UNP is not sinking due to disunity but because of its leader

News Source: TC – by Dayan Jayatilleke

I am not now and have never been a member of either the SLFP or the UNP, though President Premadasa urged me to ‘come in through the National List, take a portfolio and do a job of work’.

The only registered political party (as distinct from political organisation) I have ever been a member (actually an Asst Secretary) of, was the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party. Vijaya had enthusiastically announced to the Central Committee, the collective entry of a few of us from the then-underground ‘Vikalpa Kandayama’, naming me and another comrade.

That would be one of his last Central Committee meetings. After his assassination by the JVP, I joined the party in fulfilment of that expectation. Of course I have supported two strong, courageous ‘patriotic- populist’ Presidents – Premadasa and Rajapaksa – and episodically, two others, JRJ in the post Accord/anti-JVP year ’87-’88 and CBK from the re-election battle of ’99 to her ouster of Ranil (before her tilt against Karuna , her differences with Kadirgamar and her PTOMS lunacy).

Given Ranil’s track record, it is safe to assume that what he tells the President that he will tell the international community, will not be what he says behind closed doors to the international community.

This is not baseless calumny. As Prof Pieris said in his parliamentary speech on External Affairs in the Budget debate, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Report on Sri Lanka, better known as the Kerry-Lugar Report, actually discloses that Ranil Wickremesinghe was one of the few who urged the US to keep the pressure on Colombo.

I have always held Hon Karu Jayasuriya in high esteem and regarded him with considerably warm affection. In 1997, the Lanka Guardian magazine under my editorship ran a cover story on his bid for the Colombo Mayoralty, titled The New Opposition. Since then I have held, on the record that he would be a far superior leader for the UNP and the Opposition than Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Today it is with no joy whatsoever, that I feel constrained to contradict Mr Jayasuriya on the record, albeit with no diminution of my affection.

In a widely circulated article he has urged that the UNP rise to challenge the Government, and attributed its inability to do so, to inner-party dissonance and disunity. In saying this he is wide off the mark.

Firstly, he has failed to identify that factor which is mainly responsible for the UNPs lamentable state.

Secondly he has named a factor which is far more a consequence than a cause.

Thirdly, in identifying the cause of the UNPs travails inaccurately, he is unwittingly prolonging the state of the party that he finds lamentable and is preventing the party from implementing the solution that can enable it to campaign resolutely against the status quo as he so ardently wishes.

The UNP was not disunited when it campaigned at the last General Election. It sank to a lower percentage than the SLFP under Mrs Bandaranaike did at the electoral tsunami of 1977. That was not because of disunity. The UNP did better at the Presidential election under a complete political novice, than it did under its present leader. The UNP did far better under the ‘emergency candidacy’ of Mrs Srima Dissanaike in 1994 than it did under today’s leadership.

The UNP is not sinking because of disunity. It is sinking because of its leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe. Over the years, dedicated party veterans such as Rukman Senanayake, NGP Panditharathne, and Daham Wimalasena have put this on the record. (The Panditharathne report followed an extensive grassroots survey).

There is no point in striving to launch an anti-government campaign as Mr Jayasuriya seems to suggest, because the masses aren’t going to be mobilised under his leadership. They aren’t going to vote, much less get their skulls cracked open by Police batons. It took the dramatic changeover to the JR Jayewardene-Premadasa leadership for the UNP to be able to motivate the masses to join any campaign, in the 1970s.

Urging the party members and supporters to make one more effort to fight the government without first giving them an inspiring new leadership and programme is akin to urging someone to fill a perforated bucket with water and bring it to a construction site. What is necessary is to first plug the hole and then attempt to fill it with water. The replacement of Ranil Wickremesinghe as party leader is the conditio sine qua non for any recovery on the part of the UNP.

Instead of lamenting the disunity in the party, Hon Karu Jayasuriya could have saved it from its present fate and placed it on the course he indicates, by taking over its leadership during the rebellions of 1999-2000 and then again in the middle of this decade.

Of course I may be wrong. So why not put it to the test? Unite around ‘The Leader’ Ranil Wickremesinghe; don’t talk of changing the leadership, remain mum in the face of the mass media, and stride bravely forward to contest the Jana Sabha elections scheduled for early 2011, or any other election that comes the country’s way.

If, sadly, I am right, the party will lose at least as badly as it did this time at the parliamentary elections or even worse. If on the other hand, I am wrong, the re-united United National Party will do better than it did earlier this year.

The danger is administering this test is that there are no other elections scheduled until the terms of the president and the recently elected parliament run out. If the UNP doesn’t show a recovery by the Janasabha elections, then what will sustain the hope of the party members and voters for six whole years?

How will the UNP survive?

Without a robust UNP, what will be the shape and direction of the Opposition?

Without a strong democratic Opposition how will democracy itself fare?