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This is my Nation


  JNP looking to PC elections win for survival 

From JNP perspective, the new party has little choice. The mainstream JVP itself is under considerable pressure to demonstrate that its vote base is intact. It must be noted that the JVP had nearly forty members elected to Parliament at the last general election- not on the strength of its own votes, but because it cleverly manipulated the proportional representation election system to pool all its preferences to a few selected candidates in each district. Since then, the JVP’s electoral support is largely untested. In the few elections it contested, mostly local and provincial polls, it has been routed. If this has been the plight of the mainstream JVP, then the vote base of the newly established JNP would be questionable indeed

It may have been Christmas and the holiday season, but for President Mahinda Rajapaksa it was yet another week of hard-nosed political bargaining, that culminated in an agreement with the Jathika Nidahas Peramuna (JNP) or National Freedom Front as it is otherwise known.

The deal with the JNP, the splinter group of the more established Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), led by the vociferous Wimal Weerawansa, comes in the wake of upcoming Provincial Council elections in the Central and North Western provinces, and would have been triggered by these polls, but its impact would be much more than these mini-election itself.

The President has always been a master of coalition politics. When his candidacy for the Presidency was announced in 2005, he put together an unlikely array of forces: so much so that critics queried how he could govern with such a group of people who held diametrically opposite political views.

The JVP supported Rajapaksa and so did the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU). Then, on the same platform were the Eelam Peoples’ Democratic Party (EPDP) and the Ceylon Workers’ Congress. Even a faction of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) was in the alliance. And, three years on, President Rajapaksa has shown that this is not only possible but quite a practical arrangement as well, winning over a section of the United National Party (UNP) for good measure!

Forefront

It will be recalled that even in 2006, the JVP was at the forefront of promoting Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Presidential candidate, when the President’s own party led then by Chandrika Kumaratunga, was having reservations about his candidacy and dragging its collective feet in his election campaign.

And, within the JVP, it was primarily Wimal Weerawansa who spearheaded the Rajapaksa campaign, with his firebrand oratory that held the public spellbound, and cast UNP candidate Ranil Wickremasinghe as the villain who would hand over the country on a platter to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

After President Rajapaksa’s election victory, he made repeated overtures to the JVP to join the government, but the leftist party stoutly declined, realising that all they would gain from such an exercise would be to be apportioned part of the blame for any shortcomings of the Rajapaksa regime. Their experience in sharing power with former President Chandrika Kumaratunga too no doubt influenced this decision.

Wimal Weerawansa meanwhile was having more than his fair share of problems with the JVP. Some in the mainstream party resented the fact that Weerawansa - with his characteristic hairstyle and charismatic personality - was the public face of the JVP. His lifestyle was also a bone of contention as was his allegiance towards the Rajapaksa regime, which resulted in the JVP going ‘soft’ on criticism of the government, when they ought to have been more objective.

Astute

President Rajapaksa, the astute politician that he is obviously seized the opportunity. Divide and rule is a maxim that he has adhered to the maximum and dividing the JVP was a bonus, when the main opposition party, the UNP was already divided with a faction joining the government and accepting cabinet portfolios.

The President was to remark at discussions with the JNP last week, that it was the failure of the JVP to wholeheartedly support him, that led to some UNP members joining the ruling coalition resulting in a mega cabinet, the government having to take a lot of flak for that. This indicates that President Rajapaksa expects enduring support from the JNP.

From JNP perspective, the new party has little choice. The mainstream JVP itself is under considerable pressure to demonstrate that its vote base is intact. It must be noted that the JVP had nearly forty members elected to Parliament at the last general election- not on the strength of its own votes, but because it cleverly manipulated the proportional representation election system to pool all its preferences to a few selected candidates in each district.

Support

Since then, the JVP’s electoral support is largely untested. In the few elections it contested, mostly local and provincial polls, it has been routed. If this has been the plight of the mainstream JVP, then the vote base of the newly established JNP would be questionable indeed.

Therefore, as a newly set up party and a party that seeks to be an alternative to the JVP, the JNP can ill-afford to present itself at Provincial elections in the Central and North-Western provinces and be defeated. That would spell doom not only for the JNP but for Wimal Weerawansa’s political career as well. So, the decision to support the government and work out a deal for the forthcoming Provincial Council Polls would have been an easy one for the JNP.

Even so, it wouldn’t be good news for the mainstream JVP. Sri Lanka has traditionally been a two-party state and there has hardly been any room for a viable third force. At one stage the Communist Party (CP) and the Lanka Samasamaja Party (LSSP) represented this niche; at another time it was the JVP and later it was the Democratic United National Front, albeit for a brief period. But hardly any third party has gained a stable foothold for a long period of time. Therefore, the emergence of the JNP can only diminish the impact of the JVP.

Hence, although the immediate effect of the President’s deal with the JNP will be confined to the Provincial Polls, the real consequences would emerge when the JNP’s usefulness as campaigners would come to the fore in the general elections, that would have to be called in less than sixteen months.

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