By Thrishantha Nanayakkara –
I am not a political analyst of any sort nor an academic with professional expertise in politics. Nonetheless, this is the time all Sri Lankans attempt to make sense out of the country’s political history to take informed decisions. I just thought of sharing my particular thoughts about the part of the minor political parties. The glare of primary political parties frequently tends to make us overlook the part of minor opposition parties in the Sri Lankan parliament. We typically overlook that their composition and principles indicate key issues restricted to specific groups of citizens, which if neglected, can lead to social catastrophes even the majorities have to face.
I start with 1977 – 1989 parliament shown in figure 1, due to the fact it was based on a new constitution that introduced an executive presidency although keeping the republic introduced n 1972. In this parliament, United National Celebration (UNP) had 5/6 power in the parliament and the opposition was Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) with 18 seats from the North and East. The main league Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) was lowered to 8 seats. President JR Jayewardene merely ignored the opposition and did what ever attainable to intimidate them. For instance, the leader of SLFP lost her civil rights, and rule of law was humiliated. When some judges have been publicly stoned by goons, the president merely said – “oh, it is individuals enjoying their democratic rights!”. TULF could not quit the parliament from passing laws to standardize education that introduced a quota for every district to send students to universities, worsening the Sinhala/Tamil media based standardization introduced in 1972. This benefited most parts of the South, but it was a huge blow to students in the North that had a great education system capable of sending larger numbers to National universities. This standardization began robust sentiments amongst Tamil students and pros living across the Globe to intensify the demand for a separate state where Tamils can take care of their personal affairs centered on a very good education method.
When I appear back at this era, I locate it difficult to think that JR Jayawardane administration chose a socialist method of introducing quotas for education, when he represented a much more capitalistic party that need to have as an alternative created the school system in the South and broadened opportunities in universities. Nonetheless, the relevance to the subject is that the opposition led by TULF was also weak to resist these moves. It only led to a loss of trust in democratic politics amongst the emerging radical Tamil youth.
JR Jayewardene administration skipped the Common election to be held in 1983. He knew that an election would price him the five/six powers in the parliament. As a result, he went for a referendum asking no matter whether the public was prepared to extend the same parliament for an additional 6 years. Apart from this energy hunger, his government had managed to intensify tribalistic politics each in the South and the North by cleverly instilling a sense of insecurity and paranoia in each communities. A tiny trigger was all that was required for a enormous racist civil blood bath. It occurred on 23rd July 1983 triggered by an ambush by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on an army troop. Sinhalese mobs killed Tamil civilians and burned their properties in Colombo at will. Not a single culprit was arrested, and it took JR Jayewardene administration 1 week to impose a curfew under stress primarily from Margaret Thatcher administration in UK. State media was higher in bashing the undue interference from the International Neighborhood. UK and India have been usually singled out. This introduced a new dimension to Sri Lankan politics – a threat of dividing the nation backed by the international community! A massive majority of Sri Lankans gobbled up this version strongly coined by state media that was under the iron fist of clever lawyer, JR Jayewardene. I am certain JR Jayewardene knew that the pressure from UK came due to lobbying of Tamil professionals in UK who were disgruntled by his policies to limit Tamil students from receiving into universities, and that from India came due to their personal perceived threat from unrests in Tamil Nadu due to refugee Tamils from Sri Lanka.
Figure-2 shows the 10th Sri Lankan parliament elected in 1989 – 1994. We frequently ignore the fact that the Eelam Revolutionary Organization of Students (EROS) got 13 seats, and that they represented a important Tamil concern about standardization of education and ideologies of energy sharing as a solution to a lot of troubles with Colombo. It is also important to note that yet another ten seats were shared by TULF, ENDLF, EPRLF, and TELO due to mushrooming of Tamil radical parties proposing alternative views to bring in reforms. Obsessed with a clear majority power, common UNP led by president Ranasinghe Premadasa proved that the representation of the above Tamil parties in the parliament was in vein. This gave a clear legitimacy to LTTE to assassinate the leaders of the above parties in rapid succession to emerge as the sole visible force representing Tamils. We all know what befell on Sri Lanka as a consequence.
The scenario in the 1994 – 2000 parliament is shown in figure-3. Note that the opposition re-organized under People’s Alliance (PA) to confront UNP, and EPDP overtook EROS in Tamil politics, which was later understood to be a shrewd but brief-sighted political maneuver of the two primary political parties to counter anti-Government Tamil politics. SLMC continued to use their block of four-7 votes to bargain with each primary parties. In this case, the primary consideration of key parties was to win SLMC and use EPDP to ignore the concerns put forward by all other Tamil parties who refused to kind coalitions with them or be proxies for them. LTTE continued to nourish on this dishonest management of the minor political parties.
The PA continued to hold power in the 11th parliament elected in year 2000 shown in figure-four. Emergence of JVP as the 3rd force (10 seats) with fragmented Tamil vote share among 4-parties (with 16 seats in total), and Sinhala Heritage with 1-seat introduced new dynamics in the minor party politics in the parliament. Even though Sinhala-Heritage won only 1 seat, it signified the solidification of Southern Nationalistic politics. JVP as well was much more aligned with Southern Nationalistic politics. This produced fragmented Tamil parties far more vulnerable to LTTE.
The result was a clear polarization of Nationalistic politics in the North and the South attracting an unprecedented level of International sympathy to LTTE led Tamil struggle. This, compounded by the economic crisis in 2000, forced another election in 2001 with a ceasefire agreement on the cards. This time UNP contested as a coalition like SLFP did in 1994. UNF got a clear mandate with 109 seats and PA was reduced to 77 seats as shown in figure-five. Even so, the president of the nation, Mrs. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumarathunga (CBK) was from PA. Note that the landscape of minor political parties changed significantly as well. JVP gained from ten seats in 2000 to 16 in 2001. All Tamil parties except EPDP got with each other to kind Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and kept their collective total at 15. EPDP was lowered to 2 from 9 in 1994.
What is noteworthy right here was that president CBK fought back, but she was left with the only choice of dissolving the parliament rather than buying a massive chunk of MPs from the ruling party, due to the fact the wedge formed by JVP and TNA with 31 seats amongst them created it unviable to go for the second choice. Nevertheless, she produced the Government significantly less desirable to best politicians in the Government get taking more than 3 crucial ministries – defense, interior, and media. She also declared a state of emergency and utilized state media, now below her handle, to convince the public that the country is in danger beneath the UNF government. When time was ripe, she dissolved the parliament in 2003.
The resulting 13th Sri Lankan parliament from 2004 – 2010 is shown in figure-6. Quite significantly, this time PA absorbed JVP to form UPFA, additional unifying southern Nationalistic leftist politics. Note that this was accompanied by the growth of Sinhala-Heritage (1-seat in 2000) to a considerable Southern nationalistic political force called Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) with 9-seats in 2004. It additional consolidated the polarization of Northern and Southern Nationalistic politics into two clear foci – one particular growing while feeding the other. It is signified by a clear rise of TNA that was often accused of representing LTTE in the parliament to 22 seats. This polarization inevitably produced breeding grounds for a complete-scale war between the LTTE and the Government.
Figure-7 shows the 2010 – 2015 parliament. This reflects the mentality of the nation following the war came to an end in 2009. We notice that EPDP was now openly a portion of UPFA. JHU also was openly absorbed to UPFA. TNA dropped from 22 in 2004 to 14 in 2010 forcing them to re-think about their character and identity in the post-war era. Often EPDP was credited for reaching this by empowering UPFA in the North. JVP that contested seperately was dropped to 7, mainly due to a lack of clarity about the distiction from UPFA in their post-war politics. Though UNF won 60 seats, a mass cross-over (typically said to be a mass buy-over) brought president Mahinda Rajapaksa two/three power in the parliament. The outcome was a jumbo cabinet of ministers (Prime Minister + ten Senior Ministers + 54 Ministers + two Project Ministers + 38 Deputy Ministers). This was made feasible by the weak wedge formed by the minor political parties (just 21 seats between JVP and TNA with none from other minor parties).
Figure -7: 2010 Sri Lankan parliament (supply https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/14th_Sri_Lankan_Parliament).
Once again, the country spiraled down the path of Nationalistic polarization. TNA grew in reputation in the North and the East, although UPFA led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa continued to thrive on Nationalistic politics with an iron fist on state media. A quantity of independent media personnel lost their lives, and ultra-Nationalistic groups like Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) enjoyed total impunity in harassing Muslims. One more ethnic catastrophe was in the formation.
Due to some magical turn of events, upbeat President Rajapaksa decided to go for the next presidential election two years in advance of schedule in January 2015. A quantity of senior ministers in the UPFA led by party secretary Maithripala Sirisena defected. The whole opposition united under the presidential candidate Maithripala Sirisena to contest against Mahinda Rajapaksa. Probably, this was the riskiest political choice taken by Maithripala Sirisena in his entire life that ended in a good results. What is important to note right here is that what was expected to finish up in an ethnic blood bath ended up in a radical shift in the politics of minor political parties. JVP openly stressed upon the need to have for National reconciliation. TNA that grew in energy in the North and East showed much more flexibility to negotiate with the Central Government. In response, the Central Government appointed a civilian as the Governor of the North and East and solved a number of issues like releasing 425 acres of army-occupied lands back to civilians by means of a method of dialog. Nationalistic JHU split into two with a tough-core Nationalistic section remaining supportive to Mahinda Rajapaksa. The other section showed improved flexibility towards reconciliation efforts.
This is the backdrop on which we are going for the basic election in August 2015. Once again, I want to stress on the significance of the minor party politics in the parliament. Whenever, a main celebration secured undue power, they chose to do divisive and Nationalistic politics brewing a polarization among North and the South. The antidote appears to be a powerful minor party block that appreciates the need to have for great governance, rule of law, democracy, and National reconciliation. Traditionally, minor standard leftist parties and the Muslim Congress have settled down to conform with the ruling celebration in exchange of ministerial positions. Therefore, that block should come from minor parties that have traditionally stood by their principles. Due to this purpose, I would dream of that block to come from TNA and JVP with a powerful will to defend above National priorities and to hold the main parties accountable for it, so that they will do much more of that politics to win over the vote base of minor parties than undertaking far more of Nationalistic and divisive politics. Having said that, I would strongly urge JVP to abandon their classic tactics of waiting till a disaster occurs to make their point, and to be a a lot more active driving force in the opposition with determination to engage positively.