21st September 1997

Is the Boss going to change all of that?

By Rajpal Abeynayake

Mr. Kadir and the Boss went to Malaysia, and they met the Malaysian boss, small man but big shot. He is the supremo of the country which boasts of the tallest building in the world. But the Malaysian boss is considered a bit of a thug by the Western powers.

Actually, Mr. Kadir’s and the bosses’ meeting with Mahatir is the final symbolic good-bye kiss to the left of centre policies of the boss’s party.

Good thing too, but the Alliance might not be able to have the cake and eat it. The economy had to be jump started. Somebody had to do it. Meeting with the Malaysian boss, and issuing a statement that “the Sri Lankan economy is the most liberal in Asia” is symbolic of the distance that the Alliance has gone to shed its left-of centre populist image. Could we in turn, say now that the PA is the new UNP?

Let’s face the facts in the face. Big business never backed any other party than the UNP. It is an open secret that the Rajah’s and others played both sides, assiduously. That is good business sense. Being kings of business, the wizards at the top of such conglomerates played the game for instance, without ever appearing in public, and shunning controversy like the plague. (For example, does anyone know how the boss of the Rajah multinational look like? A child will know how Ken Balendra looks like, or Hemaka Amarasuriya looks like. But these gentlemen are business pygmies compared to the big Rajahs. The Rajah’s play very good business, and like the prophets, their faces have never appeared in print.)

Anyway, to make a long story short, big business always sided with the UNP , even though they may have taken insurance policies with both parties during election time. A change of regime, therefore, was seen as the swing of the systemic pendulum. In other words, election time was when in broad terms labour got its comeuppance over the exploiter.

Question is, is the Boss going to change all of that? If the PA becomes the UNP, will big business eventually start backing the Alliance political forces with the verve and the venom with which they have traditionally backed the UNP?

A busybody with a degree in political science would certainly say that you cannot ratiocinate politics in such simplistic terms. But political scientists usually see the trends after the match is over. Any harm done if the Alliance fashions its image in the shape of the UNP?

Well, the Alliance stands to lose some of its bedrock vote banks of labour and the hard core left. But, if the economy is kept in good hum, the alliance and the Boss probably bargain that the majority of voters will finally jettison the idea that “the Alliance is the party that is less corrupt/ but its only the UNP which can deliver the goods.’’

But, meeting with the Malaysian boss, and giving the Alliance a symbolic image boost will remain , well, largely symbolic. Unless of course, the Alliance can shore up important yardsticks such as the employment index. The Daily Noise, for instance, in its pro-active coverage of the Boss’s Malaysian visit, quotes her dropping all kinds of indexes and indices in the wake of her visit. But missing, at least in the Daily Noise report, is any reference to the employment figures.

But, if the Boss is granted god-speed and the economy turns, is it possible that hard-core UNP business interests will no longer have any reason to identify with the UNP? In other words, can the Alliance become even more UNP than the UNP?

The Alliance, perhaps, is trying hard to become more UNP than the UNP, and the Boss’s and Mr. Kadir’s visit to Malaysia seems to be only a first step in this direction.

But, becoming more UNP than the UNP carries some other baggage with it. Succinctly put, the Alliance stands to alienate many of the populist forces that propelled it into power. But, perhaps that is good thinking by the Alliance. Many governments have been voted into power in a populist wave, but no government has been retained by such populist waves.

The return of an incumbent government depends strictly on delivering the goods ; the Boss’s mother, Madam B, if she remembers 1977 for instance, will vouch for that.

The UNP bosses, for their part, seem to be complacent thinking the economy will be the Alliance’s final undoing.

But, the greening of the Alliance may destroy that illusion. The Alliance may turn more liberal than the UNP, sowing large pockets of discontent among the intellectuals. But, when it comes to re-electing governments, intellectuals are mere policy nerds.

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