What should the UNP do next?

By Gomin Dayasri

Aparty that was conferred three consecutive terms of presidential power and enjoyed a 5/6th majority in parliament legitimately for six years and illegitimately for another six years (without holding a general election) during that period, finds itself denied a victory at four consecutive presidential elections and unable to field a candidate, at the last. It is guaranteed to be out of office for 23 years. Something is seriously wrong somewhere if this is the scorecard.

Opting out of the last presidential contest on the pretext of requiring a war hero as a candidate is the easy way the UNP takes, without getting to grips with their problems. If the UNP gets to the root of the problem and seeks answers, it will have remedies for much of its maladies. Why did the UNP take a wrong decision on the war? This is the question that begs an answer. Sadly not exhumed, instead disputes run the distance.

Wickremesinghe: Failed to read the pulse of the people

There is an inherent weakness to win elections being distanced from the common people. It's a continuing run of wrong turns that the UNP takes, that makes it virtually impossible to attract fresh votes — it still relies on its permanent vote base which runs deep but is fast drying, with the belief of being permanently in the opposition.

In the war exercise, the bulk of the UNP supporters were for the comprehensive elimination of the LTTE because their personal security was at stake; but not the leadership, on display. It made the worst wisecrack on the war that trapped the UNP not the Forces, between Killinochchi and Medawathchiya. The voters surrounded and punished the party, for its stupidity.

Anti war, war cries drove voters in droves to the other side, many never to return in disgust. It's incredible that the government's war efforts against terrorism were not backed by the UNP to the hilt to share the rewards. The opposition, when the country is attacked by outside forces, fail to appear positively national, for its own good. Elsewhere common enemies at home join hands against a threat to the people; often it's the opposition that scores heavily for its pro-national stance.

If the UNP supported the war effort would it be in the present dungeon? Which opposition stands against elimination of terrorism by the government unless it tacitly desires the terrorists to overwhelm the government for the opposition to emerge? It was the terrorists who assassinated the UNP hierarchy. Can the Congress Party in India gain credibility helping Prabhakaran, after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi!
Yet, the lesson is not learnt, and UNP continues to echo the charges of the west on war grievances without defending the nation.

Being pawns of white western nations does not buy votes locally. The popular presumption is — the UNP is anti-national. That alone is sufficient to drive the votes that may float in, to float out. Who is the UNP catering still to? Probably it does not know, for it cares not. Superficially, it is the commercial interest, presently in a deep embrace with the President and minority interest of which much has deserted to the President. The President has stepped in to occupy those spaces that goes with the wind within the UNP, dangerously for his own welfare.

The UNP has to change its image to show it is truly national; until then it will win only the hearts and minds of the international community and receive not votes but invitations to address them. This is where a cultural change is necessary to change the policy of the party; a leadership change alone is not sufficient as the UNP is not on the edge of the cliff, but fallen over it, into a precipice.

It has to convince the majority Sinhala Buddhists that it can be trusted, as did President Premadasa to an extent. Unlike Mahinda Rajapaksa, Premadasa's deficiency was that he was always a Colombo Central lad who went to the village late in life and still retained the lumpen culture of his electorate and failed to understand the refined Lankan mind sufficiently as to gift arms to the LTTE to be killed by it and made the party revolt because of his isolated Sucharita style politics. A Colombo kid with a Colombo mind can be a misfit. Brand name Premadasa will not help, just as trade mark Rajapaksa may not, some day.

Ranil Wickremesinghe is to the UNP what Anura Bandaranaike was to the SLFP. Both possess good minds but make poor judgment keeps bad company that influences them adversely but acts most times with good intentions. They are more tuned to international ramifications rather than to national perspectives as they spend too much time abroad. It's sheer bad luck that men with ability were propelled into pivotal positions without the necessary grooming. They reached leadership status within the party prematurely.

The choice of two national list MPs selected by Ranil Wickremesinghe, after the electoral defeat show he is incapable of leading the party out of its present direction. His selections from Society Colombo to please the stock market and the evangelical right that helps to ensure the perennial defeat of the UNP reveals he is incapable of creating the image UNP needs to win.

It needs to search for the likes of M.D.Banda, U.B.Wanninayake, Gamini Jayasooriya, and M.D.H. Jayawardane; quality men who knew to read the pulse of the people and whose integrity were unchallenged.

The high class of the UNP that the Premadasa or the Wickremesinghe regime failed to propagate — the structure on which the Senanayakes and Jayawardanes built the party to have a surfeit of talent available at hand. Much of such is still available, plenty outside Colombo and a few in Colombo but untapped. It is needed at least on the second tier.

Possibly Gamini Dissanayake and Karu Jayasooriya were the last of the eligible. Karu Jayasooriya with the proper inclination towards the war efforts committed suicide by deciding to shift sides in the greed for office. Instead he should have opened a new front within the UNP supportive of the war and shifted the party position.

If the UNP still has men to change course and party desire to utilize them, secure them before the President makes them his men!

The writer is a senior lawyer

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