Tilvin Silva, the General Secretary of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), discusses the future political challenges of his party and preparations to counter them in the aftermath of an electoral setback. Also, he foresees an international crisis triggered by what he called the government’s shortsighted and immature way of handling foreign relations.
Q: What are your views on the annual budget being debated in Parliament these days?
This is a budget which does not spell out a clear-cut plan for the development of the country. There is no concession for the ordinary masses. They have increased taxes outside the budgetary process. The budget is virtually an empty document. The prices of various items and services such as telecommunications and vehicle spare-parts are slated to rise as a result of this budget. The concept of budget has also been devalued under this government. Earlier, the documents containing the budgetary proposals were brought into Parliament in a black box-a traditional act symbolising the confidentiality of the budgetary proposals. Today, it is just a piece of paper.
Q; After the electoral setback at the recent provincial council election, how is the JVP going to position itself for the proposed elections next year?
Actually, no party has been able to increase its respective vote bank at this election conducted on September 21. Though the government won the election, they had polled a smaller number of votes this time compared its total number of votes received at the 2009 provincial council election. The vote base of the United National Party (UNP) has also dropped in some districts. The JVP could retain its membership in the Kurunegala district. But, in other districts, we saw a reduction in the number of votes polled. All in all, there is no clear winner in comparison to the 2009 election.
"This is a budget which does not spell out a clear-cut plan for the development of the country. There is no concession for the ordinary masses. They have increased taxes outside the budgetary process"
However, anti-government sentiments are seemingly gathering momentum throughout the country. It has not yet translated into an organised political voice. Against this backdrop, the JVP has a duty to perform. For that, we need to mobilise different segments of society for a common political front against the government’s policies-unacceptable both in social and economic sense. Already, we have taken our initiative in the form of a protest campaign by trade unions.
We need to do something more at every level to rejuvenate the party in the face of electoral defeats during the recent years. In view of the next provincial council election in the Western Province, we have taken some steps. Comrade K.D. Lal Kantha has been assigned to lead the election campaign in the Western Province. It is a step aimed at gaining some electoral success.
Q: Apart from forming an alliance of various trade unions affiliated to the JVP, is there any plan to team up with other political parties for a broader alliance?
We have no intention whatsoever to join forces with political parties advocating capitalist policies. Like in the trade union front, we will talk to progressive, right thinking, patriotic forces, democratic organizations and individuals of this country for a political front. Parties like the United National Party (UNP) have no place in it.
Q: Is there any possibility that the JVP will tie up with the Democratic Party of former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka?
To us, it appears that this party is based on some form of capitalist ideology. We have to give it serious thought. We have not thought of a political link with his party at the moment. We have initiated a dialogue with university teachers, farmer organisers, trade union leaders and others who stand for democracy. We need to form an alternative political force to the government. We do not want to form a substitute force for it.
Q: You talked about problems confronting the nation. In your view, what are the gravest challenges to the country at the moment?
The economic crisis is serious. During the past years, the government had totally ignored the manufacturing sector of our economy. There is no development in the industrial and agricultural sectors. The agricultural sector has not been developed to commercial levels for the generation of income. It is still used for food requirements. The country relies heavily on external borrowings, mostly used for infrastructure projects with less economic dividends. They have not invested such borrowings in productive projects that can boost economic growth. The country is caught in a debt trap. In fact, the annual income of the country is insufficient for the payment of the debt installments along with the accrued interest. Instead of developing the manufacturing sector, the government has prioritized the development of the tourism sector. In this exercise too, there are no attempts being made to attract high spending European tourists. Instead, they target the middle class of Asian countries like China, India and Bangladesh. In these countries, there are middle-class people who travel abroad only for a few days for activities such as shopping.
During the Commonwealth Business Forum, the main lecture was delivered by James Packer dubbed the casino king. He called Sri Lanka the paradise of Asian middle-class. In addition to the attraction of this middle-class, the government is trying to woo black money racketeers in Asia. That is the reason for them to concentrate on casino business operations. This will only lead to various social ills in the country.
Q: There is international criticism against the government over the situation in the North. According to your analysis, how will it end?
The manner in which the government responds to such criticism has enabled the international forces to create a ground situation for intervention in the internal affairs of this country. Issues related to democratic values are paving the way for it.
The present state affairs in the North have given a fillip to the separatist ideology. In the overall context, the country is undergoing a crisis in political, social and economic spheres.
Q; British Prime Minister David Cameron, during his visit to the north, vowed to push for an international inquiry unless the government addresses rights issues through a credible domestic mechanism. In your view, is it a sign of a serious international development?
When we analyse the sequence of events- the British Prime Minister’s remarks, (the predicament) and actions of the Channel 4 media crew and India’s stance, it is clear that attempts are underway for the gradual evolution of a set-up in the north east. That is one aspect of this international development. On the other hand, an international inquiry is likely into the alleged human rights violations during the last stage of the war. Instead of trying to circumvent such attempts, the government, with its usual arrogance, acts in a reckless manner that virtually justifies them. President Mahinda Rajapaksa looks at this unfolding situation from a different perspective. Before the international development poses a challenge to his political survival, he might opt for a presidential election in the hope of securing a third term. This would only worsen the crisis of the country eventually. The country will go from bad to worse. The government tried to use the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) to boost its tarnished international image. Instead, the country was put on notice as a result of the CHOGM.
Q: Do you think that an international inquiry is now imminent?
The events that took place in the post war period- right from the joint statement with UN Secretary General Ban ki Moon to assurances given to India and the adoption of a resolution by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), speaks volumes. These were not isolated incidents. The government did not understand this trend properly and make an effort to defeat them through a holistic approach. Instead, it pursued a policy of avoiding each adverse international development in a piecemeal manner. It is possible that this trend will build into an international inquiry in the end. Countries such as the United States and England, backed by India, will do it eventually, laying the ground work for international action against Sri Lanka, probably by way of economic sanctions. According to international observers, the Western Nations will push for it.
This government does not have a foreign policy to deal with the western world or any other country. They lack diplomacy.