Is the JVP no longer a force to be reckoned with?

After much ado, the general strike on Thursday ended in an anti-climax. In the build up to the event, many feared a repeat of the crisis in July 1980, but that was not to be. The protest petered out although the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), the main instigators of the trade union action have threatened that more work stoppages are on the cards.
Nevertheless, Thursday’s strike brought some political home truths to the surface for both the government and the collective opposition, the JVP included.

If anyone expected the working masses to heed the JVP’s call and bring the country to a standstill on Thursday, that simply did not happen. And that is not because government employees could well afford to forego the five thousand rupees the JVP was demanding.

If the general public dearly wanted that pay hike but was yet hesitant to stage an all out crippling work stoppage, what is the message that is being sent to the powers that be and the powers in waiting?
That the JVP has lost some of its organisational sting could be a contributory factor but it is also undeniable that the government still commands the confidence of a considerable segment of the populace, all its faults and foibles notwithstanding.

That would primarily be because there is a general perception that this regime is prosecuting the war in earnest, as no other government before it had done and therefore, needs to be given more time before it could be summarily challenged. Some may disagree with this strategy of all out war, but last Thursday’s events were a virtual endorsement of this policy by the public.

In this context, it is relevant to note that the mainstream JVP which called for the strike also promotes a ‘war and nothing but war against terrorism’ stance. Therefore, the relative lack of success of last Thursday’s strike also confirms that the JVP is now on the wane as a dominant political force.

It is significant that, unlike in 1980, there was minimal force used on those who opted to strike and there certainly were no strong arm tactics such as dismissal of workers who participated in the trade union action.
That was partly because the current regime is not strong enough to enforce such measures. But it is also because it probably hopes it can, come election time, win back the support of the JVP against their common enemy, the United National Party (UNP).
The government of course must know that it can ill afford to be complacent despite their moral victory on Thursday. Even if the strike did not grind the country to a halt, it was also effective in disrupting the services of many government institutions where only minimal functions were maintained.

That should serve as a robust reminder to the government that even if the public was tolerant of the government’s many misdemeanors at present because of the war effort, they may not grant such liberties indefinitely.
In cricketing parlance then, Thursday’s strike was a draw: it was neither a victory for the government; nor was it a defeat for the JVP. But it most definitely should serve as an eye opener for both the government in power as well as the opposition parties lined up against it.

The political divide needs to respect media freedom!

Mediamen apparently cannot keep themselves out of the news these days. If there were several incidents where media personnel who had been critical of the government were abused, threatened and even beaten up in the past few months, last week saw a similar incident allegedly at the hands of the opposition United National Party (UNP).

Two mediamen belonging to a state television network were allegedly manhandled by UNP officials at their party headquarters. The mediamen have also complained that a white van allegedly followed them thereafter.
We cannot comment on the veracity of these claims as the matter is under investigation, but it suffices to say that harassment of the media - by whatever party - is yet to come to a halt.

We have experienced the now familiar scenario where one political party sheds unimaginable tears of concern for the media when they are in the opposition. The same party, when they are in power a few years later, pays scant respect to the media, conveniently forgetting the profound promises it so gallantly made while languishing in the opposition.

The two major parties in the country, the Sri Lanka Freedom party and the United National Party are guilty of this treachery at one time or another. Obviously, neither party believes in the ideals of freedom of expression - they see the media as mere extensions of their grand design of capturing and holding on to the reins of power.

The finger is being pointed at the current SLFP-led regime for being at the forefront of media harassment. Recent events have provoked these sentiments and not unjustifiably so too. But we must remind ourselves that UNP governments too in their heyday found only few darlings in the media.

What is needed for this country therefore is not to point the accusatory finger at one party or another. We would rather have a new media culture where there is mutual respect between governments in power and the collective media. For that kind of relationship to evolve, we would need a commitment from both sides of the political divide to the ideals of media freedom. Is that too much to expect, though?