Recently, the media has been airing the ‘Ranjan tapes’, a collection of audio and visual recordings which outline the disintegration of respected institutions of justice and containing converstion bordering on the obscene and vulgar. To add spice to the depths of degradation to which our society has sunk, Sri Lankans were regaled with tit bits of conversation where persons of supposed ‘standing’, passed on confidential files and or begging for promotions from a politician of low standing. The old order is rapidly changing. But unfortunately not for the better. Politics and politicians have reached a new low in this our country, but in reality its not new, merely a continuation of the same....
The Lanka Sama Samaja Party which was formed in 1935, is the oldest of the Sri Lankan Marxist parties, indeed all political parties in the country, initially campaigned for independence from Britain, helped establish trade unions in the country, mobilised people to demonstrate for higher wages and against colonialism. The party reached the zenith of its power when it, together with the Communist Party (CP) - founded in 1943 -helped bring about unity among the left parties in a coalition known as the United Left Front. The group led the trade union movements hold governments to ransom and presented the then government with a workers’ charter of 21 basic demands.
According to Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the then Prime Minister, “...No Government could have granted all those demands without causing a terrific drain in our economy...” and so she strategically invited the LSSP to join her government and offered plum ministerial posts to the leadership of that party. Sadly the LSSP fell victim to greed for power and position, or to take a more compassionate view, believed that by joining hands with the government of the day in 1964, and taking on Ministerial portfolios, they could win workers’ rights for the workers!
The CP too subsequently joined the government and the 21 demands fizzled out... Even more sadly, both the LSSP and the CP after forming an alliance with the then governing party in power, dropped the ‘21 demands’ and took to racist politics, which in turn weakened the trade union movement and ushered in a period where minority communities were left isolated.
The two left parties gave up their principled non-majoritarian politics for the plums of ministerial portfolios. To add salt in the wounds so-to-say, left parties participated in the breaking of the bank strikes taken together with their subsequent role in the military crushing of first youth uprising in 1971, the two parties soon lost the support of the working people and were trounced at the polls of 1977.
Today these two left parties have been reduced to the status of ‘name board’ political parties with an aging membership and no base. The disintegration of the old left parties saw the emergence of the a new left formation in the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP).
The old order changed, but the new left of Sri Lankan politics made the same mistakes as that of of the ‘old left’. It entered into coalition politics and soon saw its base disappear, best seen at the 2018 local government elections where it received only 5.75% of votes cast, and unable to win even a single local authority.
At the recent 2019 presidential elections the party fared even worse, receiving a mere 3.16% of the votes cast. With the left parties decimated and a general elections to be held in all probability in April this year, the country faces a frightening situation - for democracy to flourish a strong and vibrant opposition is a must.
The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), one of the alternate governing parties has been reduced to the status of a non-entity after the party split with the formation of the new Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), which won both the presidential election and the 2018 local government elections.
The UNP which formed the first post-independence government is today split over leadership struggle leaving the field clear for the SLPP to possibly sweep into power unopposed. That leaves only the minority constituencies - the Tamils and the Muslims - in the North and East offering any opposition to the SLPP. With the opposition decimated, the only hiccup facing a new SLPP-led regime may lie in attempting to increase the powers of the President at the expense of the Prime Minister.
The present PM may not like becoming, what late PM/President Ranasinghe Premadasa described as a PM having the powers of a peon. This will happen in the event the 19th Amendment to the Constitution is done away with in its totality.