By the late eighties, Sri Lanka was in a state of turmoil. In the North and East, the Tigers were battling with the Indian Peace Keeping Force. In the South the JVP was gaining in strength, aided I believe by several SLFP members who saw this as the only chance of getting rid of the authoritarian government J R had developed, with not even a pretence of fair elections. The techniques initiated at the election to the Jaffna District Development Council in 1981, which had included murderous intimidation of opposition politicians (I was in Parliament when the MP for Jaffna, Mr Yoheswaran, subsequently assassinated by the LTTE, described how he had barely escaped with his life) and gratuitous violence such as the burning of the Jaffna Public Library, had been applied successfully in the country at large.
Given the absurdity of the Referendum which put off elections to Parliament for six years, the wholesale prevention of opposition meetings, the total control of the media, and then to make doubly sure the ruthless stuffing of ballot boxes (not just impersonation but the phenomenon of armed gangs taking over whole ballot books from Returning Officers), I am astonished at how the chattering classes, who accepted all this because it was done by their favoured patron, now claim two decades later with a very different sort of duly elected government in power that democracy is in danger.
The stand taken by Chanaka then was the more admirable, and I continue proud of the dissent we expressed in the days before this became fashionable. But the greatest credit I think has to be taken by the old Left, which not only opposed J R’s authoritarianism and racism, but then had also to face violence from the JVP when they came out in support of the Indo-Lankan Accord. In the Provincial Council elections that took place in 1988, they came under attack on both sides, and some brave characters lost their lives, as for instance the Communist Party stalwart who had helped print the Liberal Party newsletters.