Late-Jayewardene regards Late-Anura Bandaranaike, one and only brother of the Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, as a promising future leader of Sri Lanka. Embassy sources report that, despite their party rivalry, the two have a reasonably close relationship, reveal declassified papers
(February 5, 2017, Boston — Hong Kong SAR, Sri Lanka Guardian) A radical daughter of late Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Chandrika Kumaratunga, whom she believes is astrologically favored for political advancement, a declassified document of the CIA noted.
“The internal power struggle [within the SLFP] seems far from over. Without a restoration of her rights, which we judge unlikely before 1981, we believe that Bandaranaike would like to see her moderate son, Anura, emerge as party leader. This would involve isolating the leftists, however, including her radical daughter, Chandrika Kumaratunga, whom she believes is astrologically favored for political advancement,” the paper added.
“Although Anura has resolved his quarrel with his mother, he is unlikely to do so with Chandrika, a standoff that may eventually force Bandaranaike to choose between them if she wishes to rebuild the party and give it a solid direction,” the paper further observed.
In our judgment, the government’s electoral successes were greatly facilitated by the weakness and uninspiring performances of Sri Lanka’s opposition parties, which were largely caught off guard by Jayewardene’s accelerated election schedule. Disorganization and factional rivalries prevented them from backing a single opponent to Jayewardene in the presidential election and from mounting a significant common effort to defeat the referendum.
Nonetheless, the opposition is not a spent force. Sri Lanka has a long history of protest voting against the government at general elections, and the failure of the UNP to fulfill its economic promises would undoubtedly play into opposition hands in future elections. The SLFP, which held power three times (1956-60, 1960-65, and 1970-77), still has a solid base among Sinhalese Buddhists, and we believe that its potential national electoral support remains substantial.
The SLFP-A House Divided
The once proud SLFP is still the only political force with any hope of effectively challenging the UNP at the polls, but it has not recovered from its humiliating defeat in 1977 when the party won only seven seats and could not even qualify as the official opposition. Traditionally left of center, the SLFP has come under the control of more radical leftist elements in recent months to the detriment of the party’s predominant moderate faction.
Since losing power, the party has also suffered from organizational neglect, a shortage of dynamic and decisive leadership, debilitating factionalism, and a wave of prominent defections.
The SLFP is plagued by many internal weaknesses, which we believe have been exacerbated and exploited by the UNP. Former Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who led the last two SLFP governments, has run the party like a family fiefdom for over two decades. Her autocratic style and firm grip on power have stifled the emergence of a solid organization and a cadre of younger leaders who could eventually challenge her.
Although an accomplished politician, Bandaranaike is neither brilliant nor imaginative, and we believe she lacks a selfless interest in her party’s future. She has concentrated her efforts on protecting her own position within the party hierarchy instead of examining and trying to rectify the serious policy shortcomings that brought about the election debacle in 1977.
Embassy and press sources report the party still has months to the detriment of the party’s predominant moderate faction, no coherent program for challenging the UNP.
The SLFP was plunged into a bitter succession battle in late 1980 when Bandaranaike-its chief votegetter and only national figure-was stripped of her civic rights. A Special Presidential Commission of Inquiry found her guilty of corruption and misuse of power while in office. She subsequently was expelled from Parliament and prohibited from engaging in political activity (including holding public office) for seven years. Despite this grave handicap, she has refused to step aside.
The ensuing struggle to replace her has brought about one major split, polarized the remainder of the party into leftist and moderate factions, divided the Bandaranaike family itself, and made the party an object of public ridicule, according to Embassy sources. Leftist ascendancy in the party, in our view, may have peaked with the nomination last July of former Agriculture Minister Hector Kobbekaduwa as the SLFP’s presidential candidate. We believe that Hector’s loss to Jayewardene, albeit with a respectable 39 percent of the vote, may have discredited the leftists enough to enable the moderates to regain control of the party.
Still, the internal power struggle seems far from over. Without a restoration of her rights, which we judge unlikely before 1981, we believe that Bandaranaike would like to see her moderate son, Anura, emerge as party leader. This would involve isolating the leftists, however, including her radical daughter, Chandrika Kumaratunga, whom she believes is astrologically favored for political advancement. Although Anura has resolved his quarrel with his mother, he is unlikely to do so with Chandrika, a standoff that may eventually force Bandaranaike to choose between them if she wishes to rebuild the party and give it a solid direction!
Ironically, Jayewardene regards Anura as a promising future leader of Sri Lanka. Embassy sources report that, despite their party rivalry, the two have a reasonably close relationship. Anura has the nationally recognized Bandaranaike name and high-caste background, and his moderate economic views are similar to Jayewardene’s. On the other hand, Anura appears to lack the ambition necessary for national leadership and must also overcome his reputation as a playboy who lacks political experience.
TULF-Caught in a Dilemma
TULF, the major political spokesman for native Tamil interests, is the third-largest party in terms of voter support, but we believe it is too narrowly based to become an alternative to the UNP or the SLFP and in fact has no aspirations for national leadership.
Although the TULF commands 18 seats in Parliament, where it serves as the official opposition, we believe party leaders view themselves as outsiders in the generally Sinhalese political life of the country and prefer to remain aloof from political activity.
In our view, the TULF is hamstrung by its commitment to work for a separate Tamil state and its recognition that no useful propose would be served by launching a confrontation with the predominantly Sinhalese government on this issue. The need to preserve political credibility with both the UNP and with its increasingly dissident, pro-separatist constituents has severely reduced the Front’s ability to serve as a moderating force in communal relations.
TULF General Secretary Amirthalingam has followed a tenuous middle course designed to ensure a measure of political autonomy through constitutional means and to ease Tamil grievances through direct negotiations with Jayewardene. Voter support for the TULF, however, appears to have eroded during the past several years as the separatist goal has proved increasingly elusive. According to press reports, the larger-than-expected voter turnout in Jaffna-the major Tamil stronghold in the north-for the presidential election was a blow to the prestige of the TULF, which had advocated nonparticipation. Die hard separatists regard the amity talks as one more sign that the TULF leadership has been co-opted by the UNP and sold them out.
The Traditional Left Fading Out of Favor
Sri Lanka’s traditional leftist parties-the Trotskyite Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and its offshoots and the Sri Lanka Communist Party/ pro-Moscow (CCP/M)–remain visible but politically irrelevant. Both were coalition partners of the SLFP for the first five years of Bandaranaike’s United Front government (1970-77) and shared that party’s rejection in 1977 when neither won a parliamentary seat.
Marxist ideology no longer has the wide appeal it once enjoyed in Sri Lanka, ……………..
The economic mess le t by the United Front government brought about a general disenchantment with the socialist-collectivist approach to economic policy, drastically narrowing the electoral base of both parties. In addition, they suffer from aging, factionalized leadership and an inability to appeal to youth. Despite its limited support, the LSSP persisted in a quixotic bid for the presidency and, to the SLFP’s disappointment, succeeded only in splitting the leftist vote. The LSSP candidate, the venerable and respected Colvin R. de Silva, garnered less than 1 percent of the vote.
The JVP-Future Troublemakers?
The traditional leftist parties have been largely displaced as a magnet for dissident youth by the more dynamic, radical Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (People’s Liberation Front-JVP), whose presidential candidate ran a distant third in the October election. Although the results were disappointing to the party leadership, according to press reports, the JVP’s electoral performance was respectable for an organization that has only recently entered legitimate politics.
JVP leaders argue that the traditional left is no longer capable of serving the masses and are attempting to establish the JVP as the country’s leading leftist party. According to Embassy reporting, JVP leaders acknowledge this will be a long process and are looking toward the next decade when the youth they are training now will have reached maturity and positions of responsibility.
A onetime insurgent movement that paralyzed the island in 1971 when it attempted to topple Bandaranaike’s United Front government, the JVP attained political legitimacy last summer when the Elections Commissioner-presumably at Jayewardene’s behest-recognized it as a legal political party able to contest elections. Since he came to power, Jayewardene has adopted a policy of encouraging the JVP to pursue its revolutionary goals through peaceful and constructive political activity. In order to head off a JVP threat to his own government, Jayewardene has tried to bring the JVP off the streets and into the political system. Shortly after assuming office, he released party president Rohana Wijeweera and other JVP leaders from prison as a gesture of national unity and to further divide his leftist opposition
The UNP has taken considerable risk in legitimizing the JVP. We believe that the party remains distant, enigmatic, unpredictable,
There is a danger that many within it have not forsaken the violent path to revolution, and the disappointing presidential election results may have persuaded others that the JVP stands little chance of attaining power through constitutional means. In addition, given the movement’s grass-roots origins, JVP leaders do not come from the Westernized, high-caste, English-speaking elite from which Sri Lankan parties across the political spectrum including the Communists have traditionally drawn their leadership.
The JVP receives much public attention by staging visually impressive, well-organized rallies. Tradition ally, it has aimed its revolutionary message at educated, unemployed youth, especially to those with low caste backgrounds seeking upward mobility. The JVP is an active recruiter on campuses, and it controls most student governments. According to Embassy reporting, the recent spate of student unrest at Sri Lankan universities is being led and exploited by the JVP, but we do not believe these student radicals pose any imminent threat to stability.
The party’s national appeal is sharply limited, however, and we do not believe it shows much promise of becoming a viable alternative to the SLFP or the traditional left for the remainder of this decade. The party’s antireligious philosophy will prevent it from gaining much popularity in a country where Buddhism is so deeply ingrained. Although rigidly doctrinaire in its own peculiar brand of Marxism, the JVP lacks a cohesive, credible program and has no leaders of national stature. JVP presidential candidate Wijeweera received 273,000 votes, amounting to only about one-third of the party’s total claimed member ship. In addition, rivals for leadership may be emerging to challenge Wijeweera’s near-total control of party coffers and decision making.
A return to the economic problems of the Bandaranaike years, however, could give the JVP a new lease on life, especially if the SLFP remains divided and disabled. The party is well funded, and, according to Embassy reporting, some observers believe that the JVP could become the Soviet Union’s preferred agent-in-place should the CCP/M wither away.