One of my friends recently met a member of a visiting Australian opposition delegation. Discussing matters of mutual interests, the foreigner had informed my friend that a prominent stalwart of the United National Party had submitted a dossier on alleged abductions and disappearances of journalists in Sri Lanka. The stalwart had further stressed that steps would be taken to raise the matter in relevant international forums, in order to teach a lesson to the Government of Sri Lanka. The visitor had observed that such deplorable initiatives contemplated by anybody in Australia would be served with charges of treason.
Many supporters of the UNP had raised their eyebrows over the decision taken by its hierarchy to join forces with the Tamil National Alliance and some ultra-left parties. According to the report of the former Chairman of the UNP, N.G.P. Panditharatne and many sympathizers of the UNP, it should endeavor to win back its Sinhala-Buddhist vote bank, if it is to comeback to power and sustain it for a reasonable period of time. In 2001, the UNP emerged victories with 4,086,023 votes when the PA and JVP together had received 4,146,178 votes and Sihala Urumaya having received 50,665 votes. Sri Lanka experienced a surge of a Buddhist renaissance in 2003, especially due to the general anti Buddhist attitude of the UNP and the death under mysterious circumstances of Ven Gangodawila Soma Thera. In the general election held against this backdrop, having lost 581,826 votes, the UNP polled only 3,504,200 votes. In this election, marginally increasing its votes by 77,794, the SLFP-JVP alliance received 4,223,920 while the Jathika Hela Urumaya (the successor to the Sihala Urumaya) polled 552,724 votes, registering an increase of 502,059 votes for a party with a Sinhala-Buddhist base. If these increased votes (502,059) are added to the marginally increased votes (77,792) of the UPFA, its sum will be almost equal to the decreased number of votes of the UNP. It is a fact that the UNP had lost the elections because it lost the votes of the politically conscious Buddhists and since then it has repeatedly lost, due to its failure to muster support from predominately Buddhist areas. So why is Ranil Wickremesinghe partying with anti-Buddhist, anti-Sinhala groups, one can ask? There’s another question that perplexes party loyalists: why is the UNP leader working closely with the government.
An identical political atmosphere prevailed in early 1970s when J.R.Jayewardene (JRJ) supported the then socialist coalition led by Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranayake. There, his objective was very clear. He was buying time until the situation was ripe for antigovernment action and also until he succeeded in his plans of eliminating dissenting forces within the ranks of the UNP, led by Dudley-Premadasa loyalists. Having consolidated his leadership in the UNP, after 1974, JRJ accelerated his antigovernment activities.
Ranil, then seems to be following his uncle, marking time while trying to quell rebellions within his party. There’s a difference. JRJ modernized the party in 1970s with the introduction of a new set of leaders like Premadasa, Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayaka, whereas Ranil has spurned them.
But Ranil has entered into this alliance with two objectives in mind, one international and one local. The Human Rights Council is scheduled to commence sittings on February 24 and it is a foregone conclusion that the US, with the support of India, will pass its ill-disposed resolution against Sri Lanka. In the aftermath of this resolution, steps will be taken to place rapporteurs in Sri Lanka, giving a negative economic message to investors and to its friendly countries, excluding China and Russia. Under these circumstances, if the country registers a negative economic growth, RW will swing into action, exploiting the situation, similar to what he did in 2001.
The second objective of RW, which is local, is to target Provincial Council elections in the Northern, Central and Western provinces of the country constituting a substantial non Sinhala- Buddhist vote bank. RW who is mindful of this vote bank is somewhat optimistic about his advantages, if he goes for forthcoming elections with the newly formed alliance. With that atmosphere of anticipation, he is getting ready to take on the government in a possible snap Presidential or General election in 2014.
It is said that very often history repeats itself. Now, once again, similar to what happened in 2003, a wave of Buddhist renaissance has surged. In this regard, it has to be remembered that in 2003, attempts made by Chandrika Kumaratunga and RW to quell such a wave by way of threats, vilification, arrests, bribing and framing false charges against a selected few failed miserably. Unfortunately, it has been observed that even at present, certain quarters of the present government and the UNP are trying to adopt the same tactics. However, under these circumstances, the Sinhala-Buddhist movement also should have the wisdom to identify national and international traps when strategizing to achieve objectives.