Amongst the more astonishing features of the election was the association between the UNP and the JVP to promote the candidacy of General Fonseka. Or, rather, this was in itself not astonishing, for clearly both parties would have felt a need to clutch at any straw, even a blockbuster of the caliber of the General, to do better than they had done in other recent elections. This is understandable, given the need to become competitive, if they were to hold onto any substantial support for the future.

 But one would have thought there were some limits. Given that any political party claims to have a core of fundamental values that ensure the commitment of both party activists and thinking voters, it was strange that they could have thought the abandonment of all principle would have helped them for the future.

In both cases however one can see elements of wishful thinking that encouraged the decision. The JVP could well have imagined that General Fonseka thought like them, or rather that they could sell him as doing so. I believe this is a travesty of what JVP core thinking claims to be, because their principles cannot be racist or militaristic. However they have often enough allowed their activists to suggest such perspectives, as when they allowed their opposition to devolution to seem both racist and chauvinistic, or when their celebration of military victories ignored completely the concerted political and financial management that were the bedrock of the triumph over terror.

So General Fonseka could well have seemed to them an ideal candidate. In promoting his cause however they had obviously forgotten his history in dealing with revolutionary assaults on the state. I have no idea whether he belonged to the extremist wing of the forces that inflicted such terror on the JVP in the eighties. Clearly however his pronouncements, and his promotion schemes, make clear that he had no truck with the enlightened dispensation represented most obviously by Denzil Kobbekaduwa and Vijay Wimalaratne, but also by prematurely sidelined officers such as Devinda Kalupahana and Gamini Hettiarachchi. It is that dispensation, and the thorough professional training it ensured, that has now led to an army that is tough on terror, soft on civilians, fully aware of the need to win hearts and minds if terror is not to find a fertile breeding ground in the future. 

 The winning of hearts and minds does not seem to have been General Fonseka’s strong suit, if the language he used during the election is anything to go by. Whilst he could perhaps have been excused for this, given his ignorance of politics, and the need to win votes, not commandeer them, it is tragic that his advisers did not try to rein him back. As I pointed out to a diplomat who said that threats seemed to have figured on either side, ultimately you have to judge the thrust of a campaign from its leadership, and I would challenge anyone to cite one example of viciousness and bluster in the speeches of the President. On the contrary, the Fonseka approach seemed to have affected even the normally urbane Ranil Wickremesinghe, whose ‘Poda, Poda’ made clear his chameleon nature.  

The JVP then seems to have been content with a campaign based on authoritarianism and bitterness. Perhaps they thought their own brand of bitterness would win out in the end, and that in violation of the Constitution Sarath Silva would have been appointed Prime Minister immediately, to deal as judiciously with the UNP as he had done in the past. Given how woefully Ranil had knuckled under to the Tigers after his agreement with them, they might have thought him a pushover, with the two Saraths on their side to promote a populist majoritarian agenda.

But that would have been to ignore the other forces that had ranged themselves on the side of the General, in the conviction that he would promote a very different agenda. The generous interpretation, that the TNA and the extremist fringe of the NGOs – and I stress this, because the vast majority of Civil Society organizations remained sane in this instance – seemed to have swallowed, was that the General would have been inclusive and a builder of consensus. The more realistic view is that those who had failed to impose restrictions on national sovereignty earlier now saw an opportunity to destabilize and fragment.

I hasten to add that I do not believe this was the declared agenda of any country. But, sadly, there are adventurers amongst us, individuals who, carried away by their own self-righteousness, fuelled by those who see darkness and dysfunction and breakdown whenever they themselves are not calling the shots, relish the flexing of their own ample muscles, the opportunity to take down a peg or two those who will not knuckle under.

Such elements would have made short shrift of the JVP. I told Mr Amerasinghe that I was assured, when I wondered about the fact that so many of the elite were supporting a candidate propelled electorally by the JVP, that they would be got rid of immediately if the General won. The cheerful response was that they were never in to be thrown out, and certainly they were sensible not to get involved in building up alliances to contest elections or constitute a cabinet.

But I suspect that would not have saved them. Their determination not to be swallowed up would have been seen as a plot to pick up the pieces and promote revolution when the General found the country ungovernable. The answer would have been naked authoritarianism, whether or not the General remained at the top. Ranil Wickremesinghe had previously made clear his approval of military regimes in Korea etc to promote development, and elements that had supported these, and indeed peppered Latin America with military dictatorships in the seventies and eighties, would have had no qualms about such dispensations.

 The JVP then seems well out of the mess they had got themselves into, through what seems initially to have been simply a mechanism to prevent their early destruction. Whether they can translate the impetus they received into more than a couple of seats at the forthcoming General Election remains to be seen. For the moment they seem to be going along with the Fonseka card, in supporting his claim that the election was unfair.

There is something touching in this, given the UNP’s contrary move to distance itself as soon as possible from the General and his tears. But I suspect Mr Amerasinghe would do better now to abandon loyalty to an individual who does not see this as a virtue, and instead stick more soundly to his principles however outdated they might be.

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