JVP - now’s the time to be that Alternative force | Sunday Observer

JVP - now’s the time to be that Alternative force

The major leftist political party in the country, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has announced that its leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake would be contesting the next Presidential election. That makes the JVP only the second major political party to announce its Presidential candidate, after the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) - and that too, at a time when the ‘traditional rivals’, the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) are struggling to get their acts together.

The JVP’s decision to contest the polls is most welcome. It has come a long way since it was first outlawed in the aftermath of the 1971 insurrection. It received a second chance when the UNP Government of 1977 released its leader Rohana Wijeweera and allowed it to return to mainstream politics.

However, it squandered that chance spectacularly by going underground and engineering a second insurrection that was brutally crushed in 1989 by the Ranasinghe Premadasa Government at the cost of thousands of lives. Since then, for the past thirty years, the JVP has had the courage to stay within the democratic framework. The credit for that must largely go to the late Somawansa Amerasinghe, an unsung political hero who managed to survive the annihilation of the JVP’s top rung leadership in 1989 by fleeing the country.

Amerasinghe returned a few years later after a change of government. With Chandrika Kumaratunga in office, he was successful in changing the JVP’s ethos from one of power at any cost to one which firmly adhered to democratic processes. That change has survived the last two and a half decades.

For a party with a fifty-four-year history, the JVP has had only three leaders: Wijeweera, Amerasinghe and Dissanayake, although others are believed to have held the reins very briefly during the tumultuous days following Wijeweera’s death. With both Wijeweera and Amerasinghe representing the romantic revolutionaries of a different era, Dissanayake represents a new generation of leadership for the JVP.

Dissanayake’s candidature also represents a departure from its usual practice of not nominating its leader for Presidential elections since Rohana Wijeweera ran against J.R. Jayewardene in 1982. The only other candidates it has sponsored were Nihal Galappaththi and Nandana Gunatilaka who, with all due respect to them, do not make the cut as leaders of national standing. If nominating such candidates at that time was an indication that the JVP was only testing the political waters in those elections, is nominating Dissanayake a hint that the JVP is serious this time around?

That begs the question, can the JVP emerge victorious? The answer is a convincing ‘no’. At a time when the public has serious reservations about the major political parties - the UNP, the SLFP because they have both failed to be efficient in government and the SLPP because it represents an oligarchy based on family ties- the JVP must ask itself why it is still not a popular choice. As a significant third force in politics for over fifty years, it should have been the alternative by now.

The JVP has certainly succeeded in carving a niche for itself as the major leftist party in the country. The likes of the Lanka Samasamaja Party and the Communist Party of Sri Lanka, sad to say, are all but dead for practical purposes and can only serve as hangers on to a left of centre political alliance.

The JVP has, particularly in recent years, also assiduously cultivated an image of adhering to democratic principles - such as when it actively protested against the unconstitutional dismissal of the Prime Minister by the President in October last year, even though the government being challenged was not an ally.

Nevertheless, the JVP has been unable to make that giant leap from ‘also ran’ at the elections to being a winner - and the party must surely ask itself why. At a time when many if not most voters are fed up with the parochial politics of the three major parties, when they are sick of the continuing saga of corruption within these parties which goes unchecked even when a rival party gains power, one would have thought the JVP would be the logical alternative. But, it is not.

Is that because many voters still remember the horrors of 1971 and 1989 when thousands laid their lives for a hopeless cause? The JVP still acknowledges the architect of these insurrections, Wijeweera included, as heroes, and commemorate them. Whatever its views on the failed insurrections, it has never said ‘mea culpa’ and apologised to the nation for the carnage it caused. Is that why voters still view the JVP as prone to violence and the older generation of voters still refers to them as ‘Che Guevara kaarayo’?

The JVP has also not shifted much on its policies. It is propagating the same, old, tired, Marxist socialist model of economics at a time when countries such as China have opened their economy and are flourishing as a result. Its policies on higher education remain bogged down in socialist slogans and street protests that reflect their obsession with an ideology that has been either discarded or modified elsewhere in the world. That is why undergraduates, who flock to them in their early twenties, flee them when they leave their campuses and enter the real world.

The one factor that is still in the JVP’s favour is that it has not been corrupt- but then, critics would argue that they have not enjoyed real power either. Yet it is sad that the JVP is not a greater player in the political landscape and has thus far never been a viable alternative. Sri Lanka needs such a political force. The JVP could provide that choice, if only it comes to terms with the real needs of voters instead of clinging on to catchy slogans and rigid ideology.

Anura Kumara Dissanayake will not win the Presidential election this time. Yet, if he learns from the experience of contesting, he could provide an alternative, maybe, in five years’ time?