Whither SLFP and its vote base?


The SLFP is 70-years-old and to mark the ‘birthday’ its Deputy Secretary Dr. Suren Raghavan had written an article titled SLFP, the architect of Sri Lanka’s future (The Island – 01.09.2021). He attempts to give the SLFP a new facade of multiculturalism, probably to boost its image and improve its electoral base among the minority communities. It has won one seat in the North in the parliamentary elections in 2020, and perhaps hopes to win more in the North and the East in the future. He says “Departing from its situational ideology of a firm Sinhala Buddhist embodiment, the SLFP always had formulated and remained itself on the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural philosophy”.

This brief note attempts to show that historically, whenever the SLFP departed from its “firm Sinhala Buddhist embodiment”, the electorate had rejected it.

The SLFP came into being to fulfill the need to have a political party that represented the national viewpoint on all affairs; political, economic, social, cultural, foreign relations, minority demands etc. Its formation and the 1956 victory could be considered a watershed in the development of political consciousness of the common man and woman in this country. The common man and woman had been engaged in an eternal battle for survival, and also to preserve their culture and civilization, which they had built on their land, rising up against invaders both South Indian and European, imperial occupation and subjugation. They will resent any attempt to compromise their heritage, land and culture. They had fought for independence from the British colonialists, and when power had been transferred to Sinhalese and Tamil leaders who were in every respect British except the colour of the skin, they were disappointed. These leaders formed the core of the UNP and were detached from the people and did not feel the pulse of the people so to speak. Hence the people felt the need for leaders who represented their views and aspirations. The SLFP grew out of this need and had been the party that was close to the poor rural Sinhala Buddhists.

The SLFP had to a degree fulfilled this obligation, except on a few though crucial instances. SWRD could not complete the work he started, mainly due to his failure to realise the need to develop and adopt a national economy, so as to be totally independent and free of the imperial yoke. In this respect Sirimavo was successful to some degree, but she went too far in her attempt to protect the local industry and curbed all imports causing much hardship. Thus the national movement suffered a huge setback. The western imperialists had realized that Sinhala Buddhist civilisational consciousness , or what Dr.Gunadasa Amarasekera calls the Jathika Chinthanaya, would always stand up against their hegemonic exploitation. They had supported the UNP which was accommodating and submissive, which characteristics it had acquired from the close relationship its leaders had with their western masters.

There had been times when SLFP governments had succumbed to the pressure exerted by the western powers and abandoned their historical obligations and the inherent role. At such times the western powers had supported SLFP governments. For instance the government of Mrs Chandrika Kumaratunga seemed to have forgotten its role in protecting the national interests, and consequently had to put up with foreign interference in dealing with the LTTE, the separatist movement and constitution reforms. The high achievements of SLFP governments, which had a far reaching impact on the national consciousness, pride and dignity of the people, were the granting of official recognition to the mother tongue of the common people, taking over of the British Air and Naval bases in Trincomalee in 1957, and nationalization of foreign owned estates. The total defeat of the LTTE in 2009 was also one of the greatest achievements of SLFP governments. Here the government succeeded on three fronts; the military battle, the diplomatic battle and the anti-imperialist battle. These three battles were equally difficult and it was a miracle that the government won all three.

As mentioned earlier, there had been times when the SLFP had deviated from its core policies and breached its historical role to some degree. However, the worst betrayal happened in January 2015, when some of its leading figures joined with the UNP and local and foreign separatist forces in a coup to oust the war winning president. The new president did worse by grabbing the leadership of the SLFP while being in a government with the UNP. Moreover, he carried out several acts of revenge which were extremely damaging to the SLFP. Several SLFP stalwarts who had shown loyalty to him and not to MR had lost the election, but these people were appointed as cabinet ministers. Several district organisers who were capable of winning elections were removed because they were loyal to MR, and his henchmen were appointed to those posts. Mathripala Sirisena kept quiet when the Sri Lankan government treacherously cosponsored a UNHRC Resolution, which made allegations of war crimes against the armed forces who saved the country. He could not stop the sale of several national assets, which could be considered antithetical to the core SLFP policies and principles. All these acts in the eyes of the SLFP supporters, and also many others, are anti-national acts done due to personal vendetta and private agenda. Anti-national here means a lack of affection and concern for the country and nation.

President Maithripala utterly failed in his bid to wrest the SLFP from the MR-led faction, which is the real SLFP that is close to the common people. It appears that the SLFP that resonates with the common people would want its leadership, at least for the present, to be formed by the war winning leaders. Those leaders who won the war not only destroyed the enemy but also stood up boldly against the hegemonic imperialist forces. They had realised that the imperialists were not interested in the welfare of the country, but were pursuing their geopolitical agenda and in the process would even cause the division of the country if it suited them. Further, our leaders were cognizant of the fact that the geopolitics in the region and global power politics were changing, and the balance of power was shifting towards friendlier countries with whom an alliance would be least damaging. This fact formed the basis of their foreign policy, which enabled them to resist with confidence the pressures exerted by the western powers. These policies resulted in not only a victory against the bestial LTTE, but also an unprecedented growth spurt that saw infrastructure development all over the country during the period from 2010 to 2014.

What the results of the 2018 LG polls showed was that an SLFP leader cannot afford to betray the person who saved the people and the country from the clutches of the LTTE, that was colluding with all anti-national forces to destroy the Sri Lankan nation. The election results also showed that an SLFP leader cannot afford to form a government with the UNP, whose leadership was pro-imperialist and pro-separatist. All SLFP stalwarts lost their electoral seats and the most significant loss was Attanagalla, where the SLFP roots were the deepest. After Gotabaya’s victory at the presidential election in 2019, the SLFP knew if it were to survive at the general election it had to align with the SLPP. That policy enabled it to retain the votes it got at the LG polls.

The SLFP that Dr Raghavan speaks about is not the party that was formed by SWRD or the one that was led by leaders like Sirimavo and Mahinda Rajapaksa. It is the SLFP that betrayed the people several times by “Departing from its situational ideology of a firm Sinhala Buddhist embodiment”. His version of a SLFP may stand to lose its Sinhala Buddhist vote base further.

N.A. de S. AMARATUNGA



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