May Day fallout

(Island Editorial)

The island whose soft corner for JO, MR & Co is very obvious and well-known would not say who is puppeteering the strikes of doctors, CPC workers, etc.   
The bottom line is Ranil and Maithri have failed to keep the original promises they made to the people.  Ranil’s appointment of arjun as CB govenor ignoring W A W Wijewardena is his egregious folly.  Importing ageing baskaralingam from the UK is yet another biggest blunder while there are best and younger professionals in the country.  -TW 

The government must now be regretting its decision to allow the Joint Opposition (JO) to hold this year’s May Day rally on the Galle Face Green. It obviously did not think the JO was equal to the task of bringing enough people to fill that long Stretch of land and the adjoining promenade. The yahapalana leaders and their propagandists kept on daring the JO to fill at least one quarter of the venue if it could. Crowds at political events may not necessarily translate into votes at elections, but the JO’s mammoth May Day rally has manifestly had an unsettling effect on the government.

The JO leaders will be mistaken if they think they are now in a position to dislodge the government at a time of its choosing. Instead, their show of strength might galvanize the disparate political forces in the ruling coalition, currently at daggers drawn, into sinking their differences and uniting to hold the Rajapaksas at bay. For, that is the only way they can think of retaining their grip on power.

Cartoon is from Daily Mirror

However, the JO’s ability to rally people in large numbers is a worrisome proposition for the government, especially at a time the latter is planning to devolve more powers through a new Constitution and enter into controversial agreements with some foreign powers amidst protests. The worm has already turned as evident from public demonstrations against dumping Colombo’s garbage in the suburbs of the city. Close on the heels of a petroleum workers’ successful strike, which crippled the country, the government doctors have threatened trade union action.

The government does not seem to be able to realise its strengths and weaknesses let alone assess its opponents properly. If you know your enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles, Sun Tzu has said in the world’s oldest military treatise, The Art of War. If you know yourself but not the enemy, he has warned, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. “If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” This is true of power politics as well.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa lost the 2015 election because he knew himself but not his enemies. Cocky and powerful, he underestimated his political opponents. The yahapalana leaders have apparently made the same miscalculation. They should have considered the outcome of the 2015 general election, where they failed to secure a working majority, a wake-up call and opted for an immediate course correction. Instead, they sought to neutralise the JO by manipulating Parliament and the SLFP/UPFA. They should have made a serious effort to win over the formidable forces backing the JO by fulfilling their promises and proving the allegations they had made against the JO leaders.

Postponing election involves a heavy socio-political cost as is common knowledge. The SLFP-led United Front regime blundered by delaying elections by two years in 1975 and suffered an ignominious defeat in 1977, paving the way for an autocratic rule. The UNP replaced a general election with a heavily rigged referendum in 1982 and prepared the ground for the JVP’s second uprising albeit unwittingly. The indefinite postponement of local government polls under the present dispensation for political reasons has led to a massive pressure build-up, which found expression in the impressive turnout at the JO’s May Day rally. Had the yahapalana leaders held the mini polls perhaps they may have suffered some electoral setbacks, but there would not have been so much of pent-up public resentment to propel the JO in this manner. Now, all signs are that they may not hold an election in the foreseeable future.

Tolerance used to be the biggest asset of the yahapalana administration; initially, it heeded public opinion and was flexible in handling dissent. Its leaders used to boast of having restored people’s democratic freedoms. But, today, it no longer possesses that virtue if the coercive methods it employs to deal with protesters is anything to go by. It unflinchingly got the STF to crush anti-garbage protests recently.

Usually, a government, troubled by a gnawing sense of being cornered, tends to consider attack the best form of defence. Whether the yahapalana administration, with its enemies emerging stronger, will make that mistake, remains to be seen.

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