Ruling with military might
The IMF delegation will arrive to consider the last part of the present loan agreement. The government is already under pressure from the International Monetary Fund to slash social welfare and to implement pro global capitalist restructuring. Mahinda has reduced price subsidies on a range of basic items, including fuel and essential foods. Sinhala masses expected that the end of the war would bring an improvement in living standards; but conditions have only worsened. With the connivance of opportunist trade union leaders, a virtual wage freeze is in place, even as prices rise and the rupee has devalued by nearly 20 percent. Only the wealthy elite of brokers and agents of MNCs have profited from the government’s development projects. The Mahinda regime basically rests on the military apparatus built during the chauvinist war against the Tamil liberation fighters. The huge security forces and police state apparatus built up over nearly three decades of war is above all directed at defending the power and privileges of the ruling elite against the growing resistance of the working class and the oppressed.
It is the symbol of that military power, which was on parade at the recent conquest celebrations. In all, more than 13,500 members of the security forces paraded in Colombo: 398 army officers and 4,628 soldiers, 115 naval officers and 2,651 sailors, 78 air force officers and 1,383 airmen, together with the civil defence force and the police, including the notorious Special Task Force. The parade was accompanied by 148 vehicle columns, a fly-past of 33 war planes and a naval convoy of 72 warships off the coast. The continued heavy presence of the military, not just in predominantly Tamil areas but throughout the island, points to acute underlying social tensions. The Lankan military has not been reduced in size since the end of the war and remains, per capita, one of the largest in the world. Over the past three years, the government has extended the military’s ambit into many areas of the economy. The Urban Development Authority (UDA) has been placed under the defence ministry. It is overseeing the eviction of more than 70,000 families from shanties in central Colombo as part of the government’s plans to transform the city into an international trading centre.
However Mahinda is sitting on a time bomb. Poverty that is growing has hit the rank and file of the military. In reality, during the war the ranks of the military were filled out with economic conscripts, young people driven to join up by poverty and unemployment. They were used as cannon fodder in the ruthless war of chauvinists that left many dead or disabled, with their families subsequently struggling to survive. On the other hand thousands of soldiers who have left the armed forces, legally or otherwise are held responsible for the growing robbery and violence spread through out the country.
Mahinda has understood that military support and chauvinist campaigns are not sufficient to contain the growing opposition to the regime. He is flirting with the idea of greater devolution. His call for a parliamentary select committee is for this purpose. In spite of divisions within the opposition, struggles are breaking out in all sectors. JVP has, as expected, started a campaign against the Tamil demand for autonomy to the Tamil home land. The so called Anti Imperialist Front is basically an anti devolution front. Ignoring the fact that the protest of the opposition, VV, which includes major Tamil based parties, was in the fore front in the struggle for devolution, JVP claims that the Tamil people are not interested in devolution! Apparently Tamils want only equality and social development. Devolution is an imperialist concept forced on the Tamil people by agents of imperialism! It is simply idiotic to say that thousands and thousands of Tamils bound by Tamil culture and history died for a mission planted by the Americans.
General Fonseka has not joined them and gives critical support to the LLRC recommendations. In spite of great animosity between them, the stand of the general is closer to the present day thinking of Mahinda. In a complex situation like this it is futile to think that a common oppositional front could be built to include all in the opposition. That can never happen. However the VV, that includes TNA, will remain the centre to the struggle against Mahinda regime in the coming period.