Vijitha Herath blames ‘media violence’ for NPP’s defeat | Sunday Observer

Vijitha Herath blames ‘media violence’ for NPP’s defeat

Vijitha Herath
Vijitha Herath

As numerous Presidential candidates entered the fray in October, the leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Leader Anura Kumara Disanayake along with the National People’s Power party (NPP) were among the frontrunners of the ‘alternative’ movement in the race. At rallies brimming with supporters, Dissanayake’s promises of tackling corruption, reconciliation and uplifting the lives of the citizenry were attractive, gaining widespread approval. But as November 17 dawned not only had the ‘alternative candidate’ been defeated, but he had received only a paltry 418,553 votes, (a mere 3.16 percent of votes cast).

However, setting aside this defeat, the NPP is now gearing up to face the crucial general (Parliamentary) election. Their hope is to secure enough seats and ensure a stronger opposition.

In this weeks interview with the Sunday Observer, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Parliamentarian Vijitha Herath discussed the NPP’s preparations for the upcoming parliamentary election while reflecting on the party’s defeat at the Presidential polls and steps taken, hopefully, to recover from its setback.

Excerpts from the interview :

Q : The NPP and its candidate suffered a setback at the Presidential election and has to face yet another obstacle in the form of the General election. What are the preparations being made by the NPP?

We have decided to contest the general election under the NPP banner and the symbol of the compass. So along with the broad alliance formed with all the progressive stakeholders we have now commenced our election organization work as the NPP. Our party has started organizing our grass root level offices and our active members as a start.

Q : The result of the Presidential election appeared to be a major setback for the NPP. Have you identified the causes behind this dismal performance?

Generally in a Presidential election people are reluctant to vote for a third person because they have an understanding that the candidate would not win. Meanwhile the fear psychosis created by other parties also contributed to this. Some spoke of white vans and militarization to scare the people while others pointed towards things like the MCC agreement and extremism. Some were not real facts but it was effective. This was one of the main reasons for our set back. There is a film based in Bolivia titled ‘Our brand is crisis’, similarly a fear was instilled in people and this was the end result.

Additionally the media behavior also contributed to it. Election violence did not happen at the grassroots but media violence as I would like to call it, was rampant. They picked sides and carried out large scale propaganda programs. This was another main factor.

Q : How does the NPP plan to face these issues in the upcoming General election to yield a better result?

The election commissioner himself admitted that he was unable to control the behavior of the media. But it is not his fault. A law to control this has not been passed in parliament and this loophole is being misused. Though the NPP uses alternative media it isn’t capable of fully countering traditional media. We believe the only way to counter this is to go to the people at the grassroots and educate them about the truth. There is no other solution.

Q : Recently there have been criticisms against the NPP, led by the JVP, claiming it has taken a step back from its role as the opposition to become a mere spectator. Has the NPP decided to be less vocal following the elections?

Immediately after the Presidential election concluded, a new government was formed. Once this happens it takes some time for the government processes to fall into place and for the people to see what is happening. So we have given time for this. But we haven’t stopped our activism. We will continue to fight for the rights of the people more proactively than before.

Q : It seemed that the NPP failed to attract the votes of the youth. What will the NPP do differently in the upcoming election to attract first-time voters?

Not only the youth vote, we also failed to attract the majority of the votes. Even the youth went with the trend due to the fear psychosis created. But at the parliamentary election all voters expect the creation of a strong opposition.

At the moment it is evident that the United National Party (UNP) is unable to carry out the duties of the opposition due to the many internal conflicts within the party. Even prior to 2015 this was the situation - UNP leader Ranil Wickramasinghe did not carry out the duties of a opposition leader in a satisfactory manner. Instead it was left to the JVP to do the duty of the opposition in parliament despite the UNP being the official and main opposition party.

Also unlike in a Presidential election, a general election often takes a different path. There is a sense among the public that the NPP must have a strong representation in parliament.

Therefore we believe the result will be different. For example, in 1999 the JVP received only 340 000 votes at the Presidential election while in the General election that followed the JVP received 518 000 votes and secured ten MP positions. This is the norm.

Q : In the previous election we saw the voters in the North and South divide along communal lines. What is the NPP’s proposal to heal this rift and bring the country together?

For the first time in Sri Lanka though there was no divide of land, there was a clear divide in society, along communal lines. This is not a good trend. Even in the past in 1956, S.W.R.D Bandaranaike won on the promise of making Sinhala the national language. Though he won, the result eventually dragged this country towards a three decade long war. Therefore this divide is troublesome and the only answer is to defeat racism and bring about national reconciliation.

Q : What criteria will the NPP follow when giving nomination to candidates for the upcoming elections?

We haven’t finished the process but we will choose those who are not only capable but who are also willing to make sacrifices. Some are capable but not willing to make the necessary sacrifices. For some a MP position is a means to gain benefits and privileges, but that is not the NPP’s way. We sacrifice whatever we have for this. Dedication, maturity and capability will be looked at before getting nomination from the party.

Q : Some have opined that the result of the Presidential election proved that the broader alliance formed as the NPP was ‘a failed experiment’. What is your take on this?

We do not accept this. The NPP and its symbol maybe new and people may not be familiar with it, but the name of the candidate was one known to all. So we have not identified it as a failed experiment in any sense.

Even prior to the Presidential election we decided to create a broad front by creating the National Intellectuals Organization (NIO). We will continue under this banner to intervene in the issues facing the country.

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