I had mixed feelings when I read the article in the Sunday Times of June 20 by Ranil Wickremesinghe (RW) Leader of the main Opposition United National Party written as a Guest Column. I was amused as to whether RW was asleep or in Mars during the past few years! I am more saddened at the plight of the UNP after 16 years of leadership under RW. But RW has typically not owned up to any fault on his part for the numerous debacles suffered by the Party and the present lack of hope among its members.
The heading of RW’s article is: “Stop this circus: fight the Rajapakse dictatorship”. But how does RW behave? He runs to meet President Mahinda Rajapaksa less than 24 hours before the Nawalapitiya re-poll on April 20, 2010 and agrees to the nomination of the President’s brother Chamal Rajapaksa as Speaker without obtaining the prior approval of his own Parliamentary Group or his Party. And the Speaker himself nominates RW as the Leader of the Opposition when Parliament meets for the first time! So much for fighting the Rajapaksa dictatorship. No wonder RW is called “Ranil Rajapaksa”, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s new found brother!
RW says quite correctly that 2009 was a defining moment in Sri Lankan politics with the defeat of the LTTE and the killing of Prabhakaran. After wholeheartedly opposing the war effort of the Government even when it became clear that the Army was about to defeat the LTTE, RW continued to ridicule the Sri Lanka Army and the war effort by making statements such as the infamous “Thoppigala is only a jungle” statement. At the exact moment in time of the defeat of the LTTE and the demise of Prabhakaran, where was the Ranil Wickremesinghe? He was in Norway! The garb of a patriot does not quite fit RW. After all who can forget that RW as Prime Minister in 2001 decided to celebrate the 500 years anniversary of the Portuguese invasion of Sri Lanka in 1505! Who on earth will ever celebrate an anniversary of the foreign invasion of your own country? RW is in a class of his own. Sir Walter Scott must have had RW in mind when he wrote the famous verse:
“Breathes there the man with soul so dead
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!”
In a democracy the role of the Opposition is not to oppose every move of the Government for the sake of opposing but to support measures which will help the country and its people and to oppose those acts which will be detrimental to the well-being of its citizens. Corruption, wastage, nepotism, family bandyism etc must be highlighted and attacked with vigour. RW has failed on both counts: he failed to support the Government when it was necessary and did not oppose when it was essential. This has led to the UNP voters staying away from the polling booths at recent elections.
RW’s self confidence, leadership qualities and charisma can easily be gauged from the fact that he did not want to contest the last Presidential election. During 2009 he was actively looking for a substitute candidate as he knew quite well that he will lose and will have to give up the leadership of the UNP.
For RW’s luck General Sarath Fonseka appeared on the scene and although he was the “common candidate” and not the UNP candidate, he injected a great deal of enthusiasm among the sleeping UNPers till victory seemed possible but it was not to be. Gen. Fonseka received 4,173,185 votes – 40.15% of the votes cast. Contrast this with the feeble campaign during the General Election when RW was the Prime Ministerial candidate of the UNP. The UNP’s main declared intention was to merely prevent the Government from obtaining a two thirds majority. Literally millions of UNPers stayed away chiefly due to RW and the uninspiring and lackadaisical campaign led by him.
The UNP, after being in the opposition since 1994 (with a break of 2 ½ years), received just 2,357,057 votes, 29.34% of the votes cast. This is over 1.8 million votes less than what Gen. Fonseka got just two months before. This vote of 2,357,057 is even less than what was received by Mrs. Srima Dissanayake at the Presidential Election of 1994 when she got 2,715, 283 votes, 36% of the votes cast, after less than two weeks campaign consequent to Gamini Dissanayake’s assassination! At the General Elections held in August 1994 the UNP lost after being in power for 17 years but still managed to get 3,498,370 votes which amounted to 44.04% of the votes cast. Has the UNP reached the rock bottom or is it set to go down even further with RW as its leader?
These facts clearly demonstrate the vital necessity of the UNP to have a change of leadership as soon as possible to prevent further erosion of its vote base and to give its members hope for the future.
RW has stated the obvious, in this article, that the UNP has lost the Sinhala Buddhist voters. Whose fault is it? Who was the UNP Leader for the past 16 years? RW even appointed a high official of the Assembly of God on his National List to Parliament this year. It is well known that hundreds of Assembly of God members actively canvassed for preferences for RW at this April’s General Election on the basis that he had promised to appoint their official as a National List MP.
RW says quite correctly that the UNP must develop its own Tamil and Muslim leaders. The entire UNP agrees with this position. We are now down to just one UNP Muslim MP, Kabir Hashim. But whose harebrained “deals” with minority parties led the UNP to this sorry state of affairs?
RW acknowledges that the UNP has neglected its organizational capacity at grass roots level. Again, it begs the question, who was the Leader of the UNP for the past 16 years? It looks as if everyone is at fault except RW!
What more can you expect from a man who campaigns harder to remain as the leader of the UNP than to be the leader of the country.
RW says that at present the UNP leader is elected. He is being economical with the truth to say the least. According to the present UNP Constitution (amended in 1995 after RW became its leader) an election will held only if there is a vacancy in the post of leader. This can only be caused by the death or the resignation of the leader. Even D.S. Senanayake faced election.
RW also states that if a member of the UNP is the Leader of the Opposition, he will ex officio be the leader of the UNP. This statement is also not correct. Only if the President of Sri Lanka is a member of the UNP does he ex-officio become the leader of the UNP. RW is trying to read into the UNP constitution non-existent provisions to strengthen his weakening hold on its leadership.
At the present moment every UNPer must ask just one question from his conscience: who is the best person to lead the UNP to victory at the next General or Presidential Election? The honest answer is that RW cannot lead the UNP to victory. Therefore the UNP needs a new leader, sooner than later.
MP, Badulla District
Deputy General Secretary, United National Party
Evil on wheels: Does no one see them?
Many are the times I have had narrow escapes with death as private bus drivers rarely bring the bus to a halt, but expect the passengers to jump off the moving buses.
They stop the buses in the middle of the road and demand that the passengers get off to avoid other buses from overtaking.
Some of the drivers are on the mobile phone while driving, tickets were issued only for a short period and uniforms are now wrapped around the drivers’ seats. They intimidate other motorists with their blaring horns and ear-bursting exhaust pipes.
All these happen even if a policeman has boarded the bus. Why are the police reluctant to take action? Is this the society we want to live in? It’s the rule of the jungle for them.
People have been suffering ever since the privatization of the transport service and they are still suffering in silence.
The only solution is for the government to call for tenders and hand over the fleets to companies to operate on each route. I hope the present minister will take appropriate steps to rid this society of these evils that plague the law abiding citizen.
A disgusted citizen
The people are sovereign
Although professional journalists, political analysts, legal experts and other academics have commented, sometimes in great detail, on the recently proposed amendments to the constitution, the average citizen, through whom the sovereignty of the people is or should be exercised, has remained remarkably silent. Is this silence due to apathy or to the fear of being dubbed unpatriotic; since both before and after last year’s Famous Victory in the Thirty-Year War, powerful people, holding high office have accused any citizen who criticizes the government, however constructive and apolitical that criticism may be, of being unpatriotic, if not downright treacherous? I shall, take that risk and with an unclouded conscience, comment as a concerned citizen, a citizen who at all times, regardless of the ‘colour’ of the governing body, wishes that our people enjoy a peaceful existence under an umbrella of good governance.
After J.R. Jayewardene took the retrograde, undemocratic step of instituting the office of an all-powerful Executive Presidency and (like George Bush) redefined the very word democracy, the people have realized that the opportunity of exercising their sovereignty is strictly confined to the period of the run-up to the elections. Once the members of the governing party have ensconced themselves in their comfortable and lucrative seats of power, the ordinary people, who sat on thrones, for a brief interval, wining and dining at the expense of others, find themselves once again in their accustomed role of foot-stools for the ‘King’ and his courtiers. This subservient position they will hold till the next election.
It is accepted, the world over, that good governance in a democracy depends on an exercise of the constitutional power devolved upon that strong tripod that supports good governance. The tripod which is constituted of the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary, each leg of which recognizes the extent and limitations of the powers vested in it. Unfortunately, from the time of the institution of the office of the executive president, there appears to be a steady and sadly increasing blurring of the clear distinction between these three powers.
An all powerful president who at the same time is the leader of the party which enjoys a parliamentary majority, can easily transform the government members of Parliament into a bunch of obedient school boys and schoolgirls awed into silence by a powerful, whip-holding principal. This silence together with the absence of a vigilant, responsible and effective Opposition emasculates Parliament to such a degree that the boundary between the Executive and the Legislature could get blurred to the point of extinction. While this is the position even under the existing constitution, the proposed amendments which include the abolition of the Constitutional Council, give the President the unfettered right of making appointments to key positions, positions concerned with electoral laws and their enforcement, the judiciary and the forces of law and order to mention a few. An already all-powerful president would be then elevated to the intoxicating heights of an elected absolute monarch.
From the time of JRJ there have been allegations of executive interference with the judiciary. I am in no position to comment on these allegations. If there is a semblance of truth in this serious allegation, the strengthening of the Executive can only lead to further encroachment on this most important arm of good governance, particularly at a time when the people have lost faith in the forces of law and order, due to grave lapses in this area, on account of undue and wholly illegal political interference. Together with the emasculation of the legislature, this weakening of the judiciary can only lead to the grave situation where two of the three powers of good governance, would be taken over by the Executive, so that the people would be governed by one giant powerful corporation with no one to monitor it, a corporation which would cease to be answerable to the people. What then happens to the sovereignty of the people?
Given such a scenario, and particularly when (as now) the actions of the ruling party cannot be effectively challenged by an effete and irresponsible Parliamentary Opposition, the role of the Fourth Estate becomes of the utmost importance. In my view there are two types of responsible media persons: watch-dogs (no offence to humans or canines either) and whistle-blowers. The former play a more important role in ensuring good governance, because a watch-dog sounds a warning before an offence/crime occurs, while a whistle-blower blows his whistle after the ‘foul’ is committed. So the people look to responsible media personnel to help look after the best interests of this our land and to help all of us, the Rulers and the Ruled, remember: The people are sovereign and in the end, whatever happens, the people shall and will prevail.
This is the lesson of history.
Dr. Mark Amerasinghe
Dhamma school students miss Sunday tuition classes
Buddhist children who attend Dhamma classes on Sundays and religious observances on Poya days are unable to attend the tuition classes that are held on Sundays and Poya days.
Sunday Dhamma Schools were established a long time ago. Conducting tuition classes on Sundays and Poya days amounts to a conspiracy against Buddhist children.
I feel strongly about this, because I attended a Sunday Dhamma School some 65 years ago, so I can empathise with the Buddhist students.
A. B. Gamage
A headless school, a dept. lacking courage
The Jaffna/Vadamarachchi Central Ladies’ College, Karaveddy in the Vadamarachchi division has been functioning without a principal for over two months. The lady who was principal was promoted to an executive grade and sent out. Since then the post has been vacant and is being filled by a lady on an acting basis. However, the administration seems to be lacking momentum. A principal with due authority appears to be the urgent need of the hour.
This is a senior school that caters to about 600 children.
It is said that an interview was conducted to select a principal for the post; but the vacancy has still not been filled, so the school goes on without a head.
This unfortunate state of affairs appears to be the result of indifference on the part of officials of the local section of the Department of Education. The manpower is there but the courage to pick a suitable person without delay, is lacking.
Will the Ministry look into the matter and have the anomaly rectified.