ULF wants its supporters to mark their second preference for is Sajith

Sri Lankan politics is not only topsy-turvy but also full of contradictions. As for its political parties, the UNP makes no bones about the fact that it is capitalist to the core. The SLFP claims to be a progressive political force with left leanings, but it has evolved in such a way that, at present, there is hardly any difference between it and the UNP, where their economic policies are concerned. The SLPP is similar to the SLFP, in most respects. The traditional left remains committed to socialism, but coalition politics have had a mellowing effect on its political agenda. The JVP also claims to be a Marxist party though its socialist ideology has got diluted over the years.

Changes that the SLFP and the leftist parties have undergone, over the year, are radical and interesting. The traditional left got its credentials badly dented by opting marriages of convenience with the SLFP; one of them ended in disaster, in the mid-1970s even though the SLFP was considered a centre-left party at that time. The left parties again coalesced with the SLFP later, for electoral purposes even after the latter had embraced the open economic policies. In 2015, for the first time, an office bearer of a leftist party became an MP of a UNP-led government and worked tirelessly to further the interest of the capitalist camp. The JVP has also come to be accused of cohabiting with the UNP for political expediency.

There has been another interesting development in leftist politics during last several years. The United Left Front (ULF) has decided to throw its weight behind Anura Kumara Dissanayake, the presidential candidate of the JVP, which leftists condemned as a CIA agent, in late 1960s and in early 1970s, to discredit the radical outfit eating into their vote base and attracting the youth. Their enmity led to the JVP gunning down hundreds of leftists, in the 1980s, and the latter forming the People’s Revolutionary Red Army (PRRA) to defend itself. Later, the PRRA, went on the offensive and joined the pro-UNP vigilantes in hunting down JVP activists in their hundreds. Today, the JVP and some of the left parties have proved that there are no permanent enemies in politics. The ULF has gone so far as to ask its supporters to vote for the JVP candidate and mark their second preference for a strong candidate who has the potential to defeat SLPP candidate, Gotabaya Rajapaksa. (In so saying, they have conceded defeat even before the commencement of the contest!)

There will be several contenders in the upcoming presidential race, but the contest will actually be between Rajapaksa and his UNP counterpart Sajith Preamadasa. Others will be also-rans. Thus, it is clear that the candidate the ULF wants its supporters to mark their second preference for is Sajith, fielded by the UNP-led coalition. Their call is premised on the thinking that no candidate will be able to win in the first round by securing an absolute majority, and the votes cast by those supportive of the JVP for Sajith, by way of the second preference, may help him beat Gotabaya in the second round. The other faction of the traditional left is divided between the SLFP and the SLPP.

Thus, one may argue that the left has finally turned right, creating a void in the leftist politics in the country. The JVP’s ideology has got diluted due to coalition politics to such an extent that its leader has even given up the traditional red shirt. There are still veteran leftists around and they have managed to preserve the identity of the left movement to a considerable extent. The question is whether the left will survive these heavyweights. Scientists have recently watched a black hole ‘lunch on’ a stray star. Will the UNP and the SLPP/SLFP do to the old left what the monstrous black hole did to the hapless neutron star?

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