20.12.2014 – translation, a literal one, is mine
[ix] Lankadeepa – 30.12.2014