Sri Lanka at Cross Roads: What a Victory for the UNF will Mean
It appears to be the most powerful electoral alliance that has ever been formed in the country.A political phenomenon, a coalition containing diametrically opposed political views led by someone without any formal political membership of any political party of the alliance he presides over. But how far will they march together either in their victory or defeat in the Presidential election on 26 January? Is it their last desperate attempt against a powerful political leader who has to be defeated at all cost, irrespective of their own closely guarded ideological and political beliefs? If not is the UNF an insolvable political contradiction that has been united by their political opportunism?
This article attempts to examine the political character of the parties involved in the UNF with particular reference to their histories and their implications for political stability and democracy in Sri Lanka
Violent Political History
The JVP identifies itself as a Marxist- Leninist party and believes in socialist revolution. They have not renounced violence they espoused in the pursuit of their political aims. The JVP has never accepted the responsibility for their political murders and have been evasive of any responsibility. The UNP is characterized by their reactionary and repressive policies when in power and were mainly responsible for defeating the JVP with a counter insurgency policy of unparallel barbarism against the insurgents. The UNP decimated the JVP leadership and their carders during 1987-89 without any mercy and they in turn assassinated high profile leaders in the UNP as well as left wing leaders and political activists. The JVP in its political history has led two insurrections and they were both defeated. They are now looking forÂ Â short cuts to capture state power. Throughout Â Â the JVP’s history of unsuccessful insurrections Sarath Fonseka (SF) served for the Sri Lankan armed forces and was on the other side of the struggle. The TNA which was the proxy of the LTTE Â Â are also supporting to SF who was the military commander who decimated the Tiger leadership and defeated the LTTE. All these parties and individuals bring to this alliance a responsibility for many of Sri Lanka’s political tragedies the human costs of which should haunt them forever. Â Yet these parties and individuals have never expressed any remorse for the assassinations they carried out from time to time nor have they repudiated political violence. Their past shows them to be anti-democratic and anti-people to the core and have lost the moral argument to be in politics or to be trusted by the people. Political opportunism and ambition appears to have triumphed along with their history which was riddled with undemocratic behavior and unimaginable violence. The cynicism of their actions may be overlooked by those who do not believe that we can expect more from politicians than this. However, what applies to personal integrity should still apply to politics and political parties as well. By this measure, the UNF parties Â Â have buried their integrity and have lost their moral compass.So far they all have evaded taking responsibility for their crimes and they will continue to do so. They present themselves to us now, asking for our trust and our votes, claiming that they are for democracy and that they are united. They are in effect asking the electorate to forget their anti-democratic histories and that they once wanted to destroy each other. It is unfortunate that they have not tackled these contradictions which contain very serious political implications for democracy and political stability in the country. They should have explained toÂ Â the people where they stand in relation to each other and their violent pasts.
Political and Economic Differences
The UNP is the biggest party in the UNF and they are able to shape and present policy decisions with greater confidence and conviction over the other parties. Following the political legacy of JR Jayewardene who was the architect of the open economic policies, they have long believed in free market economics. The JVP is openly critical of the free market and favors protectionist and egalitarian options. This set to be a major policy issue that will divide them and destabilize their alliance. The UNP being the Sri Lankan agent of the international finance capital will follow the path of privatizing the loss making utilities a move which will be vehemently opposed by the JVP.This clash of economic policies will inevitably lead to political divisions and the smaller parties such as SLMC, SLFP (M) and perhaps the TNA will be drawn into the divisive conflicts within the UNF. All these parties will support the open market policies on the basis of economic and political pragmatism but it is likely that the JVP will oppose economic liberalism and fight for price controls and more nationalizations. The JVP claims that they represent the working class and the poor but they make alliances with their class enemies. They joined the UPFA before and left and now they have joined the capitalist UNP. The UNP and other parties will woo the West and redirect foreign policies accordingly while the JVP’s xenophobic political line and anti-Indian political sentiments will play a crucial role in blocking this attempt.
This same xenophobia will also play a major role in preventing the resolution of the national question and the TNA will learn their bitter lesson in supporting SF without any condition, as they claim. No political party should have made the deal that the TNA agreed to, particularly in the current political moment. If cleverly negotiated with SF, the TNA could have used their political capital and electoral base to gain a major package of devolution. Despite their ability to potentially decide the outcome of the Presidential election, they simply declared the unconditional support to an alliance where the reactionary bulwark of Sinhalese nationalism, the JVPÂ Â hasÂ Â entrenched to fight against any devolution of power. It is difficult to rationalize how these contradictions and ideological divisions can be resolved in terms of normal political behaviors.
How they can reconcile and come to terms with these political histories and work together in an alliance of parties are very difficult to rationalize in terms of normal political behaviors. . This alliance is unreliable and opportunistic for the alliance itself and it is inconceivable how they will be honest about Â Â the political classes they represent.
The JVP claims that they represent the working class and the poor but they make alliances with their class enemies. They joined the UPFA before and left and now they have joined the capitalist UNP.
SF as Unitary as well as Divisive Factor
Sarath Fonseka is the pivotal figure within this unstable alliance, holding together divergent and contradictory forces. His lack of political experience will make this a daunting endeavour. Â Even if he was an experienced and proven politician, there will be a limit to his ability to unify his party. The deep ideological divisions within his alliance will have profound implications for the nature of the government he will form if elected. It will have serious consequences for Sri Lankan politics.
SF’s famous statement that Sri Lanka belongs to the Sinhalese and the minorities should notÂ Â make unnecessary demands is a clear signal of where his own political instincts lie. It is a political line which pleases JVP but not the UNP and the SLMC at least, when it comes to a political solution to the Tamil community. SF will go on satisfying the JVP because of his political and ideological affinity with the Sinhalese supremacist line of the JVP. SF will find his resulting political isolation difficult to overcome and there is a danger that he will probably attempt to resolve this by bringing in a coterie of military men. When faced with challenging times, political leaders rely on those whose loyalty he trusts, rather than Â Â the fellow political travelers who by that time will have served their Â utilitarian value. This is where democracy could suffer its first causality in its journey to an authoritarian rule.
ThroughoutÂ Â the country there is a desire for change because of the current regime’s poor records of right abuse, corruption and the culture of impunity. But the forgoing analysis shows that Sri Lanka’s fragile democracy will face a more dangerous situation with a regime driven with opportunism and differing political aims. The resolution of past enmities and disagreements will simply be postponed until after the General Election. If they are elected and their fragile alliance falls apart, the consequences will be felt by the people. Â Politics is not about individuals alone but also about the social and political forces and classes the individuals appear to be representing in a given political moment. The violent political history of these parties should be condemned by every human being as they have committed heinous crimes against humanity. They have notÂ Â Â repudiated their use of political violence against people with different political views. They have never expressed remorse for those who were assassinated Â Â by them. They simply do not understand democratic politics and the right to life. It will be historically unforgivable to let them come to power without highlighting the danger that they pose. Even though they want to come to power through democratic means they cannot be democratically trusted and will be politically dangerous. With great trepidation therefore, I conclude that the UNF will misuse the political space following a regime change and will not hesitate to further endanger our democratic politics and institutions in their pursuit of power.