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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 109

Budget Aftermath: JVP Abstained But Appeared Bruised, Blatantly Insensitive and Mealy Mouth on National Security

By Philip Fernando in Los Angeles

Budget passed 114 to 67 as President Mahinda Rajapaksa's demonstrable military prowess against a ruthless terrorist trumped all attempts to vilify him. The JVP saved itself from its own colossal blunder committed during the Second Reading by abstaining this time. The budget episode bruised the JVP for being perceived as blatantly insensitive to national sentiment, the defining moment in Sri Lankan politics today: Worse still, being mealy mouth about national security was very poor politics. Their excuses for voting with the UNP earlier were disingenuous. The tactical blunder bruised the JVP. Have their options hardened enough vindictively to a point of no return? Only time will tell, according to most observers.

J V P leader Somawansa Amarasinghe had coalesced with consummate ease during the 2005 election campaign, vintage JVP strategy. Now he is drafting like a race-car driver, just tailgating and staying right behind President Rajapaksa until he wears and then vault past him at the finish line. The race has not begun yet, not until 2011. Somavansa’s biggest problem seemed to be to morph from being a masterful convergence guru into the slayer of Rajapaksa’s show of military might. However, Somawansa did not define his political metaphor correctly and appeared indecisive.

Somavamsa exudes confidence in his short-sleeved shirt and well-worn blue jeans, said one observer. He had disowned JVP’s signature hype of a five-lecture-do-it yourselves-Marxism mindset marketed by founder Rohana Wijeweera. However, putting his new act together would require utmost skills as he is pitted against a southern populist leader like Rajapaksa. The budget episode was like a pit stop to change wheels but Somavamsa seemed to have lagged too far behind bogged down in the parliamentary showdown. He has to plan out a strategy accompanied by a compelling narrative with a convincing metaphor. National interest has to be a vital part of that.

Proliferation of attempts by the Opposition to topple the government had caused the government to fight for tenure at all costs as arrows are hurled against it from all sides. Even a burnt down press is automatically a subject of scorn although the causes are still to be investigated. Government senses the quick power grab as a daunting spectacle of ungenerous and extremely ruthless attacks coming its way. So far, Mahinda Rajapaksa's demonstrable military prowess against a ruthless terrorist has trumped attempts to vilify him. Defining the purpose of its existence becomes crucial for the Opposition.

The antagonists on either side will do or die in battles like these- like being thrown to the lions at the Roman Coliseum of yore. It is ugly. Within two years of capturing power all governments in Sri Lanka as far back as we can remember have stumbled trying to woo dissidents from the opposition, crunching out legislative numbers the whole time. The recently concluded budget drama brought the same scenario once more. The average citizen is bewildered as political re-alignments become the order of the day.

The budget battle has transformed Somawansa, a disciplined mentally robust leader to become workaday pragmatic quick power-grabber. The wafer thin legislative majority prevalent inside the Sri Lankan parliament has no doubt caused such changes in many politicians thanks to the constitutional impasse put in place by the 1978 constitution of J R Jayewardene where lean and mean majorities have become a political hallmark in recent years. It looks like conventional wisdom takes over when toppling the government becomes temptingly easy. However, in the deeply fraught-game of political ascendancy losers outnumber winners by a big margin. Somavamsa may have succumbed to the temptation too quickly and brought a reversal in his overall path towards political ascendancy.

Somawansa seemed in a hurry to propel the working people into a struggle against the war and the government to defend their basic rights and living standards. But as the budget debate demonstrated, any pre-emptive strike for political ascendancy must be based on legitimacy not the mere coming together of parliamentary strategists with diverse agendas.

Somavamsa has avoided being labeled as an appendage of the UNP, professing to have the Midas touch of politics. At the same time, he is particularly sensitive to government criticisms over the failure to support the war budget. At a recent press conference, Amarasinghe dismissed accusations that the JVP was “not patriotic”, declaring the party voted against the budget because it had placed tax burdens on ordinary people and increasing debt. Significantly, Amarasinghe held up the record of the Winston Churchill as the model that the Sri Lankan government should emulate. “Churchill got support from all sections of the country because he set an example by sacrificing his personal benefits,” the JVP leader said.

In other words, far from slashing military spending, Rajapaksa should make gestures of “shared sacrifice” like the prudent conservative leader of British imperialism to appease the anger of the masses. If the Sri Lankan president were willing to adopt such a posture, Amarasinghe explained, JVP would be ready to support the government.

Rajapaksa government seemed more concerned about the present delicate state of the war and would not tolerate even a slight reduction of the intensity of its attacks against LTTE. Somavamsa may need more than a quick pit-stop to change wheels during his race to the top. He has to pick a whole new engine that can power him.

Philip Fernando – a former Deputy Editor of the Sunday Observer.

- Asian Tribune -

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