Rational Sri Lankan voters — there are still many not mesmerised by demagogues — are likely to see many paradoxes in the stance against ‘anti-American imperialism’ that is common political fodder at election time and the current American diplomacy. The UNP is traditionally identified as being pro-Western and have been perpetually damned as ‘stooges of [...]

Sunday Times 2

Paradox of Pohottuwa’s anti-Americanism with US soft diplomacy in Lankan politics


Rational Sri Lankan voters — there are still many not mesmerised by demagogues — are likely to see many paradoxes in the stance against ‘anti-American imperialism’ that is common political fodder at election time and the current American diplomacy.

The UNP is traditionally identified as being pro-Western and have been perpetually damned as ‘stooges of American imperialism’. At this election, it will be no different with the new Pohottuwa membership now collectively howling against the two defence agreements — ACSA and SOFA — although the UNP government says that no such agreements will be signed and that the ACSA agreement had been initiated by the Pohottuwa’s presidential candidate, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, when he was Defence Secretary of the Rajapaksa regime.

The paradox is that while the Pohottuwa is letting off collective howls against these agreements, American diplomats are paying due and undue respects to Mahinda Rajapaksa, MP for the Kurunegala District and leader of the newly-formed Pohottuwa party, while his brother Gotabaya is treated with kid gloves. Besides, the issue of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s American citizenship has still not been officially cleared, it being a vital constitutional requirement that dual citizenship debars a candidate from seeking to be president.

Thus rational voters will be confused at the Pohottuwa howling against American defence agreements with American diplomats being extremely soft on its presidential candidate and also the likely prime minister if the Pohottuwa wins the presidential and parliamentary elections.  And Gotabaya Rajapaksa has not yet voiced his opinion on the two defence agreements.

Meanwhile, it does appear that the UNP battle for a presidential candidacy will end up in a hara-kiri finish. It is time Ranil Wickremesinghe and Sajith Premadasa, both committed democrats, followed the advice of Otto Von Bismarck, the First Chancellor of the German Empire: Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable—the art of the next best.

JVP astonishes with show on the Green

JVP comrades performed an astonishing political feat on Sunday, packing the Galle Face Green with their faithful at the party convention to elect their leader. It was a rare Sri Lankan feat in amassing crowds comparable to that when Pope Francis consecrated Sri Lanka’s first saint and at a not so spiritual event—- Mahinda Rajapaksa bringing in tens of thousands from the provinces to a rally on the Green during the embryonic stages of the Pohottuwa.

The JVP comrades vowed weeks before that they would make Galle Face overflow with humanity. And so they did.

“The party of underprivileged youth,” as the ‘Mahattaya parties’ called them in 1971 is now a near 50-year-old organisation with its founding members balding and greying. Sunday’s performance suggested that it is once again a formidable force that could shake the political firmament despite the many vicissitudes endured. The JVP, of course, is not all that gaga and great as the performance on Sunday may suggest. It has still not attained the maturity to apologise to the people for its harebrained two revolutions which caused thousands of deaths to innocents and the destruction of state property running into billions.

Sunday’s impressive exhibition of political muscle flexing with sheer numbers raises the question: Can the JVP be dismissed as a minor political force as it happened at recent elections, garnering around 5 percent of the national vote or is it now a political force with much greater clout that could tilt an election even though it cannot win?

Under the present system of a presidential election, if on the first round no candidate polls more than 50 percent of the total number of votes , in the second round all candidates other than the first two polling the highest numbers will be eliminated but their preference votes will be added to the two leading candidates. Thus JVP could become the kingmaker by directing their votes to one or the other of the contestants.

JVP comrades, like most Marxist oriented parties, have not attempted to mix religion with politics unlike the membership of the Pohottuwa (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna – SLPP) or the UNP. Of course, they cannot follow the dictum of Karl Marx: ‘Religion is the opium of the people’ in this country, where politicisation of religion has been in practice even before Independence. The JVP did have a sprinkling of monks in the front rows at Sunday’s show. Being basically a rural party, the traditional nexus between the party and the temple has to be there. But a commendable feature of JVP politics has been that there has been no attempt to exploit religion for political or personal gain.

This is quite a contrast with some prospective candidates who are seen and reported to be ‘seeking the blessings’ of very many mahanayakes, anunayakes, well-known priests, worshipping at sacred temples and historic places.  These supposedly religious devotions should not be subject to political comments if these were strictly personal religious devotions.

But, this splurge of visitations during the inaugural days of the main political jamboree accompanied by the press and TV gangs — cameras whirring — give impressions of mixture of piety and political ambitions of a high order. This invariably results in the politicisation of religion on a mass scale, giving Sri Lankan religions a political colouration. The monks, too, are well aware of this politicisation, some of them being identified as stalwarts of political parties.  Is their so-called ‘blessing’ of politicians of dubious repute, a political or religious act?

All this is nothing new — and has been there since Independence with the origins dating back to the Anuradhapura kingdoms, where monks advised monarchs on governance. JVPers, unlike London educated Marxists of the 1930s, have their ears fixed to the ground. Remember the 1988/89 revolution was against the Indian intervention?

However, what matters most is the JVP’s choice of the presidential candidate. Some of its leaders have openly declared their opposition to the Rajapaksas. Overtly they are against the ‘pro-Western imperialist UNP’. There will be about another 100 days or so to go for the election.


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