24 May, 2022


To The Left Of The UNP, To The Right Of The JVP: The New Opposition’s Role Model Must Be The US Democrats, But How? 

By Dayan Jayatilleka 

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

I write to respond to Uditha Devapriya’s literate, critical commentary ‘Hobbes & Locke: Dayan Jayatilleka & The Opposition Reset’ – Colombo Telegraph, not to rebut, but rather to clarify and elaborate. 

In the first place I have been appointed the Senior Advisor on International Relations to the Leader of the Opposition, rather than Senior Advisor to the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) on the subject. While I support Sajith Premadasa, I am not a member of any political party and anything I write and/or say about the Opposition is as a political scientist who also happens to be sympathetic to and critically supportive of the main democratic opposition party, the SJB; not as the holder of any official designation within it. 

In the second place, my views on what Mr. Devapriya correctly calls ‘the Opposition Re-Set’, does not stem from purely normative or ideational reasons, but from coldly Realist analysis.  

To the extent that the Gotabaya Rajapaksa presidency is on a continuum with the Donald Trump presidency, it is incumbent upon the Sri Lankan opposition and intellectuals in the broad oppositional space, or more correctly, the space of the democratic resistance to the regime, to study and emulate the methodology and pathway of the US Democrats who successfully defeated Donald Trump, reversing the 2016 defeat under the leadership of the neoliberal Hillary Clinton. 

This precisely what Oppositional intellectuals and commentators have failed to do, as has the political opposition as a whole. 

What were the steps followed by the US Democrats which the Sri Lankan oppositional democrats have so far failed to study and emulate? 

The website FiveThirtyEight, which most professional analysts found the most reliable, objective source of reports and projections during the recent presidential election campaign in the USA had a superb article recently on that subject. Authored by Perry Bacon Jr., it was entitled ‘Biden’s Team and Priorities Show How The Democratic Party Changed In The Trump Era’.

Its opening paragraph details an exercise which Sri Lanka’s democratic Opposition and political commentators have yet to undertake, though it is the imperative starting point of a successful political strategy. It says:

“Democrats spent much of the last four years debating exactly how they lost to a fairly unpopular and flawed candidate like Donald Trump in 2016 and what changes they needed to make to avoid another defeat. They debated if they needed to be more liberal or more conservative on policy; if they should be principally focused on the Sun Belt or the Rust Belt, on voters of color, white voters with college degrees or white voters without degrees; if they needed to nominate more white men as candidates or more women and people of color; if they had to talk about race less or economics more.”

The crucial line here is “how they lost…and what changes they needed to make to avoid another defeat.” 

This is exactly what the oppositional intelligentsia in Sri Lanka has yet to do, which is why many of them regurgitate the conventional wisdom of uniting all forces of the Opposition, including the UNP under its existing leadership, and thereby, recomposing in effect the profile of precisely the government that was massively defeated in 2019-2020, enabling Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the SLPP-led SLPF to win decisively. 

The FiveThirtyEight essay goes on to elaborate:

“…In other words, we now have a pretty detailed picture of where the Democratic Party landed on many of those debates. And the main takeaway is this: A multiracial group of Obama-style Democrats are in charge, just like from 2009 to 2016. They’re solidly left of center — but mostly from the ideological middle of the party, not its leftmost wing…But this time, the explicit goal is to push and enact more leftward-leaning policies — compared to the Obama administration, in particular — on both economic and racial issues.” (ibid)

Perry Bacon Jr. spells it out: 

“…From the day after Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the 2016 presidential election to the 2018 midterms, Democrats were battling over the party’s direction but mostly focused on fighting now former President Trump. 

…Biden won in large part because of the support he got from the party’s more establishment and centrist figures who were wary of Sanders and Warren. But along the way to his victory in the Democratic primaries, Biden moved left when compared to the Obama-Biden administration’s stances…Then, after Biden basically had wrapped up the nomination, two real-world events pushed him even further left…

Harris, like Biden, is a center-left establishment Democrat who has moved leftward as the party drifted in that direction but is not as progressive as Sanders or Warren.

Sanders, Warren and Ocasio-Cortez and the broader left wing of the Democratic Party unified behind Biden in the general election…

…Biden has gone about filling the government and leadership of the Democratic Party with a demographically diverse group of establishment types who have moved left in recent years like Harris and Biden himself. 

…Jake Sullivan…one-time top adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign urged the party to become more populist after Clinton’s defeat.

… in the Biden administration, there is one clear, dominant ideological view — left of Obama in 2016, not as left as Warren now. “Left of Obama in 2016, not as left as Warren now,” of course, isn’t a precise ideology. But we are already getting some glimpses of what that means in practice.” (Biden’s Team And Priorities Show How The Democratic Party Changed In The Trump Era | FiveThirtyEight)

This is clear, I think. It is also what I urge on the SJB and the opposition in general, in the struggle to face and defeat our tropical, tougher-than-Trump: a “more populist” (Sullivan’s argument) democratic Opposition, to the left of the UNP historically and most certainly of the UNP of the Wickremesinghe quarter-century, but not as left as the JVP. 

This then is what I am arguing for in the case of Sri Lanka. An Opposition which is ideologically moored, but not mired, in the ideological middle while being left-of-center, pushing left-leaning policies. That is the route I’m hoping and expecting Sajith Premadasa’s SJB will go.

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Latest comments

  • 3

    Dr.DJ says: “An Opposition which is ideologically moored, but not mired, in the ideological middle while being left-of-center, pushing left-leaning policies.”
    That sounds like a good description of the Pohottuwa crowd. True, that sort of politics wins elections, but is not likely to produce Singapore in the Arabian Sea. We have a government now that contradicts itself on a daily basis, from port terminals to Muslim burials. Is Dr.DJ recommending more of the same just to win the next election?

  • 0

    Dear Dr Dayan

    (1) Consultant Strategist to Hon SP on Foreign affairs/International relations and thank you for the clarity. A very well analysed article and thank you. I like the continuity/series of articles to have an open feel of the public feelings/perceptions ……this itself sound like Hon SP ‘s Fathers outlook in life cool…..and he got the right man to do the ground work too.

    (2) Skipping all the goodies and sharing my concerns regards to the tried and tested regional Nations political parties vs USA relevance – I am just wondering this is all good comparing to the USA but how we looking regards to the winning formulas of other Nations such as Malaysia (not even Singapore) may yield better results as a next step??

    (3) I get your justification for Centre Left but are foreign policies based on this political philosophy alone?? this is the first step?? cause we are in 2020/different strategic location/middle of the Geo Political interests in the region etc…how we then adjust the positioning to all these??

    (4) Then looking at the SLPP/SLFP also have similar stand historically and now too? Yes they having to carry a different mantle because of the post war scenario to give us a sense of normality for all else to come. How then SJB differentiate itself for voters to choose etc?

    • 0

      (5) I am believer in making a case from ones strength and not at the expense of the opposition in a democracy…..we also need to set a path for our communities to think elations are just an event and we all live together/work together thereafter to celebrate what we have just elected etc. My concern is if we follow similar political stands then would this be a dividing factor vs brining people together factor before/during and after the each elections as campaigns may get very personal?
      Like the British Labour Party under Blair was successful and far to the right?? yes left a huge void in the left segment came to bite him later specially after the war crimes?

      (6) Bear in mind that many Muslims/Tamils are fond the Capitalist ideas to the core. Some of our National questions are always linked to this concept of unjust mind in caring for the fellowman in a developing country. Continuation of the colonial mindset too. To appeal to the majority you are good but to take this lot on board (now with the TN links..(another money making scam) you may want some carrots too as stick did not work to date?

      • 1

        (7) How did Malaysia land the entire world so successfully for her journey?? she avoided her children toilet washing for others instead she has all the ASEAN AND SAARC children flock to her country for survival including the western nations for technology transfer at a very balanced way?? she also appeals to the retired segment around the world so they can come and spend their life and money in her economy??
        (8) She has extensively invested in social media campaign on uniting the divided segments..Malays/Chinese/Indians and others through a task force specially assigned to take care of that and is everywhere on your face…..I watched this personally from 2002 to 2019 how confused generations being targeted and they totally get it……they also ban divisive “Government policy undermining media” big time as this is naturally confusing to the children at the beginning.

        • 1

          I wonder why they gave you thumbs down when you said the truth about Malaysia.I tend to agree with you because my wife is from Malaysia from the Chinese and Japanese background. I thoroughly enjoy my stay there which is a good example of a truly a multicultural nation, thanks to the person like PM Thunkun Abdul Rahman,was a rare breed of a good politician and I wish them well..

  • 3

    “To The Left Of The UNP, To The Right Of The JVP”
    Since the earth is round, one will get somewhere with this idea, but of course with a long way to go.

  • 1

    Sorry Dayan if I mixup National Policies vs Foreign Policies etc. I am not a political scientist but learning a lot through your systematic work you are sharing with us all…thank you.

    That is the way politics should be done to the public….a 2 way process for learning. Somehow we always supercharge and victimise the audience with emotional speeches that normally looses all its content.

    My Father was always focused on what he is proposing to do and never attack the opponent in his town hall meetings….and had one on every corner of his Vaddukottai electorate as well as big meetings too…never insight hate nor violence on the other. Hon SP’s Father risked his life to pay tribute to my Father in our home with his Hon Ministers in 1981 in Karainagar.

  • 4

    When will Sri Lanka is going to have its own independence and democracy? When Sri Lanka is going to stop fighting against its own people? What do you all understand the reason for failure of the country in terms of economy, rule of law and justice?
    Why Sri Lanka reached to UNHRC when Sri Lanka won the war with LTTE in 2009 with the help of USA, China, India, Pakistan, Europe?
    Why Sri Lanka gave Hambantota Harbour to China? Why did not Sri Lanka ECT to India? Why SriLanka want to give WCT to India now?
    Why there was an Easter Bombing when there is not a single LTTE fire?
    Where is the ISIS now?
    Have you got the answers? Have you got the people to solve the problems? Where is the problem?
    Sajith, Have you got the talent to challenge the Monk who challenged Gotabaya to take action against Weerawanse?

  • 1

    Dayan, mate, whatever the merits of this (your) article, could you please [pleeeeeez] prevail upon Sajith Premadasa to cultivate a (much) more down to earth, conversational style of speaking, and try to keep his thesaurus far away from him, when he does, if he wishes to endear himself to the poor voters who are bereft of political choice and become a credible threat to the “Rajapaksa forever” project?

    Don’t you think it is downright embarrassing to listen to such pompous but well meaning crap like this?: https://www.youtube.com/watch?fbclid=IwAR1Xf1tNQQ8dUcxIq2LSDVlR5nKX9P98eVnmLYwAK-D4XKvkPQClYwYXn68&v=v0D6_ROuXog&feature=youtu.be&ab_channel=SajithPremadasa

    • 1

      The presenter himself is pompous, but even he seems flabbergasted by Sajith.

  • 1

    “New Opposition’s Role Model”. Dr. DJ is the “Advisor” on “Foreign Affairs” to Opposition Leader Mr. Sajith Premadasa. But does he “Qualify” to “Advise” on the “Formation” of a “New Opposition”? He suggests: To the SJB, to the “Right” with UNP, and to the “Left” with JVP. In my opinion, it is for SJB to go with UNP, because all the UNP – the “Drifters” are with Sajith. I could never imagine JVP will accept SJB to their “Left” having learned the “Bitterest Lesson” “Once” and again “Leaning” with “Yahapalanaya”. However, in “Politics” impossibilities do take place and if JVP resorts to that, in the least “Leaning” towards SJB would be “Hara-Kiri”. Apart from all these “Theories”, the “Ground Realities” of “Politics” are completely a different “Ball Game”. For instance, during the last two elections, JVP formed a “Broad-Based” congregation of “Intellectuals” and placed it before the

    • 0

      The Senior Adviser on International Relations to the Leader of the Opposition & Ajith
      The ‘Ground Reality’ of the ‘Political Analysis’ of all Ajith’s questions can be expressed in a simple nursery poem by a lesser know-how:
      ” Humpty Dumpty Sat on a ‘War on Terror Wall’
      Humpty Dumpty had ‘Zero Civilian Death Toll’
      All the Kings men(Diplomats) & all the kings Horses(intellectuals)
      Couldn’t put Humpty together Again!!!
      Alas!!! That’s the essence in a Nutshell” Hope I enlightened you.

  • 1

    continued….and placed before the People a comprehensive “PLAN” for “Recovery” and “Progress” of the country. What happened? The only bear “3%” accepted it. On the other hand, an overwhelming majority “Congregated” on “Ethnicity and Religion” voted a brand “New Party” with the “Flavor” of a “Long Ago” event of “War Winning” and “Rana Viruwo” suggested with “Buddha Dhamma”. In a sense, this was comparable to “Donald Trump” campaign of “We America & Americans”. Besides this, there is one more important factor to reckon with and that is the “Veneration” of “Persons” as brought to bear with politics in the name of “Mahinda Sulanga”. Dr. DJ would remember it best because he was the person who read out the “Message” from MR at the “Nugegoda” market place at the “Inauguration” of “Mahinda Sulanga”(Mahinda Storm). On this “Platform” SJB can “TIE” easily with UNP (without Rani W) and NOT certainly with JVP/NPP. So, Dr. DJ try working on your “Skills” (as you did in that “Mahinda Sulanga”) with SJB/UNP.

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