By E.M.G. Edirisinghe
It is not the sweeping victory of the UPFA that the people in general are talking about, but what happened to the JVP which boasted of taking over 25 councils finally ending up with one, and that too the only one they already had under them. The sound beating the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) got was a foregone conclusion and the current prediction is that the maximum they could get at a future election is just one seat. The outright failure of the Monk MPs was proved beyond doubt and that leaves them to display their might and influence at temple level, towards which they have contributed nothing. Buddhists want the monks in temples and not in talk-shop Parliament.
The initial error the JVP committed that triggered the present unsavoury situation at which they have to find words and figures to explain that they are not ‘losers’ but in fact the ‘winners’, was when they blasted into the campaign with the slogan “gama javipeta” (village for the JVP). That sent down a wave of rethinking among people as to how could there be a country without villages. They did not know that village could be administratively separated from the country. They questioned whether there could be a country if there are no villages. That thinking process hit hard on them to think the one who got the country should get the village, too, if there is to be an all-round progress and development.
JVP is correct when they say that the President would not have won, if not for the active support of the JVP. But it is also true that if the LTTE allowed the N-E Tamils the freedom to exercise their vote, the results might have been different; also, it is a fact that the President lost a substantial number of Tamil, Muslim and Sinhala votes due to the vociferous and chained support of the JVP (and JHU). The JVP has a history of over 35 years of turbulent as well as peaceful existence. Too long a period to have not come to power. However, it is a national party today. How long will it take to take over State power. All that depends on how the thinking of the people shapes and changes and matures in the light of the election just concluded and its outcome, at which the JVP held over 12,000 meetings with very high hopes and managed to get just one council only and poll only 11% of the vote.
Why did the JVP fail (though they claim ‘victory’) at the recent elections? With the above poor slogan which initially backfired, there are several other reasons for their ‘poor’ showing. In the first instance, the JVP do not locally encourage promotion of individual leaders to whom the masses could look upon for inspiration. The people do not vote for policies or manifestoes. They do not even read the manifestoes because they know that no party will ever publish a manifesto that the people do not like.
Anyway, they may be carried away by slogans (e.g. Sinhala within 24 hours; righteous society; 8 kilos of grains; who is he, what does he do), but certainly not by policies. The primary inspiration and vitality come to the people through local and national leaders of a party. They trust leaders, good leaders because they knew nothing detrimental or harmful could flow from them. The JVP put the party above the party-men while the people put the latter above the former. For the people, men are more important than nominal entities. They know that an unreliable or unknown leadership of a party can place an excellent manifesto before the people; but do they ever vote for them. So, until the JVP decides to promote and develop national and local level leadership acceptable to the people, they would never be able to move ahead as they should. The leadership should be one which has an appeal to the people. Joint leadership is a joke for the people. Competition for preferential vote is necessary to build leadership at village level. For the people, a party is a non-entity; it’s men who lead it only matter. However strong a base of a political party is, it cannot embrace a wider spectrum of men and women without an influential and socially acceptable leadership. Otherwise, the voter-bank will be restricted to the party membership and their families. They can never have sympathisers and win over the floating vote without which no party can capture power at local or national level. JVP could get general credibility and wider popular reception only when it was in alliance with an acceptable party with accepted national leadership. That is how the JVPers in several districts were able to top the UPFA list pushing down some well- known figures at the last general election, because they established and affirmed its acceptance with the guarantors from the major party on their side. Only diehards and the direct beneficiaries will remain loyal to the party, whoever the leader or leaders are. Tissamaharama PS is an exception where the Chairman and the members were very popular among the generality of the people of the area. They are liked by the people and it was more an endorsement of the local leadership rather than the party itself. We had similar experiences in the past. CP in Point Pedro and Kalavana, LSSP in Mihintale, Bingiriya and Kolonna and BBP in Gampaha are a few examples where this phenomenon was exhibited at the elections.
The JVP is quietly getting itself identified as the force behind strikes and wild-cat protests which will gradually sink them in the well of public discontent. Even the strikers themselves will forget their masters sooner or later. No political party which engineers strikes causing disruption and disturbance in public life will enjoy the confidence of the people who, when their turn comes, will not hesitate to show their disenchantment and dissatisfaction. Three factors reduced status of the LSSP, CP and the MEP to their present nominal existence: They are the strikes, dearth of illustrious leadership and their alliance either with the SLFP or the UNP.
At the recent elections, the total polled was 66% of the number of electors. In the last general e1ection If the percentage of voting touched 80%, the total number of JVPers elected this time would have been reduced to around 190 because that 14% who did not vote were certainly either UNP or UPFA as everyone loyal or sympathetic to the JVP had voted for the party as they believed that they had to show their strength both to the country and t the SLFP. The 12% of the vote the JVP polled this year, could be the highest ever and it will not pass the 15% mark. That is the normal reading of any Marxist party in Sri Lanka which tries to contest on its own after launching strikes and letting off verbal attacks causing the maximum mental disturbance to the people.
It is interesting to note that the area in which the JVP did creditably well at the elections to local bodies was the Western coastal belt and the Colombo District, which was once support base of the LSSP which dominated in its heydays. Unfortunately, there is hardly any trace of the glory the LSSP enjoyed in the period 1956-1970. The lower middle class which formed the base of the LSSP has now switched over their support to the JVP, only to be abandoned after some time. The exceptional situation in the Hambantota District that favoured the JVP is similar to much gains the LSSP made in Kegalle District. For any party that draws strength from the working class, urban and suburban, is more affirmative than the support it gets from the rural areas.
A party which the people trust as the custodian of their rights and a fighter on their behalf will think twice before voting them into power because they know once they become master they cease to be their servant. So, most of those non-party voters who voted for JVP love to see the JVP continue to remain in the Opposition as a party of agitation. This is a certainty when a particular party remains in the Opposition for a long period. The TJNP, SLFP, MEP, PA and the UPFA captured power within a few years of their formation. The longer the party stays in the Opposition, the more the people will use it to do the spade work for them. That is to keep the Government under check and be alert on their doings. For the JVP to insist that the President should honour the Mahinda-JVP agreement shows their ignorance and immaturity in politics. Most agreements are honoured in the breach. The society and the international conditions are in constant change, the agreements become outdated with fresh situations arising, forcing the parties to adapt themselves to face such changes. “Everything that is mundane is subject to change”, the Buddha said. One cannot remain dogmatic. Once World Communism and Marxism were considered the driving force of the people and their future government. But today it is an anachronism. Capitalism here or abroad was able to survive because it has the flexibility to adapt itself to change. All agreements later become quotations and are referred to only documents.
When a party is in alliance, and once it leaves the alliance, always the party that leaves, stands to lose. The JVP was still able to harness some support because even if they contested separately on principle they never left the government and continued to stress the fact that they continued to support the President with whom victory is identified. Had they broken away from the UPFA and led a vigorous anti-government campaign, their votes would have been halved. Also, any party which helps to build the image of another and put him in power, it is very hard to damage it, because the people will continue to trust him until he himself destroys it. We know how C.P. de Silva failed. Also how Gamini-Lalith Combine and the NM-Colvin Combine failed, however powerful and popular they were among the people.
The JVP has reached a point of no return and if they leave the Mahinda Administration, the people will not accept them forcing it into a distant third force. Also the second string leadership in any Marxist party will always be intellectually and charismatically poorer in the shadow of its more vibrant leaders of the past. In 1956, the LSSP was 25 years old and the SLFP was just 5 years old. The latter swept into power in an alliance and the LSSP would have been wiped off, if not for the electoral agreement it formed with the MEP. Mistakenly, the LSSP thought that next it would be their turn and started all kinds of agitations, strikes and protests with the people finally concluding that they are a nuisance. Hope the JVP will learn from history and from their own past. [Source: Daily Mirror]