Time is ticking away. Most parties are ready for the elections to the Eastern Provincial Council scheduled for May, while two are in a dither. The ruling UPFA, the TVMP, the JVP, the SLMC, the JHU, the EPDP etc. have already made their decision to contest the May polls known. The UNP and the TNA are still in two minds. Procrastination is the thief of not only time but opportunity as well.
Difficulties and apprehensions of the UNP are understandable. The entire state machinery is at the disposal of the UPFA in a highly militarised environment where the polls are going to be held. Odds against which the Opposition will have to vie with the government on a winning streak are tremendous. But, to opt out of the eastern race will be tantamount to helping further the government s interests. The UNP made that mistake the other day by boycotting the Batticaloa LG polls, where a situation was created for the government, as a popular local saying goes, to smash pots in an abandoned house.
It may be argued that even if the UNP had entered the fray, the government would still have won. (UNP National Organiser, S. B. Dissanayake, obviously failed to read the political situation accurately, when he told this newspaper recently that if the UNP had contested, it would have swept the polls.) But, the UNP would have, at least, been able to mobilise its support base in that part of the country, however weak it may be at present it is said to have more contact persons than real organisers in the East and prepared itself for the PC polls. Something is, it is said, better than nothing.
The wise learn from others mistakes. The perpetuation of the UNP s 17-year-long rule from 1977 to 1994 was facilitated by, inter alia, a string of SLFP s blunders. The SLFP missed an opportunity in 1981 to revive its organisational network which had been debilitated by a crushing defeat four years back, by boycotting the District Development Council elections. Ironically, the JVP had the wisdom to move in to fill the vacuum and contested them. (That was how, JVP s critics say, Rohana Wijeweera showed his gratitude to President J. R. Jayewardene, who had released him from prison)
Thus, the SLFP spurned a chance to reinvigorate itself in time for the elections and a crucial referendum that followed. It repeated the same mistake at the first ever PC elections at the height of JVP terrorism in the late 1980s. It almost boycotted the 1991 LG polls: It had laid down several conditions for entering the fray but the Premadasa government didn t give two hoots about them. However, sanity prevailed eventually and the SLFP contested the elections. The UNP won but the SLFP gained a lot in terms of the number of seats and the mobilisation of its supporters waiting to give vent to their pent up anger against the longstanding UNP regime.
The SLFP s anti-UNP drive derived a fresh impetus from the 1993 PC polls in a big way. True, the assassination of DUNF Leader Lalith Athulathmudali followed by the tragic demise of President Premadasa, which, so to speak, brought about apocalyptic changes in Sri Lankan politics, stood the SLFP in good stead. However, the fact remains that Ms. Chandrika Kumaratunga, who became Chief Minister of the Western Province, adroitly used her electoral gains as a springboard for the SLFP-led PA s victory at the parliamentary polls the following year.
It is unfortunate that the UNP is apparently emulating the SLFP of yore, which was in an unholy muddle, shifting from losing elections to boycotting them and vice versa.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has reasons to be wary of contesting the Eastern PC polls. Its handler, the LTTE, has rejected the Provincial Council system lock stock and barrel. It is also dead against the demerger of the two provinces and averse to any electoral exercise that it cannot manipulate to its advantage like the last President Election, where the polling stations in the the North and the East were located outside the LTTE-held terrain.
The TNA s current parliamentary strength is mainly due to large scale rigging that the LTTE resorted to at the 2004 General Election. In the East, the LTTE can no longer stuff the ballot boxes for the TNA. Therefore, if the TNA contests the Eastern PC polls, its real strength will be bared. Most of all, the participation of the LTTE proxy alliance in the polls will amount to an endorsement of the demerger! As for the May polls, the TNA is in the same predicament as the SLFP in 1988, when it couldn t contest the first PC elections, as it had opposed the PC system at the behest of the JVP.
The SLMC is right in having decided to face the PC polls. It has managed to hold its eastern support base together, as was evident from the recent LG polls and can aspire to a better performance in May, given the large number of Muslim votes in the province. It says it has not yet decided on a coalition partner. It is not telling us the whole truth. It cannot coalesce with any party other than the UNP, at present. Having condemned Pillaiyan and the government for causing violence in the East, how can the SLMC join forces with the UPFA? It knows that the only way to counter the UPFA-TMVP alliance is to forge a coalition with the UNP.
The JVP is contesting the May polls for a different reason. It has some votes scattered in some districts and that might help it secure a seat or two. But, its real objective is to cement the de-merger it engineered by moving the Supreme Court against a two-decade-long merger successfully. So, even if the JVP becomes a flop electorally in the East, it will gain a great deal politically in the South.
The Jumbos cannot afford to be left out in the PC race. The UNP may find it embarrassing to enter the contest after belittling the government s military gains in the East and its efforts to revive democracy and civil administration. But, for the UNP, swallowing its words and pride will certainly be better than conceding victory to the UPFA-TVMP alliance in the East yet another time in quick succession, won t it?
There isn t much time left. Are the Jumbos ready?