On very many occasions, the ‘last nail’ has been driven into the coffin of the United National Party, hurried Paansakula conducted and the coffin placed in the funeral pyre and set on fire by the overheated rhetoric of its opponents in a hurry. Yet, the Grand Old Party of Sri Lanka has time and again [...]

Sunday Times 2

Political jumbos facing extinction


On very many occasions, the ‘last nail’ has been driven into the coffin of the United National Party, hurried Paansakula conducted and the coffin placed in the funeral pyre and set on fire by the overheated rhetoric of its opponents in a hurry.

Yet, the Grand Old Party of Sri Lanka has time and again risen from the ashes, fought elections, won them and occupied the seats of power so many times.

Now, once again, the UNP is reported to be in crisis mode and although its leaders assure the public that the issue can be resolved within the party ‘ within a week’ as weeks keep passing by.

Meanwhile ‘gathas’ are being sung with much fervour over the nailed UNP coffin– not by their loved ones — but by their opponents who are anxious to throw the coffin into the pyre as soon as possible. Will the historic karmic cycle of the party repeat itself leading to its reincarnation as before or is it ‘kaput’ for the Grand Old Party?

The party is in a crisis and Ranil Wickremesinghe is in the eye of the storm. He has been in it, standing at its helm through many a storm for 26 years, since that day Velupillai Prabakaran blew up an entire UNP stage along with Gamini Dissanayake who had edged out Ranil Wickremesinghe for leadership by a mere two votes. Wickremesinghe faced most challenges well and some not so well during his long voyage but he failed in his primary objective — not being able to anchor the ship safely in a port –  win an election and install his party in power.  There is only one victory to his credit, the 2001 Parliamentary election, where he won 109 seats as against the rival UPFA’s 77 seats. But then Chandrika Kumaratunga was the president and although he formed his own government, Chandrika held immense executive presidential power and sacked him when the time was opportune. Bad luck and political conspiracies followed him all the way. Finally victory was achieved in 2015 with a coalition of dissident SLFPers when he threw out the Rajapaksas. But he found out that his coalition concoction was bad or worse than the Rajapaksa disease.

History shows that political lifespans of all varieties of rulers — emperors, fascist dictators, tin pot military saviours, democratic rulers and even statesmen — are not infinite; they are limited. Whatever the constitutional jugglery, electronic ‘ jilmart’ they may attempt, when the times is up –that is when the people no longer want them– they got to go.

Wickremesinghe has been the leader of the UNP for 26 years. This may be a world record that is hard to beat. Vladimir Putin is now in his fourth term totalling 16 year as president and four years as prime minister. Xi Jinping, the Secretary General of the Chinese Communist Party, has been called upon to continue in office into the foreseeable future. Putin is now introducing constitutional amendments, which, commentators say, are designed for him to have a grip on power when his fourth term ends in 2024.

Is the desire of continuing in power for life among Sri Lankan politicians reflected in attempts to do away with amendments restricting the powers of the executive president and limiting the number of terms of office to two terms?

It may not be in order to compare Wickremesinghe’s holding on to UNP office with powerful rulers such as Putin and Xi jinping holding on to state offices for indefinite periods. The common thread, however, appears to be the desire to hold on to political office.

The UNP issue becomes all the more serious to us Sri Lankans because the Parliamentary elections may be only a few weeks ahead and the Pohottuwa party, having swept the presidential polls, is now making a determined bid to obtain a two-thirds majority to enable them to fashion a constitution giving them an open sesame in all matters of governance. A president with strong executive powers and a parliament subservient to him is a carte blanche to a ‘guided democracy’ or full dictatorship.

Ranil Wickremesinghe is matured a political realist to know that he is now not the ideal UNP leader to win an election. He conceded this point earlier when he stepped back and let General Sarath Fonseka and Maithripala Sirisena to contest the presidential elections with the full backing of the UNP. Sajith Premadasa may not to be the candidate of his choice but Premadasa within a month was able to carry out a campaign to poll 5.56million votes (41.99%) against the winner Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s 6.92 million votes (52. 25%).

The Rajapaksas began their election campaign on the day they lost the presidential election of 2015 with Mahinda Rajapaksa hanging on to a window of his home in his village and vowing that they would be back in power soon. Premadasa had to fight a desperate battle to get nomination as presidential candidate, only a few weeks before the election. He had official backing during the brief campaign but was secretly tripped, he said, which obviously had disastrous consequences.

Wickremesinghe and his close supporters know very well which UNP leader can bring a better harvest of votes for the party. They should follow the example of their leader J.R. Jayewardene in selecting his successor. JR had three choices: Athulathmudali, Dissanayake and Ranasinghe Premadasa. The first two were his favourites and the last not at all. But JR the shrewd tactician knew who had the best chance of winning. He asked his two favourites to propose and second the name of Premadasa and Premadasa won!

The ultimate criteria of choosing a candidate is a person’s capability of being the most able person to garner the most number of votes. Wickremesinghe and those around him know all that very well.

The issue before the country is not whether the victors will be the Pohottuwa or the UNP but the need to have a strong well balanced parliament. A strong executive and an imbalanced or subservient parliament will not produce a virile democracy.

Share This Post


Advertising Rates

Please contact the advertising office on 011 - 2479521 for the advertising rates.