Opposition (Fake) and Opposition (Real)


A REAL opposition would have to be different in word and deed, in body and garment, in stands taken and in objections articulated.

Before the General Election, supporters of the United National Party (both factions, Ranil’s and Sajith’s) expressed concern about the possibility of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna securing a two-thirds majority in Parliament. They urged people to vote against the SLPP to prevent such a majority. Some of them even wrote at length about the importance of a strong opposition in Parliament.

Things don’t pan out that way, though. Those who clearly rejected the ‘UNP option’ and saw no reason not to strengthen the President were unlikely to vote for some other party. This common sense notion was affirmed on August 5, 2020. The SLPP secured the numbers. The elephants (by various names) were routed (Sajith’s party got close to 3 million less than Sajith did at the November 2019 presidential election).

Whither the opposition? Well, that’s something that those in the opposition and their backers need to think about.

That said, any close reading of post independence politics would demonstrate that we’ve seldom had what could be called ‘a strong opposition.’ Opposition by name, certain. Whenever the margin of victory was close, the winners couldn’t afford to drop their guard. After Chandrika Kumaratunga, courtesy Chief Justice Sarath N Silva, enabled Opposition MPs to break ranks, a slim majority made for a jittery regime. We saw this in 2001 when a bunch of UPFA members crossed over to the UNP.

That’s about the power equation and not necessarily ideological opposition. By and large the official oppositions have shared with the relevant governments a right-wing, neoliberal agenda. The ‘nationalist flavor,’ if you will, was what differentiated the two groups. The JVP was, officially at least, ‘Left,’ but that’s a label they’ve worked hard to remove in recent years.

The real opposition, ideologically speaking, has for the most part been outside Parliament; Sarath Muttetuwegama being an exception.

Now one can argue that such an opposition (which would struggle to secure even a single seat) is made of the lunatic fringe. Fair enough. The two major parties/coalitions capture more than 90% of the vote and close to 200 out of the 225 seats.

Except for one factor. Such objectors don’t have the chance of an ice cube in hell when it comes to elections. They are structurally and constitutionally denied. The existing political culture makes it worse.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that there is little or no ‘Opposition (Real)’ [as opposed to ‘Opposition (Fake)].’ It’s just that such opposition doesn’t materialize with placards. It doesn’t march. Its objections are nevertheless expressed in less visible ways and languages that are not always recognized as ‘political.’

Politicians are alert to the opinions of such individuals/groups and are quite adept at hijacking slogans if there’s any indication of there being a sizable number adhering to the relevant ideas.

The world, the moment, calls for ‘difference.’ We need to think differently, we need to act differently, we need to come up with a new system of valuation, individual/social conduct etc. There’s a lot of talk on those lines. And such lines are like threads that are used to weave clothes which appear to look fresh, new and different. The bodies they cover, however, are the same. And the bodies do the same-old-same-old; the world stumbles from one disaster to another and people continue to be insulted and humiliated.

One thing is clear. We need an opposition. A real one. We don’t need a set of people who are different from the government only because they lost. Such an opposition would have to be different in word and deed, in body and garment, in stands taken and in objections articulated. Most importantly, such an opposition should be moved not by anger or chagrin at losing or the objective of ending on the winning side, but inspired by a strong sense of collective good and marked by a deference to reason (over emotion) and absolute integrity.

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