(May Day) Crowds hardly tell a tale

May Day in Retrospect (Daily News Editorial)

Joint Opposition stalwarts are all gung-ho about the crowd attendance at their May Day rally at Galle Face. The adrenaline is certainly flowing for people like Wimal Weerawansa, who, dazzled by the crowds, has called for the hoisting of black flags during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s forthcoming visit to the country to attend International Vesak Day celebrations.

Another JO stalwart, Udaya Gammanpila, went onto comment that it was their leader Mahinda Rajapaksa’s happiest day since his ouster on January 8. Obviously, in the same exultant mood as colleague Weerawansa, he is calling for a day of hartal to demand the holding of a General Election. An election is also badly wanted by Mahinda Rajapaksa purely on the strength of the crowd attendance.

Image result for Sri Lanka May day crowd cartoonsCartoon Googled and added by TW

While the JO members could preen themselves on the Galle Face crowd, this, as they well know, is no yardstick for success at a national election. It was a fait accompli for the JO to muster the crowds that they eventually did if it were not to lose face, after bragging that they will fill up the esplanade with the crowds. One recalls the crowd attendance at MR’s rallies during the Presidential Election campaign. They were indeed monumental and dwarfed the attendance at the rallies of the Common Candidate, who sometimes had to make do with wayside plots of land following the last minute denial of the official venue. In Polonnaruwa, the home turf of the Maithripala Sirisena, Rajapaksa boasted that it was the largest ever crowd ever to descend on the electorate in the Rajarata, at his rally. The result, the Common Candidate romped home by a majority of over 30,000 votes. It was the same method of mustering the crowds, as witnessed at Galle Face, on May Day, the loot accumulated during the Rajapaksa ten year rule put to good use.

Crowds hardly tell a tale. The UNP for instance was never known to muster sufficient crowds for its election rallies and always fell behind the SLFP and JVP. But this did not mean that it lost the election. In 1982, Hector Kobbekaduwa drew massive crowds to his rallies, with Vijaya Kumaratunga being the star attraction. But JRJ won by over a million votes when the ballots were counted. There is a plausible explanation for this phenomenon.

The UNP does not have the sort of voter base that can make it draw its supporters to election rallies. It counts among the bulk of its supporters the business class, the upper middle class and middle class conservative types who are not those who can be bothered about attending election meetings. But come election day they vote en bloc for the Grand Old Party.

On the other hand, the SLFP (or the Joint Opposition) commands a different support base where radicals, nationalists and the lumpen types form the bulk of it voters. To such types election rallies and events such as May Day are a welcome diversion from their drudgery and mundane lives. With the JVP it is different. As a cadre based party attendance of all comrades are mandatory and what was witnessed at the BRC grounds on Monday is the sum total of support for the Rathu Sahodarayas.

Be that as it may, the UNP may have even surprised itself by the massive turn up at Campbell Park. Ditto for the SLFP at Getambe. One has to remember that this May Day was held amidst the backdrop of many unpopular measures forced on the public by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government such as the increase in the VAT, the high price of rice, coconuts and certain essential items. There was also the other issues that were created by Pro-Rajapaksa elements such as SAITM, the spate of doctors’ strikes, ETCA, to name a few. To cap it all, there was the collapse of the Meethotamulla garbage mountain, burying alive dozens of people and rendering hundreds of families homeless, for which the government was unfairly blamed although the problem even predated Rajapaksa rule.

For all that, the people, by and large, have remained faithful to the UNP and President Sirisena led SLFP, of the current Unity Government, given the crowd participation at both rallies, when one would have expected a backlash by the public in the form of diminished attendance. Their combined strength would have easily outstripped the attendance at Galle Face. It is a clear indication that the people are willing to give a chance to the present government to place the country on the right footing and implement the development programmes it has embarked on, the current difficulties and hardships notwithstanding.

Be that as it may, the government should be watchful and not allow the breakdown of law order that may be planned by elements in the JO, emboldened as they are, by the crowd attendance at the May Day rally. Prime Minister Modi will be here as a guest of the government to participate in a noble event. Nobody should be allowed to act in a manner that would mar the occasion.