Elephants and chameleons

Island Editorial

The JVP has fired the opening salvo in what seems to be a well organised campaign to prevent President Maithripala Sirisena from seeking a second term. Its Propaganda Secretary Vijitha Herath, MP, has vowed to defeat Sirisena if he contests again. SLFPers loyal to Sirisena want him to seek another term as their political survival is dependent on him; they have been busy sending trial balloons for the past several months.

President Sirisena declared, on several occasions, that he wouldn’t contest again, as the JVP has rightly pointed out. He made a solemn pledge to that effect on the day of his inauguration in Jan. 2015. Ambitious politicians who, unable to make a comeback, used Sirisena as a battering ram to bring down the Rajapaksa government expected him to win the presidency and retire like D. B. Wijetunga so that they could achieve their goals thereafter. But, they are now disappointed that he has asserted himself and his loyalists want him to contest again. Has the JVP spoken for those who consider Sirisena an obstacle in their path? 

The JVP has boasted that it defeated Mahinda Rajapaksa in the 2015 presidential race. This claim reminds us of a story. A herd of rampaging elephants destroyed part of a forest one night. The following morning an animal which happened to pass by the place inquired from a chameleon, sitting on an uprooted tree, who had wreaked so much of destruction, and the latter replied triumphantly, “Elephants and we!”

True, the JVP, to its credit, played a vital role in enabling Rajapaksa to secure the presidency in 2005, when not even the SLFP threw its full weight behind him. But, times have changed. The JVP was extremely popular in the mid-Noughties. One may recall that it obtained 39 seats as a constituent of the UPFA and some of its leaders outperformed even very senior SLFP leaders at the 2004 general election. In the Gampaha District, Vijitha Herath got 215,540 preferential votes while Anura Bandaranaike (UPFA) could poll only 198,444 in the Bandaranaikes’ stronghold.

The JVP has since lost its appeal to the electorate. It went all out to defeat Rajapaksa at the 2010 presidential election only to have egg on its face. In 2015, Sirisena would have won with or without the JVP’s support because he enjoyed the unstinted backing of the UNP, the TNA, the SLMC and a section of the SLFP. By 2015, the Rajapaksa government had become highly unpopular due to its corruption, profligacy, abuse of power, hubris and one-family show. It also alienated young voters.   

The JVP once again sullied its image big time, in 2015, when it became a shameless beneficiary of the despicable manipulation by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government of parliamentary composition out of its desperation to deny Rajapaksa the post of the Opposition Leader; JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake accepted the post of the Chief Opposition Whip. The Rathu Sahodarayas have been playing softball with the UNP for the past two and a half years. They even unflinchingly helped the government secure the passage of the most despicable piece of legislation, the Provincial Council Election (Amendment) Bill recently. The JVP has thus become a malleable tool in the hands of the UNP and a spent political force. So, instead of threatening to defeat others it had better get its act together in a bid to prevent its own ignominious defeat at future elections.

One cannot but agree with the JVP that President Sirisena has no moral right to renege on his pledge that he would not seek another term. But, if the SLFP or an alliance led by it fields Sirisena at the next presidential election with a UNP candidate challenging him, a JVP campaign against him will be advantageous to the UNP. What will the JVP do in such an eventuality? Or, will the JVP also field a candidate and cause a split in the anti-UNP vote? Who will stand to gain in such an eventuality? These are some of the questions the JVP, which flaunts a revolutionary cause and condemns capitalism at every turn, should answer.