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Mahinda wins; so what next?

[Lakbima News, Sunday, 31 January 2010 11:28 No Comment]

Backs to the wall fight for democracy

As I write these lines at 5.30 on Wednesday evening the sound of fire crackers all round is deafening. The formal announcement that MR has won the presidential elections has just been made by Elections Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake on local TV, but Fonseka has been repeatedly shown on Indian TV rejecting the purported results as falsified. The matter is still wide open and legal challenges may be lodged, but writing, as I am on Wednesday evening, I have no choice but to proceed on the basis of the official declaration. The misuse of state media and state resources was horrible but there is no way of predicting whether the result would have been different in the absences of fraud.

The Fonseka factor

17-2 The role of the individual in history is a much debated topic. Sarath Fonseka in defeat may, in certain circumstances, be more important than he would have been in victory. Though Fonseka is no Suu Kyi or Chavez some comparative comments are illustrative. Fonseka, like Suu Kyi has through events, become the focal point of the anti-regime mobilisation. The Burmese dictatorship will grant her the moon if only she will just quit, leave Burma and go live anywhere else in the world. This is a lesson our regime too must have studied carefully; whatever its hostility to Fonseka it would love it if he would simply push off, to Oklahoma or anywhere else. A shrewd regime will even enhance his pension just to see the back of this potential focus of anti-government mobilisation. Will he go, or be forced to go? We will have to wait and see if he is made of the same steel as Suu Kyi or of a more base metal.

Fonseka is no Chavez either, but Chavez too started off as a loose cannon of a military officer, but by taking a courageous stand after initial defeats and setbacks succeeded in galvanising the people’s populist aspirations. Populist anger at regimes that flip-flopped between neo-liberalism and populism and resentment of glaring economic inequality as oil revenues were being sucked away, these were the two factors that angered the Venezuelan people.

There is no comparing political neophyte Fonseka with Chavez who was involved in left wing politics from his twenties; as a young army officer Chavez was influenced by Bolivaran, Marxist and Trotskiest thought.

The regime in Lanka has won an election so need it fear populist mobilisation around Fonseka or some other figure? The answer depends not on personalities but on whether the new administration can take strides in economic development, settling matters with the minorities who voted against it in overwhelming numbers, and respecting democratic rights, the freedom of expression and the Constitution. If it cannot, then Sinhala-Buddhism will not sustain it for ever even in the rural hinterland.

The first priority

If one extrapolates the experience of the first term the regime in its second term is likely to continue violating democratic freedoms and human rights and being the font of corruption. The opposition made capital of this. Having united around what it doesn’t want, can the Opposition Alliance hold together in a parliamentary election where the issue is programmes and policies? The answer is a conditional yes. The re-elected regime will try repression against all those who opposed it – the Tiger hunting season is over so it’s open season on everything else.

However, the lesson of the election campaign is that the regime became frightened when challenged because it knew it was clinging to power by misusing state power and government machinery and curtailing media freedom. I guess the UPFA will win the next general election, but the government cannot go on crushing democratic rights and survive.

The first priority therefore is to meet this threat. To do this the opposition must preserve and build on theLeft-right-minority unity that it has nurtured over the last several months. Fragmenting would be the worst option. The JVP has announced that it will be going it alone in the general elections; that would have been fine if Fonseka had won. It’s still OK for the JVP, UNP and the Left and minority parties to place their individual socio-economic programmes before the people; however, they must not sacrifice the united strength needed to face repression. This united strength, despite electoral defeat, was the main achievement of the last period.

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