Politics of the May Day turnout
Posted on May 2nd, 2016

By C. A. Chandraprema Courtesy The Island

“Those who know how far Baseline Road is from the Lalith Athulathmudali grounds will have some difficulty in believing that all four lanes of Baseline Road were a sea of heads as far as the eye could see.”

May Day this year was different to any previous May Day that we can remember, because this became a test of strength among the contending political formations in the country. Perhaps this ‘test of strength’ element may have been present at previous May Days as well, but it was never so pronounced. On the one side was the government formed for the first time by both the main political parties – the UNP and the SLFP. On the other side was the Joint Opposition made up of several minor parties and about four dozen UPFA parliamentarians most of whom are still representatives of the bifurcated SLFP. It was a lopsided test of strength as the Joint Opposition still does not have a legal standing as a political party and draconian measures were taken by the SLFP in the run up to May Day to prevent their members from attending the Kirullapone rally. Two sitting parliamentarians Geetha Kumarasinghe and Salinda Dissanayake were removed from their SLFP electoral organiserships as a warning to those who wanted to go to Kirullapone.

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The SLFP held its May Day in Galle with the publicly stated objective of preventing their members from going from the SLFP rally to the Kirullapone rally in a replay of what happened last year. Holding the rally as far away from Kirullapone was the SLFP’s method of preventing ‘leakage’. However on May Day, it became clear that political polarisation takes place as anti-government and pro-government and not by the names and symbols of political parties. If the two main political parties are serving in a government, it is taken as one government regardless of the rhetoric about being different. In politics there can be no hunting with the hounds and running with the hare at the same time. This writer went around to the UNP rally at Campbell Park, the JVP rally at BRC grounds and the Kirullapone rally of the Joint Opposition to observe the rallies at their peak between 4.30 and 5.30 pm on May Day.

Kirullapone

The biggest rally by far was the one at Kirullapone. Not only was the Lalith Athulathmudali grounds in Kirullapone jam packed with people, the entire High Level Road (all four lanes) from near the Kirullapone public market up to and beyond the Y junction past the Lalith Athulathmudali grounds was one sea of heads and so tightly packed that this writer was not able to weave and push through the crowd to see how far beyond the Y junction the crowd extended. Because the High level Road was blocked, a vast crowd had accumulated on Baseline road as far as the eye could see. Those who know how far Baseline Road is from the Lalith Athulathmudali grounds will have some difficulty in believing that all four lanes of Baseline road were a sea of heads as far as the eye could see. People were so tightly packed together that it was not possible to move through Baseline Road to see how far the crowd extended. This writer turned back after trying to push through the crowds along High Level Road as well Baseline Road.

The Siyapatha website which had aerial footage of the Kirullapone rally had described it as the ‘Vishmitha’ (astounding) Kirullapone rally. Indeed that is what it was. This writer was with an older friend who was an avid follower of Colombo politics.He was told that this was the biggest crowd ever to assemble for a political rally in Kirullapone or indeed anywhere else in Colombo. The only comparison he could think was the UNP’s final rally in Maradana before the 1977 general elections. But he was not sure even of this. Having come to Kirullapone at around 5.30 pm after doing the rounds at Campbell Park and the BRC grounds, this writer can say with confidence that the Kirulapone rally was much bigger than the Cambell Park and BRC rallies put together. Nothing can be said about Galle as we did not personally witness it. You can’t really get a feel of a political meeting unless you are present physically at the venue. Drone footage may not show the crowds properly.

Campbell Park

The UNP had put in an incredible effort into this year’s May Day. Theirs too was an impressive turnout. When the UNP rally was well under progress in Campbell Park, Vadivel Suresh’s contingents were still in Panchikawatte. The impression that this writer got was that there were more buses brought by the UNP than last year. All the buses with a few exceptions belonged to the CTB. UNP buses were parked in the Armour Street area and all along Ward Place and mostly along Baseline Road with buses being parked in double rows on both sides of the Baseline flyover which was closed to traffic. The UNP rally this year was less orderly than last year’s rally. Dr Rajitha Senaratne’s political party sporting the yellow colour came down Ward Place with a crowd of about 1000 to 1500 people obviously moving toward Cambell Park from Hyde Park in a separate procession. Buses with Dr Senaratne’s posters were parked all along Darley Road.

A funny sight was that of UNP buses parked right in front of the Communist Party headquarters in Borella. Hirunika Premachandra had gone all green and was in the mainline UNP procession in an open vehicle. Both Hirunika and Dr Senaratne are really Sirisena loyalists but obviously did not dare go to the Galle rally for fear of ticking off the UNP voters who elected them to parliament. The UNP put their best foot forward but the Joint Opposition prevailed against all the odds. Whether Kirullapone was bigger than the UNP, JVP and the SLFP (Sirisena faction) rally all put together can be said only by someone who had personally witnessed all four rallies.

In any case, the turnout at the May Day rallies fundamentally changes the political equation. The government may have the upper hand because they wield political power but there is a new challenge they have to contend with. All those SLFP parliamentarians who lost their SLFP organiserships for siding with Mahinda Rajapaksa now need not lose any sleep over their losses. Not even the most starry eyed optimist would say that all those who attended the SLFP rally in Galle would vote with the Sirisena faction of the SLFP at an election. Most of those who attended the Galle rally were there due to open threats of disciplinary action and removal from their positions in the party and being denied nominations for election. Such threats may not be able to motivate SLFP members to play safe after Kirullapone. Indeed being identified with the Sirisena faction will now be as serious a debility as during the parliamentary election last August.

Game changer

It was clear from the May Day contest that the government weakened itself by splitting up to hold separate May Days. When the present government won power in January 2015, it was in an everyone against Rajapaksa contest. The message from Kirullapone is that all those opposed to Rajapaksa will have to gang up once again if they are to survive at an election. If they split up at the next election to maintain the fiction that the SLFP is ‘in the government but not of it’, they will run the risk of being routed. Even at the presidential election in January 2015, Maithripala Sirisena won only by a margin of less than 450,000 votes which is roughly equivalent to the vote of the JVP. If the JVP had fielded a separate candidate, Sirisena may have lost even the presidential election.

At any future election, it is very doubtful whether the JVP will throw their weight behind any other political party or candidate. Quite apart from joining the yahapalana coalition K.D.Lalkantha was heard predicting at the JVP rally that this government w ould not last till 2020. That does not sound like the words of a potential political partner. So the remaining partners of the yahapalana coalition will have to strategise carefully for the local government election. The most significant point is that this opposition upsurge has taken place before the people have really begun to feel the effects of the economic crisis in the country. When the tax increases and other economic issues come to a head in and after the month of May, the political climate will be even more favourable for the opposition.

President Sirisena may however not realise that Kirullapone has changed the political equation. After the Nugegoda rally last year, he was telling anybody who would listen that only 14,000 odd attended it. Likewise after the recent Hyde Park rally he was saying that only some 11,000 attended it. Likewise he was shown saying in Galle that according to police reports, the biggest may Day Rally of all was in Galle! This despite the fact that aerial footage clearly appears to indicate that the SLFP rally in Galle was much smaller than even the JVP rally at BRC grounds.

Some members of the government especially in the Sirisena faction have a tendency to say that though there were huge crowds for the ‘Mahinda sulanga’ meetings before the August parliamentary election, the UPFA still lost the parliamentary election. This was due to the fact that the UNP dominated government had given state sector employees a pay hike of Rs. 10,000 and reduced the prices of various commodities including fuel and it seemed as if the new government was one that fulfilled its promises. There was also the political issue of President Sirisena stating in writing that he would not appoint MR prime minister even if the UPFA won the election and to show the voting public that he meant what he said, he sacked the general secretaries of the SLFP and the UPFA 48 hours before the voting began.

Now however starting from Hyde Park and conformed through Kirullapone, the Joint Opposition has begun forging its own path forward and is no longer a captive political force. Furthermore the government has started slipping up badly in economic management which is now working to the advantage of the opposition. That too is another reason why Kirullapone is a game changer in local politics – we are seeing a new political formation that has now successfully occupied the opposition space in a situation where the government’s popularity is in palpable decline.

17 Responses to “Politics of the May Day turnout”

  1. Senevirath Says:

    කිරුලපන හා ගාලු රැස්වීම් වලට සහභාගිවූ ප්‍රමාණයන් ඇසින් දුටු කීප දෙනෙක් වත් මේ ගැන මෙහි ලිව්වොත් හොඳය පිටරට සිටින දේශප්‍රේමීන්ගේ දන ගැනීම සඳහා කරුණාකර විස්තර දෙන්න

  2. Dilrook Says:

    [Quote] Maithripala Sirisena won only by a margin of less than 450,000 votes which is roughly equivalent to the vote of the JVP.

    I agree with this assessment. In fact in August last year JVP won 544,000. However, if the JVP field its own candidate, it is the Mahinda camp that will be disadvantaged as the opposition vote will be divided. JVP won 7% of Sinhala Buddhist votes in 2015 and once again rising because the JO top leaders (Mahinda and Dinesh) are not standing up for key issues like abolishing ETCA if signed (as opposed to just blaming it), IMF, foreign debt, Wigneswaran, nepotism (extremely important), etc. JVP will go to town on nepotism as JVP leaders are not as bad as others in nepotism. Both Dinesh and Mahinda have their brothers, cousins, etc. in politics which is another huge disadvantage.

    UNP force must be increased as Tamils and Muslims (25%) did not participate in large numbers in May Day rallies which is usual. UNP get almost the entirety of their vote available for national parties.

  3. Dham Says:

    Checking crow size and estimating who has more support is stupid. If this is a good method , according to reports on lankaweb crowd of Nugegoda rally, Mahinda would have won with a 2/3 majority. These are artificial and crazy crowd created by politicians. None of the attendees represent the voter. SLFP Galle rally had people from 3000 busses and this alone is 10000 people easily. These boot lickers are from everywhere around the island.
    While we need a good nationalist leader urgently, people’s attention is directed to unnecessary incident ( most incidents are created by politicians).
    We should now demand 13A removal from every politician who want to win. If JVP want tell people the truth, promise getting rid of Tamil nuisance and we should support them then.

  4. Charles Says:

    Some members of the government especially in the Sirisena faction have a tendency to say that though there were huge crowds for the ‘Mahinda sulanga’ meetings before the August parliamentary election, the UPFA still lost the parliamentary election.

    The main reason for Sirisena win in January,2015, was I think the Tamil and Muslim votes. He had the UNP block votes, the dissident SLFP votes fooled by the salary increase theme, and the change desired by the people without an election concern for the benefit and welfare of the country. And of course there was the vote of those who did not like Rajapakse perhaps for his,face or some other factor. That was 450000 votes. The rest were the grateful Sinhala Buddhists who will always remain with a leader who brought peace to the country and provided a higher standard of living everything said and done. In a short time the SLFP UNP Yahapalanaya had come to political power the people have witnessed the difference of before Yahapalanaya and after Yahapalanaya and Kirullapone was the result of the large crowds for the May Day Rally in ordinary dress, not in uniforms of Blue , green or red.

  5. Dham Says:

    Charles,
    Hypothetically, if we have an election now Sira vs MR , there is no doubt MR will win.
    Reason for that is a lot of people dislike this government for various obvious reasons, not because of Mahinda’s propaganda.
    It is necessary to kick out this LTTE government, but is it sufficient to bring back MR, Namal, Basil , JLP, WW , Gota ( more will join when he comes back to power) and leave it to them ?
    I am afraid not.

  6. Charles Says:

    Dham, I know have been reading your comments to know what your political views. I know you do not like MR it is not because of MR’s politics but there is some thing inherent in you that makes you dislike MR. May be it is of a another political leader, or you do not like the SLFP policies or some such; But that is your personal opinion and I do not blame you for have your own political views. I had been in Socialist politics always and I dislike every thing about UNP. I like a socialist system that will take Sri Lanka to progress and development. In recent times it is only MR that came forward as a true nartional leader to pursue socialist politics to take Sri Lanka forward, and he did it Dham even if you do not agree. I think it is again MR that willbe able to save us from disaster. Of course there is the USA human rights commission resolution. That is not the fault of MR but its USA and the West that will never allow political progress in a developing country. You know that in Chilli, Hondura

  7. Charles Says:

    Well I got cut off and I will leave it at that.

  8. Fran Diaz Says:

    All our leaders need to get together to Save Sri Lanka and her People.

    Currently, the present UNP leaders & Minorities lead the country, Politcally & Economically. There is a general feeling of Insecurity for the vast majority of the Others. Can the UNP and the Minorities feel safe and secure, if the vast majority people feel insecure ?

  9. Fran Diaz Says:

    The LEGAL 6-A is ignored whilst the ILLEGAL 13-A is imposed !

    Whither the Law in Lanka ???

  10. Ananda-USA Says:

    Charles,

    Yes, the minorities all ganged up against MR , the Sinhala Buddhist leader …. as usual. I saw and heard that with my own eyes and years in the days leading up to the Jan 8, 2015 disaster.

    I expect these minority communities to behave in that way and it was no surprise.

    However, what tipped the balance was that enough Sinhala Buddhists also crossed over to vote against MR. It was the votes of these fools and traitors that created the MESS we are in now. I was utterly surprised some of the Sinhala Buddhists who voted against MR …I wonder how they feel now with the country on the brink of disintegration, economic collapse and even a revival of terrorist violence!

  11. Dham Says:

    Charles,
    Thank you.
    If I bring back my mind 5 years, my thinking was similar to yours. It was when I could not defend MR any more against the every move going against our nationalistic feelings that I gave up by “bondage”.

    Then I started to realise ALL නාම පද are false and “action” and only “action’ need to be considered.
    Our parliament has become a place to protect persons, not the country and its people.
    This is my political view, not disliking of a person and liking another. In fact I have no one to like there.

  12. Ananda-USA Says:

    Dham,

    Your criticism that the parliament has become a place to protect persons and not national interests is extremely narrow and displays a lack of appreciation of how paliamentary politics works and the roles played by leaders in advancing the interests of “the people” as they see it.

    Political leaders crystallize a widely shared political view and gather together the support needed to advane that cause. To that end, they need the support of their allies, especially when they are threatened by the opposition.

    MR achieved what many other leaders, CBK, RW, Premadasa, JR could not do, thereby earning their eity and jealousy. With a minimal majority in parliament, he crushed the terrorists, reunified the nation, rebuilt the infrastructure and the national economy, against globally or hestrated opposition, as no other leader since independence had done. He is a PATRIOTIC LEADER like NO OTHER.

    For that, we citizens of Sri Lanka owe MR heavy debt of gratitude till the end of his days that cannot be argued away.

    We have a duty not to raisd our ungrateful hands against him because of frustrated personal ambitions (eg. Fonseka, Sirisena), unremitting personal jealousy (CBK, RW), nor unlimited greed (eg. Champika, Mangala, Ratana).

    As Charles astutely pointed out, and I had previously EXPOSED, you CLEARLY have an axe to grind against MR as you flail about levelling sly accusations against MR, just as Lorenzo and his flock of followers (Nanda comes to mind) did prior to the Presidential election on Jan 8, 2015.

    We are NOT FOOLED by your antics. They say that even the DEVIL quotes scripture. Go away and collect your eight pieces of gold …. please!

  13. Dham Says:

    Ananda,
    I don’t think I can “fool anyone” by telling the TRUTH.
    I don’t dislike anyone or like anyone. Please act as a gentleman and let others say what they want to say. Charles has done exactly that.

  14. Ananda-USA Says:

    Fran,

    You have asked the most RELEVANT question, to wit “can the minorities be secure when the majority is insecure”?

    The ANSWER is CLEARLY a resounding NO!

    In the days leading upto the Jan 8, 2015 election I argued with many friends belonging to minority communities posing to them the same question and pleading with them to join in common cause with the Sinhala Buddhist majority … FOR THEIR OWN SAKE … if not for the sake of ALL SRI LANKANS.

    My pleas generally fell on deaf years … it was like rearranging the chairs on the deck of the sinking TITANIC!

    Reminds me of the monkey who would not let go of cookie in the bottle even as he sees the hunter coming with a knife! GREED overwhelms GOOD SENSE and there is NO MEMORY even of the recent past!

  15. Ananda-USA Says:

    Dham,

    Being a gentleman does not preclude defending your people and confronting their hidden enemies.

    You may recall my post about the DUALITY of the personality of the Sinhala Buddhist. Appealing to Buddhist tolerance will only go so far to deflect just retribution from the Sinhala warrior.

    You can fool some of the people all the time, and
    You can fool all of the people some of the time, but
    You cannot fool all of the people all of the time!

  16. Dham Says:

    Ananda,
    “Fooling” means telling lies or exaggerations to mislead others. ( Good example is MYpala’s claim of the special aircraft)
    Please feel your heart and show me where I did the “fooling”. I will admit that is that is true and ask for forgiveness form all. As I said before a liar can do any evil – Buddha said.

  17. Fran Diaz Says:

    Ex-Colonial forces at play in Sri Lanka together with “married to the Democratic Union/Commonwealth” Ranil.
    CBK is “married” to Britain.
    MS is led by CBK.

    So, Yahap is led by Ranil/CBK >> Democratic Union/Commonwealth/India/Britain, and so on.

    The Armed Forces of Lanka are having a Special Advisor from Britain now (signed in by MS last year).

    Is there any real Democracy in Sri Lanka ?

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