By Susantha Goonatilake


Coalition and voter politics in a flux

Change is in the air. The President in a TV programme said the SLFP always came to power only with the support of the Leftists. This programme also brought indications that the PA and JVP were talking of alliances. While this talk was occurring at the top, there were grumblings from some PA segments. The LSSP MP, Samitha Thera attacked the JVP bitterly. Some others complained that the JVP was eating into the PA. As if to emphasize the latter some had seen blue caps at the JVP demonstration in Lipton's Square. The TULF secretary reacted to the proposed PA-JVP link being as against "multi-cultural diversity". Evidently something is in the offing. Let us take the different political actors.

The complaining racist TULF is the antithesis of multi-cultural diversity. By declaring the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamils, it abdicated any political function and became the unarmed wing of the Tigers. It thus legitimates all the nefarious LTTE racisms such as ethnic cleansing, desecration of religious sites and crimes against humanity. Previous TULF contributions to raw racism included the invention of a phony traditional homeland, and saying that Sinhalese ate Tamil meat, hardly certificates for multiculturalism. TULF roots lie in the nexus of Tamil separatists in India and here; its precursor, the Federal Party being formed at the same time as the DMK with declared links with the latter. The consequence: armed ethnic conflict started in 1972 (and not in 1983 - as so often pronounced by the President to make narrow political points against the UNP some of whose cadres were involved in the riots). In Tamil Nadu, separatism is today dead and the Tigers are heartily hated. But on one thing the TULF is correct; it's the Sinhalese 75% that will decide. The JVP launched two armed revolts, one for social causes and the other for social and nationalist ones. Although it gets its strength mostly from Sinhala areas, the JVP has not stood for exclusive Sinhalese rights. Its stand is that Sri Lanka is the home for all nationalities and religions. Its nationalism is not Sinhalese, but Sri Lankan. Its stand against federalism and separatism arises from this stand of rejecting divisions based on race and creed.

The SLFP in its formative years drew strength from Sinhala nationalism to undo colonial policies against the majority. With the advent of Chandrika, as the leader of the PA, (ably supported by NGOs, downgrading the position of her nationalist mother), the SLFP absorbed some of the baggage which she brought from her other connections including that of the separatist EPRLF. The Old Left which joined her, in turn discarded their positions of the 1970s. The 1972 Constitution authored by LSSP's Colvin was in many ways the crowning of the anti-colonial thrust of the SLFP and the Old Left, and a culmination of an agenda set by nationalists in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Several Old Left leaders had been educated in schools thrown up by the Buddhist revival. The deviation of Chandrika's SLFP from its nationalist roots was one reason that the Sihala Urumaya spurted briefly till it was rocked by leadership problems and found its nationalist platform absorbed by the JVP one.

How would these different players act out in coalition and electoral politics? First, a few elementary facts of electoral politics. The last election did not see a plurality of votes for the UNF If one counts the votes, the PA and the JVP got the plurality. If there was an electoral understanding between these two parties then, the UNF would not have scored, especially in Buddhist areas. The bonus seats alone would have given a comfortable majority to a combined PA/JVP. Not only did the UNF not get a plurality in Buddhist areas, but they also went on to install for the first time since Independence a government whose leading lights are all drawn from Christian families. This latter fact is now being openly talked about.

If an election was repeated now, and the earlier pattern of voting repeated, a PA-JVP combination could easily form the next government. But the question is under what terms.

In economics the JVP has made a social democratic transformation and proposes a mixed economy with social control of market forces. It is in the ethnic arena that there are differences. Although the grassroots SLFP would be congenial with JVP perspectives or even SU ones, its leadership after the NGOs installed Chandrika speaks of "federalism".

This is not a federalism of the USA kind where power is devolved on a non-ethnic basis. Although Chandrika says she does not recognize the traditional homelands, the Chandrika/PA federalism recognizes ethnically based borders. If the SLFP grassroots were given a voice in this feudal party, this approach would be rejected and multiculturalism in its true sense would be promoted.

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