By Jude Fernando –
“In this society, the representative institutions, democratic in form, are in content the instruments of the interests of the ruling class. This manifests itself in a tangible fashion in the fact that as soon as democracy shows the tendency to negate its class character and become transformed into an instrument of the real interests of the population, the democratic forms are sacrificed by the bourgeoisie and by its state representatives’’ Rosas Luxemburg.
The best outcomes of today’s election result would be a resounding defeat of the Mahinda Rajapaksa led UPFA and the UNP succeeding in forming a coalition government with the help of the ethnic minority political parties and the JVP. The country could expect a better future only if the stability of the coalition is forced to being vulnerable to the pressures exerted by the JVP and the ethnic minority political parties. This is necessary in order to hold the UNP, as the lead partner of the coalition, accountable for its promises. Ideally, the JVP’s support for the UNP should be conditioned on it being in charge of at least two ministries, preferably the Ministry of Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Irrigation. Similarly, the minority parties should demand a firm commitment to transitional justice as a necessary prerequisite for meaningful reconciliation and a political settlement for the ethnic conflict.
The government lead by the UPFA would be disastrous for the country, as it would see the resurgence of the previous regime’s political culture, derail the reforms initiated under Maithripala Sirisena’s regime, and let those responsible for corruption and abuse of power during the previous regime escape accountability. In particular, the rather limited but noteworthy progress of President Sirisena’s regime in creating conditions for an independent judiciary, law enforcement agencies, and the civil service will be undermined if a UFPA government is elected into power.
The UNP forming a government on its own with a clear majority also does not guarantee a better economic and political future for the country. Such a future cannot be expected from a UNP government with an opposition led by Former President Rajapaksa or any other member of the previous regime. Since 1977, the UNP and UPFA have shared the same neoliberal economic and racist ethno-nationalist ideologies that are responsible for many of today’s economic, social, and political inequalities and injustices. The current political manifestos of the UNP and UPFA do not radically deviate from these two ideologies or provide clear policies to address these inequalities and injustices. Hence, only pressure from the ethnic minority political parties and the JVP, and not from a UPFA led coalition, can hold the UNP led government accountable for its promises.
Good governance (yahapalanaya) will not automatically address social, economic, and political inequalities resulting from neoliberal economic policies and racist ethnoreligious nationalism. In fact, the rules and regulations currently in place to ensure transparency and accountability—the twin pillars of good governance—are framed within the ideologies of Sri Lankan neoliberal capitalism and ethnoreligious nationalism. Any future government that seeks to challenge these twin ideologies will undermine its own political and economic base and risk isolation from the international community. Good governance as articulated in the respective manifestos of the two UNP and the UPFA deflect the public attention from the fact that the current economic and political crises primarily result from the neoliberal and racist ethno nationalist policies. Nepotism and autocratic rule that the country experienced under the previous regime are contextually specific symptoms of these policies.
Even the UNP’s politicians, known for being honest and uncorrupt, including those with religious credentials, are incapable of addressing the realities of neoliberalism and ethnoreligious nationalism. These “gentlemen” politicians do not have a political ideology or program in place to radically change these realities. Indeed, the eradication of nepotism and autocratic rule, which could occur under a UNP led government, will not bring radical changes to the current political culture. Whichever government that comes to power, they will aggressively pursue neoliberal economic policies and suppress any resistance against them. Under a UNP led government, family autocracy is likely to be replaced by class autocracy.
Make no mistake; the UNP is only critical of the Rajapaksa regime, not neoliberal economic policies. The good governance for which the UNP advocates is primarily to safeguard neoliberal policies, and the future will prove that it is a mistake to believe that good governance can address the economic and social inequalities inherent in a neoliberal economy. Whatever formal equalities any future government is able to provide for the general public, be that legal, political or social, will be undermined by the inequalities intrinsic to neoliberal economic policies. A future government under any mainstream political party will continue to introduce even harsher austerity measures to address the current economic crisis and suppress dissent against it.
Both the UNP and UPFA are vague about their respective political response to the ethnic issue. In this regard, the differences between them remain insignificant. The UPFA’s campaign clearly tried to capitalize on racist ethnoreligious nationalism by creating fear about devolution of power to minority Tamils and the potential rebirth of the LTTE. While the UNP is critical of the UPFA campaign’s exploits of ethnoreligious nationalism, it fails to articulate clear policies for a political solution to the ethnic conflict. Since the end of the war, the ethno-nationalists have continued to consolidate their hold over the country’s political affairs, primarily under the guise of national security, relief and rehabilitation, protection of national heritage, and development. Certainly, 100-day reforms did not provide a convincing road map to a political solution for the ethnic conflict and demands for transitional justice by the minority Tamil communities. Minority political parties should provide conditional support for the UNP led government for precisely for that reason.
A change in political power does not bring changes to the political culture and the ideologies that underpin that culture. Since independence, the UNP and SLFP have alternated state power, the result of people’s expectation that a change of governments will address economic inequalities and safeguard the ethno-nationalist interests of the majority community. The result was further consolidation of the capitalist and racist ethno-nationalist hold over the political and economic affairs of the country, which were primarily responsible for Tamil and Sinhala militancy. Economic and social policies evident in the UNP and UFPA manifestos are unlikely to address the root causes of such militancy.
The economic policies of political parties representing Tamil and Muslim minority communities are also committed to the same neoliberal capitalist economic policies espoused by mainstream economic parties. In fact, the ethno-nationalism of the minority political parties is also responsible for the current economic political and economic crisis, and they, too have harmed the welfare of their respective communities. The minority political parties, as long as they remain committed for the neoliberal economic policies, will fail to secure meaningful democratic rights for their respective communities, in particular for those oppressed in them. Under the prevailing circumstances, basic democratic freedoms are essential prerequisites for the emergence of anti-capitalist movements within the minority communities.
Although the political ideologies of the JVP during the 1971 and 1980s uprisings also subscribed to racist ethnonationalism, there has been a marked change in the JVP’s political ideology under the Anura Kumara Dissanayaka’s leadership. While some fear violence under a JVP government, we must not forget that Dissanayaka took responsibility for the party’s violent actions in the past and apologized during a public BBC interview. None of the mainstream political parties have taken responsibility of their past misdeeds. They are unlikely to do so in the future, either.
The JVP is growing in popularity as a party that provides the most credible analysis of the current state of the country and without a record of corruption or abuse of political power. It is the only party capable of guiding the country towards a meaningful democratic revolution. Under the current circumstances, however, the JVP is unlikely to win sufficient votes to form a government on its own. There is insufficient evidence for the voters to believe that the JVP can efficiently manage the economy.
Voters are not ready for a regime that is committed to radically anti-capitalist policies and political parity among ethnic groups. The majority of country’s population also shares the same capitalist and nationalist ideologies of the mainstream political parties but hopes that a change in governments will fulfil their economic and political aspirations and safeguard their ethno-nationalist political aspirations. Moreover, the international community will not support any party committed to anti-capitalist policies. Just like the UNP, the international community’s voting public shares the same illusion that good governance under a new government will automatically address the economic inequalities inherent in a capitalist economy.
Under these circumstances, the most promising path to some degree of economic and political equality is a UNP led government that is vulnerable to the pressures of the JVP and the minority political parties. Only through the pressure exerted by the JVP can the country expect to hold those responsible for corruption and abuse of power accountable and tame capitalist control over the economic policies the UNP would likely pursue. Similarly, without pressure from minority political parties, minorities cannot expect change to the ethno-nationalist policies of the UNP. The UNP led government is likely to be accountable only if its stability is vulnerable to the just demands of the JVP and minority political parties. Similarly, without pressure from the minority political parties, minorities cannot expect solutions to and change in the UNP’s ethno-nationalist policies.
Left alone, the UNP is unlikely to pursue accountability from members of the previous regime because some of its members would also be vulnerable to similar accusations, and some members of the capitalist class that support the UNP have also benefited from those corrupt policies. The culture of corruption and abuse of power transcends all mainstream political parties, including the ethnic minority political parties. Whatever the progress in addressing corruption and abuse of political power during 100 days of the President Sirisena’s regime would not have occurred without the relentless pressure of the JVP.
Compared to the UNP and UPFA, the JVP’s political manifesto is plainly stated and provides a clear road map for a just and equitable society. There was also a clear change in the JVP’s political culture under the leadership of Anura Kumara Dissanayaka. Not having a legacy of corruption and abuse of political power, only the JVP can currently stand on high moral grounds and demand accountability from those politicians responsible for corruption and abuse of power.
If the JVP is to fulfil its promises to the public, it needs to enhance its public credibility on two fronts. First, it should put forth clear policies regarding the political solution to the ethnic conflict and collaborate with minority political parties when their demands are just. Here, the JVP needs to articulate a clear relationship between their anti-capitalist economic policies and their policies that address the political issues and transitional justice of the Tamil community.
Secondly, the JVP should demonstrate to the public that it can manage the economy by complementing its valuable criticisms with its ability to manage the economy according to the social, economic, and environmental ideals they advocate in their manifesto. The surest way to do so is to demonstrate to the public how it could develop the agriculture and irrigation by managing the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Irrigation. These two Ministries are of critical importance to the overall wellbeing of the country and the JVP does have the capabilities to manage them better than anyone of the mainstream political party. In the event the UNP needs the JVP’s support to form a government, President Sirisena should use all his leverage to appoint Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe as the prime minister on the condition that UNP cedes these two ministries to the JVP. JVP’s success in this regard depends on how it plans to face the control of the agriculture and irrigation sectors by the neoliberal economic policies of the World Bank, IMF, World Trade Organizations, and Multinational Corporations (e.g. agribusinesses). This essentially means more pressure on the JVP to articulate its socialist ideals in relation to the current realities of the global political economy.
Of course, the UNP-JVP-and minority political party coalition I am suggesting is not an ideal solution for the current economic and political crisis. My position is undoubtedly reformist, but it promises to sow the seeds for radical economic and political changes in the future. In fact, the conduct of the next government will further expose the limits of good governance (as articulated in the respective manifestos of the two main political parties) to create a meaningful democratic society with economic, political, and environmental justice, the further convince the public of the need for a third political force with anti-capitalist and anti-racist political ideology. The pressure the JVP and minority political parties could exert on the UNP for good governance would create a democratic space for the country to imagine a more just and humane political project for the future.