The Opposition’s personality issue


To expect anything more from the neoliberal bourgeoisie than opposition to the nationalist bourgeoisie would be to expect wings from a pig.

At the 2010 presidential election, the UNP led by Ranil Wickremesinghe supported Sarath Fonseka. It was the first time in Sri Lanka that a common opposition candidate had been mooted and put forward.

Fonseka’s coalition included the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Muslim Congress (SLMC). The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) supported it from the sidelines. The Western media, which had vilified Commander Fonseka over his involvement in the war, put its weight behind Candidate Fonseka over his opposition to Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The result was one of post-independence Sri Lanka’s most laughable if not farcical elections. The UNP, which had at each and every corner ridiculed the government’s war efforts, belittling even Fonseka’s contribution, was now heralding Fonseka for his leadership.

The TNA, which had tried hard to stall the war efforts on the basis that the government was embarking on a series of militaristic campaigns, put its weight behind the same man who had planned those campaigns. The JVP, which despite its own history of militant and violent struggle bemoaned the government’s militarism, spoke up on behalf of a candidate whose rhetoric proved to be far more militaristic than the Rajapaksas’.

The supreme irony was that the TNA, which based its campaign against Mahinda Rajapaksa’s political leadership of the war, was forced to join an Opposition that based its campaign on valorising Sarath Fonseka for his military leadership of that same war. Not a single commentator from the liberal-left intelligentsia, so hellbent against wartime atrocities allegedly committed by the State, dared to speak about the irony.

The lesson that the Opposition should have learnt from 2010 was that no Opposition campaign will last for long if it is going to be based solely on opposition to a leader rather than an administration. Mahinda Rajapaksa, then more than now, was loved for the simple reason that he delivered on his pledge: end the war. The halo around him hadn’t simmered, even if the young crowd grew disenchanted by him. Unfortunately the Opposition didn’t learn its lesson. Well planned as the 2015 campaign was with another common candidate, it eventually led to a Rajapaksa Restoration.

It thus says a lot about the Opposition, or what remains of it, that while it rationalises its antipathy to the government in terms of its commitment to liberal democratic norms, its campaign is aimed primarily if not only at the men in power as opposed to the ideology those men covet.

How else can you explain the paradox of those aligned with the Opposition critiquing the government over its militarism while expressing admiration for the likes of Fonseka, whose public outbursts are probably as well known as those of the President? How else can you explain their admiration for the likes of Ranjan Ramanayake, who has insulted the Judiciary in public and stood in contempt of it as much as certain government MPs?

One doesn’t need to recall Fonseka’s infamous kala vedda press conference, or the allegations of nepotism thrown at him which he never refuted, to understand the quagmire the Opposition is waist-deep in. One doesn’t need to recall Ranjan Ramanayake’s infamous tape recordings to understand the contradictions it’s drowning under.

The fact is that the Opposition differs not that much from the government when it comes to MPs who disdain democratic norms. The difference, of course, is that the liberal-left intelligentsia is behind it.

The government and the Opposition don’t see eye-to-eye over certain matters, but in their antipathy to the Left, they eat at the same table. To give just one example, when the government, a few months before the first wave, officially opened up a patch of land at Galle Face for protests, not a few supporters and figureheads of the SJB hailed it.

What does that tell us?

It tells us that the liberal-left opposition to the government is focused more on the person heading the administration than the administration itself. It tells us that while the liberal-left opposition wants the government out, it won’t necessarily embrace student activism, radical protest, and structural reform with an open heart once the government is put out.

That means, with the Opposition in power, you can expect the same anger and fury against demonstrations at Lipton Circus in the afternoon, the same baton-charging of University students, and the same caving into neoliberal “reform” ignoring if not curtailing trade union action. That in turn means the Fake Left of the JVP, which beyond a few cosmetic press briefings uttered not a word against the yahapalana regime’s baton-charging and anti-trade union rhetoric, will continue to collaborate with it.

In the end what we get are two heads of the same beast, one vying for power over the other. The elite and the bourgeoisie, whose favourite mode of protest are nighttime candle vigils at Vihara Maha Devi Park — they’d prefer to call it Victoria Park — don’t have the foresight, the courage, or the initiative to lead a political movement that puts into question the very basis for their grip over the country’s economy. To expect anything more from the neoliberal bourgeoisie than empty vociferous opposition to the nationalist bourgeoisie would be to expect wings from a pig.

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