- Rise of SJB becoming a viable alternative to the Rajapaksa regime, as well as other political forces
- SJB could obtain 54 seats with 27% of the voter base within just six months of existence
- Majority of UNP supporters knew the truth and overwhelmingly voted for Sajith against Ranil
- UNP leaders could not win a single seat at this election, facing the wrath of the mature citizenry from all 25 electoral districts
“I find hope in the darkest of days and focus in the brightest. I do not judge the universe”
– Dalai Lama
The question posed by Ranga Jayasuriya in his column dated August 11, 2020, titled “Opposition in the Oblivion: How and why it happened” warrants more rational scrutiny.This is necessary especially in the immediate aftermath of the recent Parliamentary election, when everyone is alive to what happened.
It is my humble position that the post-election climate records the rise of Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), which is six months old; becoming a viable alternative to the Rajapaksa regime, as well as other political forces.
RISE OF NEW PARTIES
One could compare this result to the outcome of the Parliamentary election in 1952, with the new party known as the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), led by a former UNP Minister SWRD Bandaranaike, becoming the alternative to the United National Party. Breaking away from the UNP, Bandaranaike could only obtain nine seats in his first contest, with 15.52% of the votes. From there, it took another four years until 1956, for Bandaranaike to consolidate his position and form a government through the MEP with 51 seats with a total of 1,045,727 votes. The Democratic United National Front (DUNF) which was formed in 1993, could not go beyond Provincial councils with the party polling 14.54 % of the votes.
SLPP vs. SJB ON AUGUST 5, 2020
The SLPP was formed in 2015, soon after the General election. It was in 2018 that they contested the local elections for the first time. However, Sajith Premadasa-led SJB could obtain 54 seats with 27% of the voter base within just six months of existence. What is even more significant is the way the SJB leader could defeat the UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe who contested against the Sajith Premadasa-led SJB. The UNP leaders could not win a single seat at this election, facing the wrath of the mature citizenry from all 25 electoral districts. If we focus on the new political opposition, what we see is a major paradigm shift with the emergence of the SJB as the viable alternative to the Rajapaksa regime.
STUDYING THE PARADIGM SHIFT
The leader of the new political movement, SJB is someone who has been making a decisive impact on Sri Lankan national politics for the past twenty years. As a novice, and at the age of 30, Sajith defeated the veteran politician Mahinda Rajapaksa in the Hambantota District, most convincingly in the General Election held in 2000 and in the next General Election in 2001. In both elections, Sajith Premadasa captured three of the four Hambantota district electorates, namely Tissamaharama, Mulkirigala and Tangalle, leaving only Beliatta for Mahinda.
Hambantota was entirely the domain of Rajapaksas.The defeat they faced in their own turf at the hands of a political novice, will never make Rajapaksas forget even today that Sajith is their real political contender. At the last election, Sajith defeated the Rajapaksa-led SLPP in Colombo Central, with the UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe also facing the worst defeat in his political career, in the same electorate, obtaining only 2978 votes against Sajith’s 64692 votes in this electorate.
MANUFACTURING TRUTHS OUT OF UNTRUTHS
The media that has the potential to be rational and reasonable, ironically made every effort to inject the untruth that Sajith was responsible for a major breakaway operation from the Grand Old Party. But the truth is Sajith never intended to give leadership to an alliance without his own party as the most formidable segment in it.
The thought of the present alliance was mooted by Ranil, with Sajith as the leader of the alliance, Prime- Ministerial candidate, and Chairman of the nominations board. Knowing this, is it right for the media to continue propagating the untruth that Sajith believed in a mutually destructive course of action? Wasn’t it Ranil together with his loyal MPs who engaged in a policy of non-cooperation with the very alliance they created for Sajith?
The electorate was misled with a distorted position that Sajith broke away. Contextually, when Ranga Jayasuriya raises the question, “What explains the intense sense of resignation of the likely anti-government, anti-Rajapaksa voters?”, is it not unfair for anyone to say that self-destructive strategies were initiated by the Ranil camp to distract the UNP voters, by deciding to contest against the SJB.
Though the majority of UNP supporters knew the truth and overwhelmingly voted for Sajith against Ranil, it is natural that a significant number of UNP supporters, mainly the older supporters as well as the traditional UNPrs were confused and demotivated to come to the polling booths. This certainly was a natural phenomenon at the election, as the two parties were led by UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and by the Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa.
UNTRUTHS RELATING TO IDEOLOGICAL CONFLICTS
Is it right for a responsible journalist to imply that the SJB does not believe in a multi-ethnic, pluralist and liberal perspective? If that is so , were the Tamils, Muslims and Christians for instance voting for the UNP led by Ranil against the Sajith-led SJB? When the minorities had an option to enter into alliances, were they not overwhelmingly supporting the Sajith-led SJB? Was there a significant difference in the social, economic, political and cultural policies advocated by Sajith Premadasa, as the UNP Presidential candidate and Sajith Premadasa as the SJB candidate? Absolutely not!
It is imperative to stop concocting untruths for the benefit of a dangerous clique that aided and abetted all forms of corruption in our country, destroying the credibility of a grand old party like the UNP. It is our fervent hope that those who were responsible will repent soon and enter a more enlightened political journey by uniting with the alliance led by Sajith Premadasa, created by Ranil Wickremesinghe.
As Ranga Jayasuriya admits what we now face is the looming prospect of absolutism.
Hence, at least now, let us commit ourselves to build public opinion against such a dangerous trend, without further confusing the electorate to make the absolutist project complete.
To quote Nelson Mandela: “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall”.