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JVP seems to have accepted Irudina advice - Wimal Weerawansa

The Jathika Nidahas Peramuna, has fielded candidates in sixteen districts through the UPFA. In this interview, Wimal Weerawansa, leader of the JNP, speaks to C. A. Chandraprema about the prospects of his candidates at this election and the radical transformation that has taken place within the JVP his old political party, within which he was formed into a political leader. He also touches on the personality of his erstwhile mentor, JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe.

Q. You have played a major role in the presidential elections of 2005 as well as that of 2010. As such everybody expects you to top the Colombo list. But you also have a separate party, the Jathika Nidahas Peramuna what will be its future after this parliamentary election?

A. As you said, in 2005, and even more so in January this year, we acted in the interests of the country, disregarding any personal danger to us. I believe that is a fact that the people all over the country and not just in the Colombo district, appreciate very deeply. Those who vote for the UPFA are well aware of our contribution to help the president in bringing this country to the present situation. So I expect that the voters of the UPFA will look very positively upon our candidates not just in the Colombo district, but in the country as a whole.

Q. But the people of this country saw only you and your colleague M. Muzammil on the front lines at the last presidential election.

A. The other candidates are also people who have done the work assigned to them well. At the last presidential election and at previous elections as well, they have rendered an important service by filling in the gaps in the election campaign in their respective districts. In any event, we are a young political party and even when they were within the JVP, they were not able to play a major role publicly because of the limitations in the JVP’s style of doing things. It was only after we formed the JNP that these parliamentarians began to really work with the people. In this process, there are some who have become known nationally and there are some who have not. But all of them have played a role in the relevant districts.

Q. What do you think will happen to your old party the JVP at this election?

A. The JVP faced repression in 1971 and in 1988/89, but that did not destroy the JVP politically. That is why we were able to come forward after 1994 and turn the JVP into a political force once more. Even though the JVP could not be destroyed politically through repression in the past, today the JVP has become a dead letter politically without any state repression. This is because of the shortcomings of the leadership and their inability to learn. Another contributory factor is the narrow minded political culture that the party cadre is steeped in. I believe that after this election, the JVP will lose the political footing they had in Sri Lankan politics up to now and they will begin a new existence as a fringe political party like the NSSP.

Q. But the JVP has found some new personalities as allies, and these allies are national figures in their own right, like Sarath Fonseka and Arjuna Ranatunga. Would this factor halt their slide? There is some residual sympathy for Fonseka among UNP voters. What if they get two seats in the Colombo district?

A. If we take the last western provincial council election, the JVP got less than 25,000 votes. Today, a significant proportion of even those voters are no longer with the JVP because of the political stands they took between the WPC election and now. Even if we assume that all those voters are still with them, you know that in the Colombo district, if they are to surpass the 5% mark and get even one MP elected, they have to get a minimum of 65,000 to 70,000 votes. That means the JVP will have to increase their vote bank by another 50,000 votes to get just one MP elected. Besides, the Fonseka factor does not have the freshness that it had during the presidential election. Today people are aware of the hate-based nature of that election campaign. Today, the funds he received from the foreign powers backing him has come to light. The allegations of misdeeds by members of his family have now been proved. With all that, I doubt whether the Fonseka factor would be able to attract many votes to the JVP front. It is only if disgruntled members of the UNP consider Fonseka an alternative that some space will open up for even one seat in the Colombo district. My feeling is that is that if they get anything at all, it will be one, and that they have no way of getting two seats. As for Arjuna Ranatunga, he can’t make an impact on the Kalutara district. These are people who have lost their freshness and their political legitimacy.

Q. You seem to discount the disgruntled UNP voter’s role in this election.

A. For disgruntled UNP voters, the last presidential election would no doubt have been an uplifting experience. It was after a long time that they participated in well attended meetings, listened to some forceful speeches and conducted a dynamic election campaign. This is also probably why some of them may have found it hard to believe the election result. But I believe that UNPers are beginning to realize the harm done to their party by bringing in Fonseka. In this short period of time the allegations that have been levelled at Fonseka are of such nature that even a person who had been politics for years would not have such allegations against them. In such a background, I can’t see UNPers leaving their party and joining the JVP led alliance in significant numbers.

Q. If we go back to the JVP, what do you think has happened to Somawansa Amarasinghe? Those who read your book Nettha Wenuwata Ettha were left with the impression that Somawansa Amarasinghe held a pro-UPFA and very rational stand in the debate which raged within the JVP in 2006, as to whether they were going to remain with the Rajapaksa government which they helped bring into power. But that was not the Amarasinghe we saw at the last presidential election; he seemed to be wholeheartedly against the UPFA and the Rajapaksas and even leading the charge from the JVP side.

A. That is Somawansa Amarasinghe! In that intra-party debate referred to in Nettha Wenuwata Ettha it was Amarasinghe himself who encouraged us to think critically of the stand advocated by other leaders like Tilvin Silva. He was so dead set against the stand taken by Tilvin Silva and others to sever links with the UPFA, that he once told our comrade Saman in Japan that had he been young enough, he would start a new party. In fact this Saman screwed up the courage to talk openly with me about the other party leaders because of the things Amarasinghe told him. At the final stages in the JVP, I had only Amarasinghe to whom I could talk to on a friendly basis and he knew that I was not the type would split the party. But ultimately, the other side was able to use him to bring charges against within the party. So there is an element like that in his character which enables him to make 180 degree turns in a very short time. The main problem in the JVP was that it did not have a unified leadership which had public support as well as power within the party. What we had was public goodwill and support going to certain individuals but power within the party being concentrated in other hands. Those who had power within the party always looked at those who had the goodwill of the public with fear and mistrust. That was what the split in the JVP was about.

Q. The JVP’s entire outlook seems to have changed with the last presidential election. The moment Amarasinghe got back from Europe, we heard him telling the media that Sri Lanka would get GSP+ back if Fonseka was elected to power. We don’t usually expect to hear such things from a JVP leader.

A. It’s a commonly accepted fact that the JVP was one of the fastest growing leftist parties in the south Asian region. I have deep suspicions about how such a party can be subject to such a radical transformation in such a short period of time. To come to a position where they can claim that the GSP+ facility given by the imperialists will be continued only if they come into power cannot just happen randomly. They are now being manipulated by some outside force. Today they have turned the red flag into something that gives legitimacy to global imperialism. We now see the JVP enunciating basically the same views expressed by Ranil Wickremesinghe earlier.

Q. Two or three years back, when the UN official Loiuse Arbour hinted that Sri Lanka may have to face war crimes investigations if they continue with the war, the JVP  brought 500 of their people’s representatives from the pradesheeya sabha level upwards, to Colombo and surrounded the UN complex in Colombo and said that war heroes could be taken to the international courts only over their dead bodies. But after Sarath Fonseka said he was willing to be a witness in any war crimes investigation, the JVP no longer says that war heroes will have to be taken to international courts only over their dead bodies.

A. Sarath Fonseka said that he would not defend those who fired upon surrendering LTTE leaders, while Somawansa Amarasinghe and the other JVP leaders were present on the platform. After the election Fonseka clearly stated that he is willing to testify against those who had done wrong. There was a nationalist element within the JVP, but today, that is no longer in existence. Recently, they even accepted that the UN had a right to intervene in Sri Lanka and that they should do so for the sake of restoring democracy. Years ago, when I was still in the JVP, I remember the pro-UNP Sinhala newspaper Irudina had written that the JVP could not play the role of an Opposition party because of its nationalism and that it was only if they gave up nationalism that they would be able to do so. The JVP now seems to have accepted that advice and given up nationalism. Now what we see in the JVP is nothing more complex than very basic anti-governmental sentiment (sarala aanduvirodhaya) and nothing more!

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