By MYM Siddeek –
300 nominations have been made for 6151 candidates to contest the upcoming surprisingly announced general election for electing/selecting/nominating 225 legislators to the Sri Lankan legislature. It means, less than 4% of the candidates contesting the election will go to the parliament. From the widely telecast President Maithripala Srisena’s (MS) speech on the 14th July, the people may conclude that the parliament was dissolved to avoid the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe (RW) being impeached and to avoid the possibility of the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa (MR), ardent enemy of the President MS, becoming the Prime Minister. If they are the only reasons, it can also be concluded that the parliament was dissolved not to honour the promise given to the people although it was about two months later than the date mentioned in the 100-day programme. As per the 100-day programme, the parliament should have been dissolved on the 23rd April 2015. It was obvious that there was a fierce internal battle going on between the President MS and his opponents in the parliament and within his parties (SLFP and UPFA) before the parliament was dissolved.
In this battle the Muslim parliamentarians did not have any say to influence the President to dissolve the parliament or to prevent such an event although it was claimed that the President MS was elected because of the minority votes in the last presidential election and in spite of the fact that the sudden announcement to dissolve the parliament can have far reaching impact on the political, social, religious, and economic lives of the minorities. It may also mean that these Muslim parliamentarians are taken for granted !
Although the Muslims are divided very much in their political affiliations with various political parties, no one can deny the fact that the major political party for the Sri Lankan Muslims is still Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC). The SLMC was formed in 1981 as a social organisation, not as a political party but to educate the Muslims on the issues facing them by late M.H.M. Ashraff and a very few social minded people. In 1986, late MHM Ashraff decided to declare the organisation as a political party for the Muslims and it was claimed that the party would follow the Islamic principles in its policies and activities. The party was recognised and registered by the Election Commissioner only a year ago in 1988. It was also claimed that the party was formed to fill a vacuum of not having a political party for the Muslims on their own in spite of severe criticism as a communal party and it was feared that this could alienate the Muslims politically. Although the SLMC came under severe attacks from the other major ethnic groups and political parties at its early stage of the growth, slowly they became accustomed to recognise the SLMC as the ‘face’ of the Muslims and the main force that represented the Sri Lankan Muslims, mainly those living in the East and the North of Sri Lanka since early 1990s. Whenever there was a national issue or regional issue affecting the Muslims, the successive governments could not ignore the SLMC to consult with it. In 1994, the SLMC under the charismatic leadership of late MHM Ashraff rose to its peak in popularity and as a very powerful force which could have a major influence in choosing between the two main political parties to form the next government. Since late MHM Ashraff decided to support Mrs. Chandrika Kumaratunga in 1994 immediately after the general election, she could form the government. This was considered an extraordinary historic achievement in the political history of Sri Lankan Muslims and of SLMC within a short span of time. It was also said that no Muslim politician in the Sri Lankan history could have such a remarkable influence in forming the government which was achieved by late MHM Ashraff. The number of SLMC parliamentarians had increased from 4 in 1989 to 7 in 1994. In fact, it may be said that, the SLMC had significantly enhanced the bargaining power and the ‘identity’ of the Muslim community in 1994. There was a time when the major political parties or the government wanted to negotiate and settle the issues facing the Muslim community only with the SLMC rather than with more matured and experienced Muslim politicians who belonged to the major political parties such as UNP and SLFP. That was considered a marvellous achievement for the SLMC. This popularity continued for some time until early 2000s and the SLMC became the sole voice of the Sri Lankan Muslims !. This was the time even some former popular Muslim politicians who belonged to the SLFP and UNP either joined or supported the SLMC. The party constantly worked to make sure that the Muslim voice was heard.
What has happened in the Muslim politics today? Many Muslim new- comer- politicians who came to politics through SLMC and known to the Muslim community through SLMC have broken away from the main party, SLMC and have formed political parties on their own; but kept the name Congress with them. For examples All Ceylon Muslim Congress/All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC), National Congress etc. What difference does this split make? The difference is that when the SLMC was at its peak in popularity, the major political parties wanted the support of the SLMC to form the government, the party was in such a powerful position; in contrary to this, because of the split and resulting loss of bargaining power today, the SLMC’s and its splinter groups’ members now have to go behind the major political parties such as UNP, SLF and UPFA and need their support for them to become MPs and for their existence!
Now they are covering their ‘faces’ with the other major political parties in many of the electoral districts. It may be because they fear that they will not be able secure any seat if they contest in their own party symbol! What a devastating impact the split has brought to them! This adverse impact of disunity should be realised sooner than later by the Muslim politicians who belong to these ‘retail’ political parties before they completely vanish from the future Sri Lankan politics! Apart from this impact, the problems facing the Muslim community continue to remain unresolved and become worse day by day. For examples, the problems of the displaced Muslims of the North and East who still live outside the provinces in large numbers, increased unemployment among the Muslim youths, erosion of real family income, falling living standard, problems of the Muslims living below poverty line, congested villages with a large number of people after tsunami in 2004, homelessness, land issues, lack of resources in the Muslim schools, low literate rate among the Muslims, remote Muslim villages that need development, irrigation problems, the communal tension between the Muslims and other communities, freedom to practice their religion, to name a few. The slogans carried by these Muslim political parties such as additional local council for Sainthamaruthu and Kalmunai coastal district, for examples, are not going to solve these problems and they are not the needs and aspirations of the majority of the Muslims living in the area. How is creation of an additional local council and a costal district going to solve the above problems? How has the creation of a new Kalmunai Municipal Council a few years ago, for example, solved the deep-rooted problems facing the Muslim community in this area after its creation? As far as I know the creation of Kalmunai MC has been used as a stepping stone for many local politicians to rise to the next step in the hierarchy. I consider these slogans of creation of a new local council and coastal district are tactics to attract Muslim votes. Further, the demand for a Kalmunai costal district was one of the courses for the communal disharmony between the Muslims and Sinhalese in the area among other factors, as I believe. The Muslim politicians who cannot identify the real problems facing the Muslim community and draw policies with clear strategies carry these false slogans, in addition to their personal attacks of characters of the opposite party candidates in the propaganda meetings. All this has lead the Muslims becoming voiceless to bring out their burning issues although there are multiple Muslim political parties and more number of Muslim MPs now than ever before.
Therefore, how are the Muslims going to vote in the 17th August parliamentary election? On the basis of what policies of these parties are they going to vote for a party and on what basis are they going to elect a candidate? The Muslim parties that contest in the forthcoming parliamentary election, have lost their own symbols, colours and identities because they contest the election either in the lists of UPFA or UNP except in a very few districts. For example, the Muslim candidates are contesting in the lists of UPFA, UNP and ACMC in Digamadulla electoral district. The National Congress candidates are in the list of UPFA and the SLMC candidates are in the UNP list. Now a sensible question could come up in the minds of the Muslim voters in Digamadulla electoral district as to why they should vote for the candidates in the UPFA and UNP lists. Is it because they accept and are convinced with the policies of the UPFA and UNP or for the policies of the National Congress and the SLMC? UPFA and UNP policies are already known to the people to some extent. Then what are the policies of the SLMC and the National Congress on the basis of which the Muslims are going to vote if their votes are for their policies? Do they have any credible policies for the people to believe and accept? If they are voting for the Muslim candidates in the UPFA and UNP lists, why do they need separate political parties exclusively for their community? Why should not they vote for the Muslim candidates who have been with these major political parties (SLFP and UNP) for decades irrespective of the election outcomes without crossing over to other parties for positions and perks rather than voting for the candidates who came through these new Muslims political parties and now contesting in the lists of those major political parties? Does it mean that forming separate Muslim political parties a historic mistake?
If the Muslim voters forgive the Muslim politicians who deceived them by giving false promises just before past elections and then forgetting about them after the elections, they should choose between the UPFA and UNP since many of them are contesting now in the lists of these parties. How can the Muslims accept the UPFA as a party which can be trusted by them after the widespread incidents island wide against them during the past several years when the UPFA was in power? Then, is the UNP a credible alternative for the Muslims? The Muslims cannot forget the fact that 1982 Galle Sinhala-Muslim riot and Black July 1983 occurred during the UNP regime. Further, the party has not put forward any reliable solution for the problems facing the Muslim community. Furthermore, JHU is a major constituent party in United National Front For Good Governance (UNFGG) (Eksath Yahapalana Jathika Peramuna – EYJP). The Secretary of JHU is the General Secretary of EYJP. JHU is a party that opposes federalism which the minorities believe can recognise their right to self-determination at regional levels. JHU even campaigned before the last presidential election to bring changes to the 13th amendment to reduce power to the existing provincial councils. It is important to note here two important points. First is that prior to this general election being called the UNP had claimed it would contest the election on its own. The second is that the UNFGG had originally been established by re-naming of the JHU after it left the UPFA. UNFGG was registered as a political party with the diamond symbol. Despite this the UNFGG is contesting the election under the name and elephant symbol of UNP. UNFGG General-Secretary, Champika Ranawaka has stated that the JHU name and its symbol will be revived after the general election. It should also be remembered that the JHU was launched in February, 2004 by Sinhala nationalist political party, Sihala Urumaya. Apart from these, the economic performance of UNP in the past was very poor. The policies of the party failed to reduce the economic hardships of the poor people and have widened inequity between the poor and the rich. The UNP is a party whose leader could not do anything acceptable to the people with regards to the alleged major fraud of Central Bank treasury bond issue recently.
On the other hand, the voters should not forget the fact that the President MS is the Chairman of SLFP although UNP is trying to capitalise his message. The President said that the public should elect people who were suitable to carry out the mandate of January 8 election, and not to vote criminals and fraudsters into Parliament . It is well known fact that there are more alleged criminals in the UPFA candidate lists than that of the UNP candidate lists. The President’s message is a big bonus for UNP. In addition, the anti-Rajapaksa campaign might benefit UNP!. However, the President’s loyalty, as I believe, will be to his party although he opposes MR being elected as an MP and aspiring to become the Prime Minister. It is unimaginable that the President will desert a party in which he has been part and parcel for decades. Therefore, as some people think, can he be neutral without aligning to the party he belongs to?
Let me analyse a little more about the district level politics of the Muslims. When we look at Batticaloa electoral district candidates, one of the main candidates in the SLMC list was a bitter opponent of the SLMC in the last provincial council election. How come the candidate who vehemently opposed SLMC and its policies in the last provincial council election has accepted the party and its policies now and ‘selling’ them relentlessly in this parliamentary election campaigns? What are the new policies and programmes of the SLMC which convinced this main candidate in Batticaloa district to contest in the list of the SLMC? When a thorough analysis and performance evaluation of the Muslim politicians belong to the parties mentioned above, it will indicate very poor rating. Apart from negotiating and securing ministerial, some diplomatic and high profile positions and enjoying perks, what they have achieved for the Muslim community is skimpy. Therefore, the Muslims are in a real dilemma in choosing the right candidate in the upcoming parliamentary election! As I mentioned before, the Muslims wanted to form a Muslim political party on their own fearing that they had been losing their Muslim identity as a separate distinguished ethnic community, among other things. Now they are in limbo without any identity even losing a little identity they had before forming the Muslim parties. Now these Muslim parties not only shifting their affiliations with the major political parties from time to time, even individual members/candidates of those parties too shifting their party memberships from one party to another! For example, ACMC candidates are contesting in the list of UNP in Batticaloa electoral district. But the ACMC members are competing against the UNP list candidates in Digamadulla district! The SLMC candidates are contesting in the UNP list in Digamadulla district; but the SLMC candidates are competing against the UNP list candidates in Batticaloa district. Ugly inter-party and intra-party rivalry among the Muslim candidates is getting worse day by day in these districts. In Trincomalee electoral district, the SLMC and ACMC leaders are in the same stage with Ranil Wickremesinghe !
Therefore, the Muslim voters are really confused now. Are these Muslim politicians’ objectives just to secure seats in parliament whatever the party they go for ! Do these Muslim politicians have any clear policies and programmes that they can justify before the Muslim voters? Muslim voters will now think seriously unlike before since, I believe, they are politically more mature now than before. Sadly these candidates also speak loud about good governance and rule of law! These are the candidates who were very close to nasty Rajapasa regime seven month ago. Furthermore, these parties or candidates could not do anything when the economy and places of worship of the Muslims were destroyed by racist elements during the Rajapaksa tyranny. Therefore, rightfully and forward thinking individuals are left with a massive and difficult task of educating the Muslim youths in grassroots level on the need for a real change and alternative political force.
The Muslim voters can also use the upcoming general election as a good opportunity to teach an unforgettable lesson to all the Muslim politicians and reinforce the original concept and purpose of forming a separate Muslim political party on their own and make them understand the importance of uniting in the future elections under one ‘umbrella’ party and one symbol without aligning to the political parties that betrayed the Muslim voters and occasionally divided them to achieve their own objectives. Therefore, whatever the number of political parties contesting in a particular electoral district, the Muslims should unite and vote to one particular party and show their unity and strength to the nation and the world. This will restore their bargaining power which they have lost now. They should also totally ignore the new comer-political parties which were formed and aligned to other parties, as it seems, just to secure seats in the parliament for the individual key members of those parties even before their parties beginning to get to their feet. The only thing these ‘retail’ parties are trying to do is to divide the Muslim community politically and regionally and weaken their strength and bargaining power.
Unite We Stand, Divide We Fall !