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Parliamentary election & the Crisis of the Opposition - Page 2

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Parliamentary election & the Crisis of the Opposition
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Confronted with this triangular ‘minoritarian’ project consisting of Ranil Wickremsinghe’s UNP, the unreconstructed Tamil ultra-nationalism of the TNA and the perceived partisanship of the West, the vast majority of the Sinhala voters would tend to circle the wagons, unwilling to risk the prospect of a UNP-TNA bloc which can form an administration. This is especially so since Sri Lanka has been there once-- during Mr. Wickremesinghe’s term as Prime Minister, while President Kumaratunga was still in office—and have not forgotten the unilateral concessions and transfer of real assets to the LTTE during his tenure. They are unlikely to take that risk again, now that the TNA may be strongly represented in a new parliament.

At bottom is a powerful emotion which explains citizen behavior in Russia and China. It is the memory of weakness and humiliation and the determination that the state and nation shall never be so weakened again. The Russian voter recalls the period of Yeltsin (and the last phase of Gorbachev) as one of being taken for a ride by the West; a period of unilateral concessions and consequent weakness and breakup. Putin is understandably perceived as the hero who reversed this. Sri Lanka’s period of weakness and humiliation were the years covering the CFA, the ISGA and the PTOMS; those beginning years of the 21st century which came to an end with the arrival in office of Mahinda Rajapakse. Ranil Wickremesinghe, Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mangala Samaraweera are indelibly associated with those years. The domestic ‘geopolitics of emotion’ as reflected in the election results, represents the division between those areas which experienced that phase of history as a relief and those who experienced as a lacerating humiliation. The Sinhala masses (not just the Buddhist, because the Catholic areas, Negombo apart, voted for Mahinda, corresponding to the ethnic mix of those areas) who constituted the main force of the armed struggle for national reunification against separatist fascism, remain the main force that politically defends and protects the political gains of that armed resistance.

What is not understood is that the reaction against excessive devolution is not merely or even primarily powered by rank racism or chauvinism but by the historically embedded fear of the centrifugal which in turn is seen to result in the weakening of the state; and it is the state that guarantees the continued existence of the Sinhalese nation as a distinct entity in the global space perceived as alien and hostile.

Devolution can only succeed if the formula and the agency/recipient are not perceived in the Sinhala heartland - among the main force of patriotic resistance - as weakening the state; the strong centre. This is where the existing 13th amendment and Douglas Devananda come in. Anything more and anyone else, the whole deal may fall through as a backlash bestirs itself. A politico-ideologically hostile North East could even fall victim to an unconscious developmental triage.

Mr. Wickremesinghe probably fantasizes that all this would play itself out by the presidential election of 2017, leaving him a clear crack at the title. Just as Chandrika was, any incumbent and the ruling party are well served by the encouragement of this illusion (which they do not share). I would say he has just as much chance as Mikhail Gorbachev or Jimmy Carter, were either personality to re-contest the Presidential elections in their respective countries.

Of course everything lies in the hands of the UNP. If it offers the Sri Lankan voter a different choice, one that is not identified with and evocative of the period of state weakness and national humiliation of the CFA season; one that will not be suspected of treating with a centrifugal proposal floated by the TNA; then the new parliament may yet turn out to be a prophylactic or counterweight to a ‘one party dominant’ regime and a less than enlightened constitutional experiment, informed by an inflamed, prickly patriotism.


~ The Island ~ By Dayan Jayatilleka
[Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka is due shortly to take up a post of Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Institute of South Asian Studies].


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