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Ranil failed to deliver peace to average Lankan

Experts suggest that UNF lost because PM Wickremesinghe failed to deliver the dividends of peace to the common man.
PTI | By PK Balachanddran, Colombo
UPDATED ON APR 05, 2004 11:13 AM IST

The ruling United National Front (UNF) lost the April 2 parliamentary elections in Sri Lanka primarily because its chief and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe failed to deliver the dividends of peace to the common man, according to an expert in political sociology.

"The UNF government did bring peace to Sri Lanka by signing a Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) with the LTTE, but it did not follow it up by quickly bringing the dividends of peace to the man in the street. The economy did pick up at the macro level, but the benefits did not trickle down to the man at the bottom," said Prof. S T Hettige of the Department of Sociology, University of Colombo.

The peace process did silence the guns of war, but it divided Sri Lanka into a new set of "haves" and "have nots" -- one enjoying the benefits of the peace process in tangible economic terms, and the other, not getting a share of the tangible benefits.

"The UNF tried to portray the contest as one between the forces of peace and the forces of war, but this was not the way people were looking at it.

Peace or war was an issue in the December 2001 elections, not in this one. People had begun to take peace for granted and were looking for its concrete benefits. They wanted jobs, and prices to come down but were sorely disappointed," Prof Hettige told Hindustan Times.

There was much too much cronyism in the management of the economy and this was being widely noticed. "The judicial strictures over the massive income tax amnesty tarnished the image of the government in the last days of the campaign. Television panel discussions on this subject had swung the votes of many people away from the UNF," Prof Hettige said.

"Even the local level, there was much too much partisanship in the distribution of favours. Opposition activists were hounded and beaten up. This was a major factor which drove activists of Chandrika Kumaratunga's Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) into the arms of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and an alliance was formed," Prof Hettige said.

In the event, the SLFP-JVP alliance proved to be unbeatable.

In line with the world capitalist order, farm subsidies were cut. The railway system which was a cheap mode of mass transportation was allowed to decay perhaps for the benefit of the private bus transport system, he noted.

Many supporters of the UNF said that the government had failed to publicise its achievements. A lot of money was spent on publicity, but it was too elitist. The emphasis was on using TV spots, the internet, e-mail and the phone system. These media were ineffective in an economically backward country like Sri Lanka.

"Ranil Wickremesinghe also seemed to be unconcerned about the criticism of his government. Some kind of a public acknowledgement of the failures of his government and a promise to rectify the mistakes, would have gone a long way towards winning the sympathy of the people," Prof Hettige said.

Pre-election surveys clearly showed that the UNF regime had fared poorly in comparison with the earlier regime of the Peoples' Alliance (PA) led by President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

A survey conducted the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) in the first and second weeks of March found that the UPFA led by Kumaratunga enjoyed greater ratings than the UNF in all matters other than the conduct of the peace process or peace negotiations with the LTTE.

44% of those surveyed said that the UNF government had done a "bad job" in the last two years. Only 38% said that it had done a "good job".

The survey found that cost of living was the main issue for the voters.61.6% rated it as 'the' issue for them on a day to day basis. Unemployment was the next most important problem ( 55%). 63.2% said that Sri Lanka's economic condition had deteriorated in the past one year, despite the peace process.

Asked who was best suited to run the country, 34% preferred Kumaratunga, while 29% mentioned Wickremesinghe. Surprisingly, 37% of the UNF supporters said that they would rather be ruled by Kumaratunga!

Danger to Lankan culture from foreigners

Indicating a popular dislike of the pro-Western policies of the Wickremesinghe Government, the survey found that the common man saw the influence of foreigners, foreign-funded Christian churches and the Western donor nations as a danger to the culture of the majority community, namely, the Sinhala-Buddhists.

65% of those surveyed said that there was danger to the country from foreign Christian missions and Western donors. 69% said that foreign powers were diluting the culture of Sri Lanka.64% said that the donor nations were pushing their culture.

Such apprehension had swung the people towards the anti-foreign and Marxist JVP and the new Buddhist monks' party, the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU).Both these parties took tremendous strides in the just concluded elections.

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