The South votes!
The South goes to the polls today. All the parties in the fray claim they are confident of victory! But, the winning party is already known even to a mediocre political observer. Suffice it to say that the JVP may consider it an achievement, if it could secure at least one seat in the 53-member Southern Provincial Council (SPC). And the UNP will have a good reason to be happy if it could fare a wee bit better than it did in Uva. And the government will have won only if it could surpass itself in its stronghold, the South. That is, it will have to better its last performance in Uva, where it polled a little over 72 per cent of the valid votes. Even if it wins without achieving that target, it will leave room for the Opposition to claim the end of the Rajapaksa regime has begun!
Stakes of all key players in today's polls are extremely high and its outcome is bound to cause a realignment of forces in the run-up to a future election. In case of the UNP's defeat, there will be another wave of crossovers to the government at the Local Government, Provincial and Parliamentary levels, though the grand Opposition alliance consisting of several three wheeler parties –– so named by cynics who say all the members and leaders of those small outfits could travel in a single trishaw –– may remain intact.
The UNP is already in the throes of a debilitating crisis and the situation is sure to take a turn for the worse, if the present leadership fails to reverse the party's ignominious electoral setbacks, the persistence of which will further strengthen the hands of the party’s ginger group on a campaign to oust the leader and bring in radical reforms.
The JVP is in an unenviable position. It has dissipated its electoral fortunes owing to sheer mismanagement and hubris and after today's election it will find itself in the exalted company of the traditional Left given to political hitchhiking. The JVP's problem is that it could not evolve as a fully-fledged political party as it refused to leave its ideological cocoon and be flexible. Unless it charts a new course in politics and jettisons its threadbare Marxist shibboleth, it will have to function as an overgrown pressure group the way it did after the 1982 Presidential election and the Referendum under the JRJ regime. When the present government unveils its devolution package sooner or later, Rathu Sahodarayas will seek to play its patriotic card once again to gain some political mileage by campaigning against it, as they opposed JRJ's 13th Amendment in the late 1980s.
Interestingly, the JVP seems to be making a last ditch effort to change its destiny. In 1994, it managed to come in from the cold by riding piggyback on the then Prime Minister Chandrika Kumaratunga in the presidential fray. In 2005, it clung on to the saataka of Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa struggling to win the presidency; both parties gained from their coming together like the hermit crab and the sea anemone. This time around, Rathu Sahodarayas are without anyone to hitch a hike on. An alliance with the UNP is out of the question because Marxism and capitalism are poles apart. Therefore, they have been trying their best to make a cat's paw of someone eminent, but whether they will succeed in their endeavour is anyone's guess.
If the UNP fails to show signs of being able to make a comeback, let alone emerge victorious, by bettering its performance, smaller parties –– like the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress –– which have thrown in their lot with the Greens will find themselves in a dilemma. They will have to remain in the Opposition alliance and be out of power or break ranks and flirt with the UPFA so as to savour power. They need power to retain their vote banks and further their ethno-religious interests. This is something they can hardly achieve by being faithful to the main party in the Opposition with no prospects of forming a government in the foreseeable future. Only the Ceylon Workers' Congress (CWC) has mastered the art of being in power whichever party forms the government: It defects, therefore it is!
The government's problem today will be to clear the bar it has raised for itself over the past few months. It will have to do so spectacularly, as was said earlier, if it is to convince the electorate beyond any doubt that it is not yet low on steam and is capable of continuing its winning streak.