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The Minority Vote


By Izeth Hussain-

The cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy – H.L. Mencken

My confident expectation before the Uva PC elections was that the UPFA would have a ‘torrid time’, and so it turned out. My confident expectation thereafter was that at the next round of elections the President and the UPFA would be soundly, and deservedly, trounced. The obvious reasons for that expectation are as follows. First of all there is the factor of longevity: in the contemporary world, though not in traditional societies, people want change; combining economic development with equity seems to be practically impossible under the capitalist system so that a substantial proportion of the electorate can be expected to vote against the UPFA; the dictatorial drive has roused deep anxieties about the recurrence of another doom-laden 1989 if the UPFA continues in power; and the thorough alienation of the minorities should mean that the greater part of 25% of the electorate would vote against the UPFA. On those grounds, it seemed to me, that a sound resounding trouncing of the President and thereafter of the UPFA candidates at General Elections had to be expected.

But of course that expectation could be belied by untoward occurrences. After 1956 our politics have increasingly become politics as ‘organized hatred’, which had to be expected as increasingly in our politics interests have predominated without any ideals and principles worth talking about. Therefore practically anything can be expected, not excluding even the assassinations of key candidates to queer electoral outcomes. However, at the moment what is worrying for opponents of the UPFA is that the two most important parties representing the Tamils and the Muslims, namely the TNA and the SLMC, are sitting on the fence. It might turn out therefore that the minorities will not be voting massively against the President and the UPFA, who consequently may be able to scrape through.

I will first make some observations about the TNA before dealing with the SLMC. Both are minority parties but the dilemmas they face are significantly different. No one in his right mind can imagine even for an instant that the TNA can be supportive of the President and the UPFA. The latter are against the full implementation of 13A, and they seem to be bent on making it largely inoperative even in its truncated form. If they continue in power there will be no political solution on the basis of 13A. Instead the Tamils will continue to be treated as a conquered people who are at the mercy of the Sinhalese conqueror. Some will think that I am being excessive in this critique, but that is beside the point. What is to the point is that there can be no question of the TNA supporting the President and the UPFA at the next round of elections and the important question that arises concerns the options that are open to the TNA.

It could put up its own candidate for the Presidency, but for obvious reasons that need not be spelt out that would be tantamount to ensuring an election victory for the incumbent President. It could opt to support the Opposition but that would make no sense for at least two reasons. One is that if the TNA comes to an agreement with the Opposition on 13A and on every matter that is of vital interest to the Tamils, we can be certain – in keeping with practice hallowed over several decades – that the new government will renege on every commitment without the slightest moral scruple. The other reason is that the present government will start howling that the TNA-Opposition agreement shows that there is a secret understanding – backed by the Western powers – about setting up Eelam. That has to be expected because of the savage stupidity that is at the core of our politics these days. The ugly fact is that TNA support for the Opposition could turn out to be a lethal embrace. A further option for the TNA is to keep quiet, to choose neither side, leaving it to the Tamil voter to decide how to vote. But, that could mean mass Tamil abstentions resulting – as in 2005 – in victory for the incumbent President.

I suggest that there is one way out of the dilemma facing the TNA and the Tamils: to vote for the Opposition because it stands for democracy which is the essential prerequisite for solving the Tamil ethnic problem. There are two ways in which a political solution for the Tamils can be reached. One is through an understanding between the Government, the TNA and other Parties representing the Tamils, and the Indian government about the implementation of 13A. Such an agreement would be inconceivable with President Rajapakse and the UPFA government, but it might be possible with a new government. The other is through an incremental organic process whereby the Tamils come to be seen as having fair and equal treatment, and that would be possible only through a fully functioning democracy.

The crucial point is this: even agreement on devolution going beyond 13A would amount to nothing in the absence of a fully

functioning democracy to ensure its application. A new government could conceivably move towards a fully functioning

democracy whereas President Rajapaksa and the UPFA can only be expected to continue even more fiercely their racist

neo-Fascist drive. There is therefore a sound case for the TNA to support the Opposition on the ground of democracy alone

without bothering about 13A for the time being.

As for the Muslim vote, I will limit myself here to making just one essential clarification. The SLMC leader Rauf Hakeem is seen as sitting on the fence, which is taken as typifying the self-seeking, unscrupulous, unprincipled behaviour of Muslim politicians as a whole. Our veteran Muslim journalist, Latheef Farouk, has recently written a splendidly eloquent denunciation of such Muslim politicians. I myself have done so in the past, making the point that the typical Muslim politician is not the representative of the Muslims to the government but of the government to the Muslims, and I have even argued, quite seriously, that the Muslims would be better off represented by Sinhalese politicians.

But the times they are a-changing, and some Muslim politicians have been courageously outspoken over the anti-Muslim campaign though most of them evidently continue to believe that the best way of serving Muslim interests is by polishing the boot of Sinhalese power. Azath Sally spoke out some time ago and was jailed though only briefly; the message being that the next time the punishment could be much more drastic, possibly even fatal. But others also spoke out, notably Rauf Hakeem and Rishard Bathiudeen. The latter has opted to stay with the Government while RH might still do so. What is the explanation? I believe that it arises from the fact that there are no ideals and principles worth talking about in our politics; there are only interests, and the only legitimate question is whether or not those interests are legitimate. The crux of the matter is that it is the Government of the day that is best situated to satisfy those interests. The Muslim politicians who continue to side with the Government evidently believe that it will scrape through at the elections, and therefore the best interests of the Muslims, not just their personal interests, require that they continue to support it.

However, we can draw an important lesson from the Uva PC elections. The Muslims voted heavily against the UPFA, showing that they will not submit to dictation by their politicians. It has to be expected therefore that at the forthcoming Presidential and Parliamentary elections the Muslims will go along with the Sinhalese and Tamils who are working towards a better Sri Lanka based on a fully functioning democracy.

[This article first appeared in The Island]

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