Lankan elections and forgotten promises

Feizal Samath

Memories are indeed short for many in Sri Lanka. Or should we ask the question: Are people compelled to have short memories — given the country’s corrupt political culture — and forget the past? Parties make promises, get elected and don’t deliver on those promises. The voters throw them out and elect the opposition party. Once again disenchantment creeps in with broken or forgotten promises and assurances; the ruling party is defeated and the former rulers — thrown out of power for mismanagement, mal-administration or corruption — is returned to power. This election game goes on, unavoidably on the part of the voters, until or unless a new political force emerges providing the people a suitable alternative to run the affairs of this country. This has been the biggest dilemma for the people — the lack of a credible political party.

At the last election, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and People’s Liberation Front (SLFP-JVP) coalition emerged as the most successful entity but short of a majority. It is now a minority government against the total opposition comprising the United National Party (UNP), Tamil and Muslim parties, a plantation union and a group representing Buddhist monks. The coalition is also facing problems. Cracks in the alliance have widened in recent weeks with the JVP annoyed over the SLFP and its leader President Chandrika Kumaratunga for taking decisions without consulting other alliance partners. One of the biggest contradictions plaguing the JVP is that the UPFA is yet to set up a joint committee to decide on all contentious issues of governance like the peace process, negotiations between the government and Tamil rebels, selection of heads of state agencies and corporations and their directors, the non-selection of defeated candidates at the election to these positions, and many other steps.

The last few weeks have testing times for the JVP. Most of the decisions by the ruling UPFA on the peace process, cabinet appointments and selection of heads of state agencies have been made by the SLFP without JVP input. Newspapers have repeatedly pointed out the about-turns in administration by the UPFA government and their forgotten promises. The JVP is annoyed by the SLFP’s selection of defeated election candidates and also doubtful businessmen to head state agencies. That really got the JVP hot and compelled them to fire a strong “warning” letter on many issues and also the fact that the UPFA manifesto and an agreement between the SLFP and the JVP that the cabinet of ministers won’t exceed 35 members. Though both sides are most likely to iron out their differences and come up with a conciliatory statement saying something on the lines that everything is hunky-dory, the situation is likely to remain unchanged.

On many issues in the future, the JVP is likely to provide grudging support for the moment at least instead of breaking up the UPFA. Most analysts expect the shaky, minority government to last for close to about two years when presidential election is due. The former ruling UNP is also in shambles and facing demands for reform from younger party leaders who have said the party lost the April 2 election because its policies had only benefited the rich and not the poor. The UNP, party insiders say, is more concerned about putting its house in order and wooing its waning rural support-base and not interested in taking over. Samath, a freelancer, writes for THT from Colombo.