Why did JVP shy away from joining an all-party govt just now?

By N Sathiya Moorthy

The question may be irrelevant, now that reports suggest that President Ranil Wickremesinghe is looking more at a common policy framework than an all-party government. But even before Wickremesinghe supposedly took the decision, many parties in the Opposition that used to shout out their demand for an all-party government (though not under him) had indicated that they would not want ministerial berths.

The main Opposition SJB has been in two minds almost from the beginning, for a variety of reasons. The TNA promised support the minute Dulles Alahapperuma lost the parliamentary vote for the presidency, but is yet unclear about joining the government, again for multiple reasons starting with the unbroken Tamil political habit for decades now. There was always expectation that most Muslim and Upcountry Tamil parties would join this government as with any government, given that their priorities are as much community-centric as they are personality-centric.

But there is the JVP, which had declared its intention not to join a non-Rajapaksa government almost since the commencement of the Aragalaya protests. Yet, they fielded a candidate of their own, knowing full well that party general secretary Anura Kumara Dissanayake would get only their own three votes in a total of 225.

In a touch-and-go situation, those three votes could have spoiled the chance of one or the other of the front-runners. However, that should not be held against them as there were two abstentions from the Tamil party, and four invalid votes – obviously done wantonly.

If the expectations about the other parties were if they would join the government or not, in the case of the JVP, the question was even more basic. If they would even meet with President Wickremesinghe, after he had called each and every political party for talks about government-formation and policy-formulation.

After agreeing to meet the President, the JVP went back on it, and stopped with sending in a letter, outlining its policy proposals for economic revival. It became clear that the JVP did not want to join the government though at some point in between they sounded as if they would like to lend a helping hand, for pulling the nation out of the economic morass.

The why of the JVP’s no-no to joining the government remains a mystery more than earlier. Is it because of the possibility that the JVP could taint its image in the company of an unholy alliance that could not pull the nation together at any point in time and in any direction – and/or the public perception of the same?

And what is that public perception just now?

Voter-confidence

The recent opinion poll by Colombo-based Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), an ‘Advocacy and Research’ think-tank / NGO, makes for interesting and informed reading. At just 1,100, the sample from across the ethnic regional, age and gender spectrum, may have been small but the credibility over the years should make up for it.

According to the survey, JVP’s Anura Kumara Dissanayake (AKD) came on the top with 48.5 per cent trusted him to do the right thing to resolve the economic crisis. He was followed by incumbent Wickremesinghe (36.6 pc), SJB Opposition’s Sajith Premadasa (29.1 pc) and common Opposition candidate Dulles Alahapperuma (23.7 pc).

In a way, Dulles is a relatively non-serious candidate for the future, until at least a clear picture emerges about his candidacy in the presidential polls two years hence. But his position compares well with those of incumbent Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena (18.3 pc) and two-time President Mahinda Rajapaksa (11.9 pc).

From a different perspective, even this much support for Rajapaksa should be astonishing after all that had happened through the past months. Through the previous 15-plus years, whether he won or lost elections, Mahinda had the solid support-base with a minimum 40-per cent voter-support. Not any more, now or in the future, even if any of the Rajapaksas held the party to win back voter-confidence. That anyway is not expected happen any time soon.

Square peg, round hole

Does it mean that the Sri Lankan voter is ready to go back to a lil’ more than a ‘socialist’ government of the original SLFP kind or that of the ‘refurbished’ SLFP/SLPP with elements of centre-Right market capitalism having its equal sway, as used to be the case under the UNP? The SLFP-SLPP combo after the days of founder SWRD and his wife Sirimavo Bandaranaike retained the ‘welfare angle’ of their times but also embraced the capitalist elements of the centre-Right economic ideology. A square peg in a round hole.

Granting that the voters favoured the JVP big time, what would its economic policy especially be like? In context, it goes without saying that Anura’s forthright opinion on issues has got for him the image of a ‘honest and indefatigable politician’, even if not electorally all that successful.

Through the past decades, from the days of the insurgency to the present, the JVP has been good in critiquing the policies of other parties, whether partners like the SLFP when they were in government under Presidents Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa, or of the common UNP rival. But they have not come up with a positive policy statement that the nation could take and talk seriously about.

Alternatively, if the 48.5 per cent that favoured JVP’s Anura as the best economic manager even under these stressful times, are they only expressing their lack of faith in the existing mainstream polity, which comprised parties belonging to the UNP/SLFP staples, including respectively, the SJB and the SLPP. Such a construct, if true is bad news for the SJB and its leader Sajith Premadasa.

They haven’t got a chance to rule even once thus far. It implies that the voter has clubbed them with the UNP parent, and are unwilling to grant an independent political / ideological identity to the party and leader.

There is another possibility too. That the mood of the voter, as shown by the CPA survey, is a reflection on the desperation of the majority, or a figure closer to the half-way mark – that all of them are poor, or poorer than earlier, and look up to the JVP kind of politics and AKD kind of political leader to deliver them from their wretched state, inflicted by the economic crisis.

If this is so, it is saying a lot more than meets the eye. That a leader harsher in his image than AKD, and a party more critical of the status quo political administration, if not the electoral process, could fair better. This raises the possibility of the Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) and its founder Premakumar Gunaratnam. The FSP broke away from the JVP in 2012 and claimed that the parent party had not been as ‘revolutionary’ lately as it used to be.

Such a construct, if valid, should rase more questions than answers. Of course, not everyone has heard of the FSP as yet, certainly not as much as the JVP parent, whatever be the latter’s electoral successes while on its own. Yet, there is every reason to believe that FSP’s contribution to the success of the Aragalaya struggle was substantial, at times more than that of the JVP.

Together, entering the urban protests a lil’ late in the day, in capital Colombo, the two jointly or severally could claim major credit for the successes through the past months. The immediate question is if all of it would translate as votes for either of them, or both of them, or they would split the votes of a particular genre, letting the ‘rest’ to win as always.

Yet, no protestor group has owned up the arsonist attacks on 76 SLPP politicians on 9 May and that of Wickremesinghe, then Prime Minister, on 9 July. Nor has the police investigations conclusively suggested, leave alone proved, anything specific thus far. All of it have a lot more questions about the future of the nation, its economic policies, and on why and how to reach there….

Does any of it make any sense just now?

(The writer is a policy analyst & commentator, based in Chennai, India. Email: sathiyam54@nsathiyamoorthy.com)