27th February 2000
Is history repeating itself?
|Everything is happening in a manner
similar to what had happened earlier. In the same way that Mr. Jayewardene
used the JVP to weaken the SLFP, Ms. Kumaratunga too used the JVP to weaken
the UNP. In the same way that the unconditional support of the Tamil political
parties to Mr. Jayewardene strengthened Prabhakaran, the unconditional
support of those parties to Ms. Kumaratunga today is again strengthening
In a democratic political system, when a ruling party acts anti-democratically, it is the official opposition parties which have the responsibility of enlightening their party members and the public and turning them into an active force functioning against the government's anti-democratic activities. Struggles for democratic freedom waged in accordance with the law and with accepted democratic principles will lead to a strong upsurge in society and such struggles will nourish society with democratic attitudes.
If the official opposition parties take no effective steps when a ruling party acts anti-democratically it will cause a decline in the influence of the opposition leaders and the opposition parties. This will inevitably lead to a strengthening of anti-democratic activities of the ruling party, and the entire political system will fall into ruin.
It is on such occasions that the abilities of the opposition leaders and parties to establish themselves as an alternative leadership will be tested. The leaders who fail to render bold leadership and who show timidity when crises occur will lose their influence within their own parties and among the public as well. It is on such occasions that internal disputes arise about the suitability of the party leadership.
Although there may be occasions when internal disputes end in the replacement of weak, unsuitable leaders with stronger, new leaders, in parties with no internal democracy the possibility of new leaders emerging in such crises is extremely limited.
There is no internal democracy in any of the Sri Lankan political parties today. Party constitutions give party leaders a lot of power which cannot exist in any democratic system. Consequently, these leaders have the ability to suppress any internal revolts that might arise against them — even on the most justifiable grounds.
The revolts that arose in the SLFP against Sirimavo Bandaranaike after 1977 are an example. Yet, even on that occasion when the internal dissidents were extremely powerful they could not defeat the leadership. On every such occasion the dissidents had to either leave the party or remain within it under more disadvantageous conditions.
The party leaders victory in such revolts did not spell any progress in the party. Although Ms. Bandaranaike retained the party leadership due to her massive power base, it led to a great weakening of the party as members who had the initiative and drive left the party. This circumstance increased the strength of the ruling party and aggravated the weakening of the entire political system.
An essay titled "Economic Liberalization Versus Political Pluralism in Sri Lanka" written in 1987 by Mick Moore — a European specialist on Sri Lankan affairs — gives an interesting analysis of the servile and timid political conduct of the SLFP in the presence of the entire anti-democratic programme introduced along with economic liberalism during the time of J.R. Jayewardene. He points out — with facts to substantiate — that the SLFP's weak leadership, poor organization and inefficiency played a part in Mr. Jayewardene's administration's ability to curtail personal freedoms in the country.
Mr. Moore points out that Mr. Jayewardene was able to manipulate the SLFP due to the weakness of the SLFP's leadership and its organization and that the personality and the conduct of the party leader contributed to that weakness.
Ms. Bandaranaike had not tried to modernize or to set up a permanent system of party organization or bureaucratic administration in the party. As pointed out by Mr. Moore, the unity of the government's set-up depended on the support of family members like Felix Dias Bandaranaike and on the support of the Marxist parties. The SLFP's strength deteriorated with the removal of the two Marxist parties from the SLFP coalition before the 1977 elections and the death of Mr. Dias Bandaranaike shortly thereafter.
Ms. Bandaranaike did not give up the leadership of the party after its rout at the 1977 elections or even after she lost her civic rights. At the 1982 Presidential election she supported her party candidate nominally, not genuinely. Her desire to keep the party leadership within the family discouraged the able persons in the party who were interested in leadership.
Mr. Moore says that the differences and the splits in the party centred around the mother, the son Anura and the daughter Chandrika. Moore says that neither Anura or Chandrika had the skills necessary for real leadership and that if the party was able to change its form it would have been able to defeat the UNP's cruel repression.
Mr. Moore's analysis applies now to the UNP and the other opposition parties as well. The current political shape of the country is similar to that which existed then. The role played smilingly by Mr. Jayewardene in repressing personal freedoms then, is played smilingly by Ms. Kumaratunga today.
The servile and timid role played by Ms. Bandaranaike and the SLFP in the context of the anti-democratic programme implemented by Mr. Jayewardene is being played in a similar manner today by Ranil Wickremesinghe and his UNP in the context of the anti-democratic programme implemented by Ms. Kumaratunga.
Ms. Kumaratunga is manipulating the UNP in the same manner Mr. Jayewardene manipulated the SLFP. The very same role played by Maithripala Senanayake's group at the referendum was played in the last presidential election by the Sarath Amunugama group. The SLFP leadership did not know who was killed or assaulted on behalf of the party during the UNP regime.
The UNP leadership also doesn't know who has been killed or assaulted on behalf of the party during the PA regime.
Everything is happening in a manner similar to what had happened earlier. In the same way that Mr. Jayewardene used the JVP to weaken the SLFP, Ms. Kumaratunga too used the JVP to weaken the UNP. In the same way that the unconditional support of the Tamil political parties to Mr. Jayewardene strengthened Prabhakaran, the unconditional support of those parties to Ms. Kumaratunga today is again strengthening Prabhakaran's position. In the same manner that Mr. Jayewardene's policy turned the whole country into a killing field Ms. Kumaratunga's policy too will surely turn the whole country into a killing field.
At a time when a ruling party which is in power under a democratic political system is bent on taking an anti-democratic path it will be dangerous if an attempt is made by them to disrupt the official opposition parties — even with the intention of overcoming serious limitations in those parties. If that happens, the ruling party will have the opportunity of pursuing its anti-democratic policy in the context of weakened official opposition political parties.
Similarly any policy of unconditional support for opposition parties for the purpose of defeating the anti-democratic programme of the ruling party will probably not bring better results in a democratic sense.
Although democratic forces not involved in party politics supported the PA unconditionally against the UNP government, that action did not bring better results in a democratic sense.
Although the PA used the slogans borrowed from democratic forces for the purpose of getting their support in order to strengthen itself, the PA did away with those slogans after it came to power and took an anti-democratic path because those slogans were not genuine ones which came from within itself. The same process might take place in the future as well.
Such a mistake can be averted only if action is taken to bring about alternative democratic forces that will lead to a democratization of the make up of all political parties of the country while following a policy of defending the opposition parties.
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