Another marriage of convenience?

The JVP has apparently succeeded in coercing the UNP into falling in line. UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has offered to reconsider a Working Committee resolution to contest the next parliamentary polls under the Elephant symbol, in a bid to appease the JVP on the warpath threatening to forge an alliance under Gen. Sarath Fonseka's leadership to contest the April polls. The fear of the Opposition vote being split in such an eventuality may have made Wickremesinghe jittery and blow hot and cold. But, such a fear looks unfounded in that the UNP and the JVP failed to win more than a few electorates in the South in spite of their grand alliance at the Jan. 26 presidential polls.

Whether the UNP Working Committee will budge and compromise its symbol for the sake of the JVP remains to be seen. Even if it does, it is doubtful if the people will take a coming together of the UNP and the JVP seriously. The two parties may have managed to sell their alliance to a section of the voting public before the presidential election, because they insisted that they had made common cause only for abolishing the executive presidency and they would part company thereafter. Gen. Fonseka himself said so unequivocally in public prior to the polls. He said the UNP and the JVP had come together only for a 'limited offensive'.

But, at a parliamentary election, political parties either collectively or severally seek a popular mandate to rule the country. Will the UNP and the JVP be able to in the same government? They are poles apart in every respect. The JVP is opposed to an open economy and the attendant 'evils' such as privatisation etc which have become a kind of fetish for the UNP.

The UNP-led UNF government (2001-2004) carried out several controversial privatisation deals including the sale of the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation, which the Supreme Court held illegal and reversed after a few years, reduced recruitment to the public service to a bare minimum and took steps to scrap the noncontributory pension scheme for the new recruits. Unless the JVP is amenable to such policies, it certainly cannot have the UNP as a partner in governance. The war is over and peace deals with the LTTE over which the JVP and the UNP fought many a battle are things of the past, but the question is whether the JVP subscribes to the kind of devolution that the UNP has agreed to in principle––power sharing that goes beyond the 13th Amendment or federalism as envisaged in the Oslo Declaration.

The JVP is precariously clinging on to a cliff edge and is desperate to avert an electoral disaster. Any port in a storm, they say, and the outfit may not mind even coalescing with the UNP, but under a different symbol. The Elephant is anathema to the JVP's rank and file. But, even under some other symbol, such political marriage will be doomed from the very inception.

The JVP, it may be recalled, pulled out of the Kumaratunga government, having contested the 2004 general election on the UPFA ticket and obtained 39 seats with the help of the SLFP vote bank. The outfit is sure to be reduced to a handful of seats if it goes it alone at a general election with or without Gen. Fonseka on its side. Hence its desperation to throw in its lot with the UNP! It wants to shore up its crumbling electoral strength with the help of the UNP's vote and then make a grand exit the way it did in 2005.

In 2004, the JVP did to the SLFP what a young, treacherous gigolo usually does to a wealthy nympho; it deserted the SLFP after exploiting it to the fullest. Rathu Sahodarayas are now eying the UNP, their erstwhile bête noire.

Political marriages of convenience are not made in heaven but on the altar of expediency. So, we need not be surprised even if the UNP and the JVP were to tie the nuptial knot one of these days. However, it behoves the two parties to tell the voting public, in case of a coming together, whether they see eye to eye on, inter alia, economic policies, foreign policy and devolution and how they propose to govern the country-together.

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