Cuba’s communist government canceled the annual May Day parade this year due to an acute fuel shortage. Fidel Castro must be turning in his grave! Sri Lanka, however, went ahead with its International Workers’ Day celebrations despite its economic difficulties; political parties, as usual, bussed tens of thousands of its activists to the venues of their rallies in Colombo and Kandy, despite high fuel prices. The SLPP, the UNP and the SLFP did not hold parades, but the JVP did, and its march and rally were impressive.

The JVP is in seventh heaven, having outshone its rivals on May Day. It claims to be the most popular party capable of emerging victorious at future elections.

Cadre-based parties have an edge over the mass-based ones where political parades and rallies are concerned, for their members are highly motivated and do not mind travelling long distances, roughing it for days and marching—rain or shine. They are used to toiling under trying conditions for their party’s cause. They are goaded by an insatiable desire to outdo their rivals in every possible way. Therefore, the JVP’s May Day rallies and other political events are always well-attended and very colourful. These shows of strength, however, cannot be considered a barometer of public mood.

Crowds and reality

Large crowds at political meetings do not necessarily translate into votes at elections. In 1977, then Prime Minister and SLFP leader Sirimavo Bandaranaike attracted many people to her campaign rallies, but the SLFP was left with only eight seats at the election that followed. In 2010, the war-winning Army Commander General Sarath Fonseka, too, drew huge crowds during his presidential election campaign, but lost badly to Mahinda Rajapaksa, who secured a second term. In 2015, Mahinda held mammoth election rallies, and it was thought he would win a third term, but Maithripala Sirisena came from behind to beat him.

JVP and Galle Face ban

There is some truth in the JVP’s claim that it would have turned the Galle Face Green into a sea of heads on 01 May if the government had allowed it to hold its Labour Day rally there; the JVP insists that it planned to hold its May Day rally at Galle Face.

The Cabinet recently imposed a ban on political and entertainment events at Galle Face purportedly to enable the people to engage in recreational activities undisturbed and prevent damage to the grass at the oceanic. It is obvious that the real intention of the government is to impose a blanket ban on all political activities on Galle Face, which was the cradle of Aragalaya.

The government seems to think it will be able to prevent another popular uprising by banning political events on the Galle Face Green, and crushing protests in Colombo. But the possibility of agitations breaking out simultaneously in many parts of the country, making it well-nigh impossible for the police and the military to control them, unless the government manages to sort out the economy and grant relief to the public urgently, cannot be ruled out.

Boosting Ranil’s image

Political parties always use the International Workers’ Day as an excuse to promote their leaders and advance their agendas. It was not workers’ interests that were in focus at the UNP May Day rally held at the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium, Colombo 13.

The UNP was all out to boost the image of President Wickremsinghe as the saviour of the nation. Wickremesinghe was not present at the event, which he addressed via Zoom. The organizers of the event claimed he was having back-to-back meetings to solve the country’s problems and could not take time out of his busy schedule to be present at the rally. All speakers including UNP General Secretary Palitha Range Bandara and Senior Presidential Advisor Akila Viraj Kariyawasam praised their leader so much so that their Labour Day rally looked like a convention to announce and endorse Ranil’s candidacy at the next presidential election!

The UNP has put all its political eggs in Ranil’s basket, and what one gathers from the speeches of the UNP heavyweights on May Day is that they are expecting the next presidential election to precede all other polls, for an electoral contest such as the Local Government elections in between will cause their party’s weaknesses to be exposed.

Mahinda as PM

Speculation was rife in political circles that the SLPP would pass a resolution at its May Day rally that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa be reappointed the Prime Minister. But nothing of the sort happened. However, Mahinda became the cynosure at the SLPP rally, as usual, and some SLPP stalwarts who are aspiring to ministerial posts are riding on his coattails or sataka. They want him to take over as the PM so that their interests will be better served.

Dissident SLPP MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara happened to say at a press briefing, the other day, that Mahinda had been dragged to the SLPP’s May Day rally because the party was without any other popular leader. This could be considered a proper assessment of the affairs of the SLPP, which has been left without any formidable leader save Mahinda. Basil Rajapaksa is maintaining a very low profile, and Namal Rajapaksa has not yet been able to make his mark in national politics.

The SLPP is in a dilemma. It is without a popular leader to be promoted as its presidential candidate, and some of its seniors, such as Prasanna Ranatunga and Dilum Amunugama have even offered to back President Wickremesinghe in the next presidential race. Their public statements to this effect could be considered an indication of dissension among the Rajapaksa loyalists. This must be a worrisome proposition for the Rajapaksa family, which is not likely to help anyone other than one of its members to contest the next presidential election, much less secure the coveted presidency.

The government’s political calculations are based on the assumption that the much-delayed local government polls will not be held anytime soon, and it has to prepare for the next presidential election. Both the SLPP and the UNP are wary of facing the public at this juncture for obvious reasons.

The SLFP, too, has benefited from the indefinite postponement of the local council polls due to its internal problems. It seems to be at sea, with its leader, former President Maithripala Sirisena, making contradictory statements on vital national issues; he spoke in favour of the government’s agreement with the IMF, in Parliament, but the SLFP did not vote for it.

Whether the UNP and the SLPP will be able to keep postponing the local council polls until the next presidential election, which the incumbent President cannot advance, according to the Constitution, depends on the Supreme Court decision in a case the JVP has filed against the postponement of the mini polls. The JVP’s petition is to be taken up for hearing next month. If the judgement happens to be in favour of the JVP, it will upend the strategies of all other political parties, especially the SLPP and the UNP.







Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here