The government and the Opposition may look, to an independent political observer, two canines we hope those lovely animals will forgive us for drawing that analogy snarling at each other over a bone. Two dogs at the same bone, they say, seldom agree. Hence, they are eternally at each other s jugular. At an election we throw a bone at them and they keep fighting, one trying to retain it and the other to grab it. So, there has been no let up in dogfights. There is no bigger fool than a person who thinks that what drives the government and the Opposition to fight so fiercely is altruism.
The UNP is launching a mass protest campaign today against the government in a bid to tap the public anger fuelled by the high Cost of Living. The people have been asked to bring pots and pans to the streets and make a din. The government has sought to ridicule the UNP. A UNP dissident now in the government recently appeared on TV reciting a famous kindergarten ditty:
Ambaleme pina pina
Walan kadak gena gena
Eka bindapi gona gona
Ekata mata hina hina
(Roughly rendered into English, it reads: Pina a country yokel living in a wayside inn brought a pingo of pots only to have it smashed by a bull much to the amusement of onlookers.)
Neither the SLFP nor anyone supportive of it could scoff at the UNP s protest. It is only repeating what the SLFP did in the early 1990s. And the protest in question harks back to Mahinda Rajapaksa s agitations against the UNP, especially Jana Gosha, where all sorts of noises were made to scare away the Premadasa regime, but in vain.
The SLFP rather the Anura Faction, of which Mahinda was a prominent figure did its damnedest to banish the Premadasa government. It staged Pada Yathra and Human Chains but President Premadasa stayed put until his assassination.
But for President Premadasa s blunders that caused a split in the UNP and his untimely demise, he would have been able to reign supreme until 2001.
President Rajapaksa will vouch for the fact that when he and other SLFP stalwarts launched a Pada Yathra, vowing to walk up to Kataragama, they hoped and prayed that the UNP would disrupt it on the way so that they would be able to gain some mileage without walking that far. But, President Premadasa was too smart to walk into that trap. He allowed them to hoof it out all the way to Kataragama! (He had his own way of punishing people.) For, he knew the faction ridden debilitated SLFP would never be able to pose a serious threat to him. The threat finally came from an unforeseen quarter from within his party.
During the 1977 general election campaign, Premadasa and the UNP leaders promised us Shangri-la. He made an issue of Cost of Living under the United Front government. He would appear on the political platform with two halves of coconut and ask a cheering crowed how much each cost them. `Thirty five cents,` the people would shout in unison. Then Premadasa, in his inimitable melodramatic way, would put the two halves together and ask, `How much do both of them cost?` The crowd would say seventy cents. Then, with a dramatic pose and raising himself on his toes, he would thunder: `Do you want both for seventy cents?` `Yes,` a hysterical mob would yell. The UNP won that election with a steamroller majority. Did the people get coconuts at seventy cents each or eight pounds of cereals eta ata that JRJ had promised? No!
Then, we had Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga offering bread at Rs. 3.50 in 1994. Asked how she would achieve that feat, she said all the luxury vehicles used by the UNP politicians would be auctioned at the Galle Face Green and the proceeds would be used to subsidise bread! Did the people get bread at Rs. 3.50? Never!
Never mind Chandrika: Now we have Mahinda in power. And he is drawing flak for having failed to improve the people s lot despite his pro-people protests of yore and election pledges. Did Mahinda exert himself so much in his Opposition days to help the people? Only a nitwit will answer in the affirmative. He only tried to promote himself in the party with an eye on the executive presidency. His efforts have been crowned with results and he is now ensconced in power. The only saving grace of his government is its stand on the LTTE, which has met its match in a government at long last. The people crushed under the heavy burden of CoL desist from taking to the streets not because they love Mahinda but because they hate Prabhakaran.
But for UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe s appeasement policy towards the LTTE, he would have been in power today as President, given the UPFA s unpopularity at the time he became Prime Minister in 2001. The Jumbos cooked their goose in style as they chose to play to the international gallery. They not only thought global but also acted global thus digging their political grave on home turf.
Even if the UNP were to bring all the pots and pans in Sri Lankan kitchens and smash them in public, the government wouldn t give a damn, just the way the late President Premadasa ignored Mahinda s protests. The success of any UNP campaign aimed at dislodging the government will hinge on its ability to ram the strongest pillar carrying the Rajapaksa regime the war effort.
So, the UNP will have to tell the people whether it is capable of protecting the country s national security better than the present government does. Some other questions it needs to answer are: Will it abandon the present military campaign against the LTTE, if it manages to capture State power? How does it propose to deal with the LTTE? Will it re-merge the North and the East? Will it revive the CFA and bring back Norwegians as facilitators? Will it maintain the battlefield gains of the military and, if so, how?
People are not so stupid as to swallow the UNP s offer to bring down CoL, hook, line and sinker. The UNP-led United National Front made various promises before the 2001 parliamentary election such as exporting Violet Akka s vetakolu and Siyathu Aiya s pathola (snake gourds) to Tokyo. It also promised gold bracelets and necklaces to boys and girls. But, in the end, the people s hopes were dashed, as evident from their decision to elect the UPFA to power in 2004, after President Kumaratunga had sacked the UNF government.
Most of all, if it is ousting of the government that the UNP seeks, then unite it must! However, this objective is not attainable without its dissident parliamentarians being brought back. It has already lost 24 MPs to the government. They broke ranks, demanding party reforms and intra party democracy. But the question is whether the UNP leadership is willing to accede to that demand.
All it takes for a government to take to authoritarianism is the absence of a strong Opposition. A country needs a formidable alternative to any ruling party so that people could effect regime changes and relegate autocratic rulers to the dustbin of politics. But, the UNP is limping and one cannot win the Derby with a lame horse.
Unless the UNP heals its self-inflicted wounds and gets its act together, its protests will come a cropper and end up being only some form of public entertainment like the SLFP protests during the Premadasa days.