By Aboobacker Rameez –
This month marks the demise of Marhoom MHM Ashraff, the founder of Sri Lankan Muslim Congress (SLMC), and the establishment of the party as a political force in the history of Sri Lanka. Politicians in the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress organized various events in line with the commemoration of their late leader Ashroff in the Eastern Province, given the fact that such a resurrection of his image infinitely boosts the electoral clout.
With the announcement of Uva Provincial Council election, Muslim political parties such as SLMC headed by Minister Rauff Hakeem and All Ceylon People Congress (ACPC) headed by Minister Rishad Bathiudeen joined together under Democratic National Alliance(NUA) to contest the election in coalition on the request made by civil society organizations. This is a historical turn of events, given that the parties which are considered as an arch rival in the sphere of ethnic politics in the North East and some other parts of the country are contesting, for the first time, in unison. With the demise of Marhoom Ashraff, the SLMC suffered a serious blow with a fragmentation of the party due to various factors. Since then, an effort to unite the Muslim politicians, both in the government and opposition, under a common banner for the sake of the society resulted in an utter failure. Thus, despite a coalition of SLMC and ACPC, in the wake of Uva provincial council, is deemed as a positive gesture in the minority politics, it also raised many eyebrows and drawn suspicion and apprehension among the people. Both the SLMC and ACPC, then, mobilized their party stalwarts across the country to garner the support for the coalition in the Uva province and to ensure their party’s representation in the council. However, their mission resulted in vain with no candidate from the coalition has been selected to the council. Clearly speaking, the coalition of these political parties has been defeated overwhelmingly in the province securing only 5045 votes out of 40000 odd Muslim votes in the Uva province.
Factors that contributed to the defeat of the coalition
There are several factors that gave rise to the overwhelming debacle of the coalition of these political parties in the Uva Provincial Council election. Firstly, it is to be noted that both the SLMC and ACPC did not have a vote base previously in the Uva province. Neither SLMC nor ACPC had elected representatives in the previously held Uva Provincial Council election. Secondly, majority of the Muslims in the province were under the impression that politicians from both SLMC and ACPC who are still cabinet ministers in the present government represented the government that turns a blind eye to the viciously strident anti-Muslim campaign whipped up by religious fanatics or extremists in the country and its wanton destruction it caused on the places of worship and properties of Muslims. Under such circumstances, Muslims were plainly irked and dejected with the government that failed to conspicuously restrain the anti-Muslim campaign. Thirdly, Muslims may have thought that voting to this coalition is tantamount to casting their votes to the government favourable to Sinhala Buddhist ideology or supermacism and thereby both SLMC and ACPC were considered playing the role of brokerage to secure the Muslim votes. Finally, a vibrant message that the Muslims in Uva election conveyed to the coalition that they are no more willing to support ethnic-based political parties and that they are prepared to extend their support to national level political parties favourable to engage minorities including Muslims and is not based on the Sinhala Buddhist ideology. Moreover, there is also conspiracy theory levelled at this coalition which lacks empirical evidence to support, that is, this coalition that was fielded by the government to prevent the anti-government votes of Muslims going to the UNP. These are the reasons, I am of the view, that contributed to the defeat of the coalition in the Uva. More importantly, the Uva election results epitomize as a stepping stone to change the status quo.
Ethnic politics in the present circumstances of the country is unhealthy and seems to be waning, given the Uva election results. Thus, parties that are based on ethnicity will have to revisit their policies as to how they can be revamped to garner the support of the minority people, while working effectively with majority political parties. I think that a broad coalition of minority parties with national level political parties beyond the ethnic and religious lines is the need of the hour in order to ensure the aspirations, security and existence of minorities in the country. Late leader Ashraff formed the National Unity Alliance (NUA) which is defunct now with the sole intention of forming a broad coalition, regardless of ethnic and religious boundaries, when he realized the fact that the ethnic politics would make matters worse in the future.
*Aboobacker Rameez who is a PhD scholar at National University of Singapore is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at South Eastern University of Sri Lanka. He can be reached at email@example.com.