Tuesday, 27 February 2018

A threat to quit unholy alliance



By Shamindra Ferdinando

JVP leader and Chief Opposition Whip, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, on Feb. 19, 2018 declared that those who had joined forces to oust the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, at the Jan.8, 2015 presidential election would never get together again.

An irate Dissanayake warned SLFP leader President Sirisena not to entertain the hopes of securing a second five-year term. The JVPer also warned UNP leader, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, that he would never be the President. Wickremesinghe unsuccessfully contested the Nov. 1999 presidential election.

A dejected JVPer said so at the first parliamentary session, following the humiliating defeat suffered by the UNP, the SLFP and the JVP at the Feb. 10 local government polls. Dissanayake acknowledged that the Marxist party couldn’t secure anticipated polls result, though some progress was made. Dissanayake asserted that some gains had been made in the predominately Tamil northern region.

It would be pertinent to examine Dissanayake’s assertion that those who had been involved in the high profile 2015 political project wouldn’t join forces again.

Having assumed JVP leadership on Feb. 2, 2014, Dissanayake paved the way for the party to join the UNP-led alliance. Dissanayake replaced Somawansa Amarasinghe, who assumed the party leadership about six years after the extra-judicial execution of party founder Rohana Wijeweera in government custody. The UNP executed Wijeweera on Nov. 13, 1989, in Colombo. Amarasinghe passed away, in June 2016, following a brief illness.

Under Dissanayake’s leadership, the JVP threw its weight behind the UNP-TNA (Tamil National Alliance) combine to help Maithripala Sirisena thwart twice-president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s bid to secure a third term. Dissanayake took over a much weakened JVP due to heavyweight Weerawansa switching allegiance to Rajapaksa during his first presidential term. Subsequently, Dissanayake suffered another setback due to Kumar Gunaratnam forming his own outfit, the Front-line Socialist Party (FSP).

In the wake of the recent drubbing, at the countrywide polls, three years after the Jan. 8, 2015 presidential election, the JVP has declared its intention not to continue with the UNP-led political alliance against Rajapaksa. The JVP announced its decision after having blamed Sirisena and Wickremesinghe for the debilitating defeat suffered in the hands of Rajapaksa, whose re-emergence as the most influential political leader obviously stunned the Marxist party.

The JVP also joined forces with the Joint Opposition to question the validity of the UNP-SLFP arrangement, alleging that their pact lapsed in Sept. last year, therefore the continuation of the National Unity Government cannot be accepted. The JVP didn’t find fault with the yahapalana partners failure to extend the agreement until they were routed at the Feb. 10 polls. The JVP cannot be unaware that the UNP-SLFP agreement had lapsed four months ago. The SLFP purposely refrained from extending the agreement as it felt it could be severely disadvantageous due to the UNP being implicated in the Treasury Bond scams that had been perpetrated in 2015 and 2016.

However, Dissanayake made no reference to the origins of the UNP-led political alliance that ousted Rajapaksa, three years ago.

An unprecedented alliance

The alliance that successfully challenged the Rajapaksas came into being in late 2009 in the run-up to the Jan. 26, 2010 presidential polls. The alliance backed war-winning Army Chief General Sarath Fonseka. After having alleged Fonseka as well as the Rajapaksa brothers, Mahinda, Gotabhaya and Basil, had committed war crimes, the US Embassy, in Colombo, played a critical role in the formation of the alliance. The US succeeded in its efforts though, at the onset, minority parties, particularly the then four-party Tamil National Alliance (TNA), was skeptical about the project. The US also brought the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) into the project meant to defeat Rajapaksa. The US compelled the TNA to back Fonseka, while the JVP, too, played a significant role in the campaign.

Somawansa Amarasinghe had been in command of the party, with Dissanayake being a member of the parliamentary group, at the time the JVP joined the original US-led project to elect Fonseka president. The project went awry. The JVP ended up alleging that the Rajapaksas of perpetrating what was then called computer jillmart (manipulating computers to fix the polls result).

The US role in a despicable bid to change the government in Sri Lanka (as it has done in many countries world wide) wouldn’t have come to light if not for the secret revealing WikiLeaks. Thanks to WikiLeaks, the electorate is aware how the US Embassy ran a political project to defeat the war-winning president. Disclosure of classified diplomatic cables, pertaining to the then SLMC Chairman and Opposition Leader of the Eastern Provincial Council, Basheer Segudawood, as well as TNA leader R. Sampanthan, sent shock waves through political parties. However, the electorate hadn’t been largely unaware of the political parties here being used by the US Embassy to implement its strategies.

After the 2010 project to instal Fonseka as the president went awry, the UNP quit the alliance to contest parliamentary polls on its own. A disappointed Fonseka had no option but to team up with the JVP to contest on the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) ticket. The grouping managed to secure just seven seats, including two National List slots. Among the five elected were Fonseka and World Cup winning cricket captain, Arjuna Ranatunga, from Colombo and Kalutara districts, respectively. The Rajapaksas angered especially by Fonseka’s foul mouthing used the existing system to punish him by depriving him of his parliamentary seat. Later Fonseka registered his own, Democratic Party and contested the parliamentary polls in Aug. 2015 at which he suffered a terrible defeat with many of his close supporters having abandoned him along the way. Fonseka couldn’t even retain his seat. The UNP accommodated him on its National List in spite of him not being a member of the party and hadn’t been on its lists at the last parliamentary polls.

The JVP has now distanced itself from both Fonseka and Sirisena and obviously in a quandary.

The JVP had been deeply involved in the both the 2010 and 2015 projects. Interestingly, on both occasions, so called common candidates, Sarath Fonseka and Maithripala Sirisena, though being backed by the UNP, contested on the New Democratic Front (NDF) ticket, an offshoot of the Democratic United National Front (DUNF). Chairman of the outfit, N.M. Shalila Moonesinghe, was arrested in Oct. 2017 for having transferred more than a million USD illegally from the Far Eastern International Bank of Taiwan, to his personal bank account at the Bank of Ceylon. At the time of his arrest, Moonesinghe, a British national of Sri Lankan origin, functioned as Chairman of LITRO Gas, a state-owned enterprise.

None of those political parties, including the JVP, had ever commented on the case involving the NDF chairman. The National Election Commission (NEC) is yet to initiate action in respect of Moonesinghe registering a political party through some devious means, way back in 2009. Now that Dissanayake has declared that the 2015 group would never get back together to back a presidential candidate at the next presidential poll, in 20 months time, the JVP’s position would certainly have a bearing on the overall political situation and is likely to be advantageous to the Rajapaksas.

The NDF, with its swan symbol, is unlikely to receive an opportunity again to participate in a high profile campaign again though incumbent president Sirisena remains its man.

JVP’s dilemma

The JVP managed to secure six seats at the last parliamentary polls, in Aug. 2015 The JVP parliamentary group comprised two National List members. In spite of promising to introduce a new political culture, the JVP, too, accommodated two defeated candidates, Sunil Handunetti and Bimal Ratnayake on its National List slots.

In the run-up to the Feb. 10 local government polls, the JVP really believed that it could comfortably gain sizable electoral gains at the expense of the UNP and the SLFP. The JVP asserted that the situation couldn’t have been better for the party to register its best performance, at national level, especially in the wake of the UNP being humiliated over Treasury Bond scams, involving Perpetual Treasuries Limited (PTL), and Sirisena accused of shielding some of those facing corruption and alleged murder charges. A confident JVP went to the extent of declaring intentions to achieve kingmaker status at the next presidential and parliamentary polls. Instead, the electorate has delivered a humiliating snub to the JVP, perhaps for its perceived role in backing the government at crucial junctures, especially in helping to get certain anti-democratic legislations passed with 2/3 majoprity, at the commencement of a crucial period with provincial councils polls for nine regions, followed by presidential and parliamentary polls.

In fact, the JVP has been compelled to acknowledge, in parliament, that those who had believed in the SLFP policies voted for the rebel SLFP group thereby strengthening the hands of the former president. Obviously, the JVP ended up with egg on its face due to its failure to achieve noticeable progress in urban areas or provinces.

The JVP like all other political parties and civil society organizations that campaigned for Sirisena at the 2015 presidential poll, repeatedly stressed that Rajapaksa couldn’t secure 50 per cent of the vote. They pointed out that for those who had called the Feb. 10 polls a sort of national referendum on the performance of the three-year yahapalana government suffered a debilitating setback. The overtly pro-government civil society outfit ‘Purawesi Balaya’ that briefed media twice and Government National List MP Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne underscored that Rajapaksa couldn’t secure the required 50 per cent of the votes cast to claim victory. In fact a pathetic attempt was made to portray Rajapaksa’s failure to achieve 50 per cent as defeat for the Joint Opposition/Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna at the next parliamentary and presidential polls.

Crisis faced by anti-Mahinda elements

The SLPP polled 44.69 per cent of the votes cast at the LG election. The UNP obtained 32.61 per cent. The UPFA polled 8.90 per cent. The SLFP polled 4.48 per cent. The two governing parties secured together 45.99 per cent, almost 46 per cent. Rajapaksa led SLPP polled 44.69 per cent, nearly 2 per cent less than the other three parties put together.

But those wanting to use these figures to depict a defeat for the SLPP at a referendum, had conveniently forgotten that the vote received by the SLFP and the UPFA couldn’t be under any circumstances counted as anti-Mahinda vote. The majority of those who had exercised their franchise in support of Sirisena are likely to switch their allegiance to the SLPP at the forthcoming PC polls, followed by presidential polls and parliamentary polls.

The JVP secured 6.26 per cent and the Illankai Tamil Arasu Kachchi polled 3.06 per cent. Let me reproduce the relevant section from a statement issued by TNA leader R. Sampanthan following local government polls drubbing: "If one was to add the percentage of votes polled by those two parties together with the percentage of votes polled by the UNP, the UPFA and the SLFP, the total would be 55.31 per cent. So, in other words, parties opposed to the SLPP have polled 55.31 per cent and the SLPP has polled only 44.69 per cent. This is indisputable.

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, at the Presidential Election, held in 2015, polled 47.58 per cent. The votes he polled at the Presidential Election, in January, 2015, were more than the votes he polled at the LG election. There have been three elections in recent times; the Presidential Election in 2015, the Parliamentary Election in 2015 and the Local Government Election held this month. In none of these elections has former President Mahinda Rajapaksa been able to obtain more than 50 per cent.

His vote has always been below 50 per cent at the Presidential Election, at the Parliamentary Election and at the Local Authority Election. So, there is nothing to get excited about: elections are held; parties win; parties lose. The Local Authority Elections have been held and you have won. One does not dispute that fact, but the fact of the matter is that you have polled only 44.69 per cent as opposed to 55.31 per cent cast against you. So, what is there to get excited about? Nothing at all. Parliament is not constituted on the basis of votes cast at the Local Authority Elections. Parliament is constituted, - the President is elected, on the basis of votes cast at the Presidential Election – at a Parliamentary Election held for that purpose in keeping with the Constitution and the laws of this country."

Why worry?

Those who had claimed that Rajapaksa lacked electoral support to achieve 50 per cent of vote cast at 2015 national elections and the 2018 countrywide local government polls, in spite of rhetoric, seemed to be seriously concerned about the rapid reemergence of Rajapaksa.

Finance and Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera in the run-up to the Feb. 10 polls warned that the yahapalana project could be in jeopardy in case Rajapaksa led the SLPP to victory. Samaraweera’s fears have now been realized and an unexampled threat emerged at a time the government is struggling to come to terms with the TNA demand for a new Constitution. The TNA itself is under heavy pressure in the north with the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) making progress in the north at the recently concluded polls.

Sampanthan cannot ignore Rajapaksa himself declaring that he wanted the post of the Opposition Leader. Rajapaksa has challenged Sampanthan’s right to remain the Opposition Leader in the wake of the JO/SLPP consolidating its position in areas outside the Northern and Eastern provinces. Sampanthan must be really worried over the situation developing in the Northern Province, particularly in the Jaffna peninsula where the stage is set for a virulent political battle at the forthcoming second Northern Province Provincial Council polls. The TNA-held council will be automatically dissolved in Oct. this year. The TNA faces the challenging task of dropping incumbent Northern Chief Minister, retired Supreme Court judge C.V. Wigneswaran, from its list of candidates. Wigneswaran’s next move can cause turmoil in the Northern Province and undermine the TNA hold, especially in the wake of the TNPF taking a harder stand on the accountability issue. Having made electoral gains in the Jaffna peninsula at the recently concluded polls, the TNPF, ahead of the next Geneva sessions, is now campaigning for the Sri Lanka issue to be moved from Geneva to the UN Security Council. The TNA alleges that the Security Council should now move in as Colombo hasn’t adhered with Geneva Resolution 30/1. The TNPF leadership recently asserted that in case the matter cannot be taken up in New York, the UN should consider the setting up of an international war crimes tribunal.

Wigneswaran is likely to come under pressure to throw his weight behind the TNPF at the coming PC polls campaign. The possibility of the outspoken politician, who is now at loggerheads with the top TNA leadership, joining the fray, too, cannot be ruled out.