|A dictator within the party|
UNP Leader Ranil Wcikremesinghe who out-manoeuvred party dissidents to extend his term by six more years has also secured sweeping powers to handpick members to any position in the party, according to the new amendment to the party Constitution.
Wickremesinghe extended his leadership of the party by six more years at the 54th National Convention held at Sirikotha yesterday. Accordingly, he is vested with the power to appoint any member to key posts including deputy leader, assistant leader, general secretary, party chairman, vice chairman, national organiser, and other posts.
“He will appoint new office-bears in January,” sources close to Wickremesinghe told LAKBIMAnEWS.
Amendments to the party Constitution were passed by a majority of 4978 votes. There were 337 votes against the amendments. UNP deputy leader Sajith Premadasa, MPs Dayasiri Jayasekera, Ranjith Maddumabandara, Buddhika Pathirana, Thalatha Atukorala and Rosy Senanayake voted against the amendments. “Karu Jayasuriya had voted for the amendments,” sources said.
UNP rebel PC member Maithri Gunaratne said: “Wickremesinghe became a Hitler since yesterday and intra-party democracy is entirely gone, and in the long-term, the UNP will be Wickremesinghe and his stooges.”
He added, “Those who ratified these amendments such as MPs, PC members, PS members, electoral organisers and those holding various posts within the party will have to ‘bite the bullet’ and accept the party’s sorry fate in the foreseeable future.
UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake said that the majority had pledged to work for the party’s victory at the next general election under the present leader and those who have fallen out with him are now making spurious charges and allegations against him.
New amendments to the party Constitution will benefit whoever is appointed to the leader’s post. It will not only be applicable to Ranil but to Sajith Premadasa as well,” he noted.
A sad day for the UNP
It is patently hypocritical to preach democracy to the rest of the country – or to the world – when handling of internal affairs of your political party suffers from a painful democratic deficit. This rings true as per the grand old United National Party (UNP), which has now been condemned to cater to the whims and fancies of one man, party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Yesterday, at the annual party Convention, UNP leader Wickremesinghe obtained the approval of delegates to a controversial amendment to the party Constitution that was tailor-made to cater to his personal and political ambitions. The amendment which was approved by a grand margin of 4600 odd votes (4978 voted for it and 337 against) extended the tenure of Wickremesinghe as the party leader by six more years.
Given Wickremesinghe’s track record in past elections – he has lost all but two major election since he took over the reigns of the party – one would have trouble identifying the rationale of the decision.
But that is not the most disturbing part; the worst part of it being is that it also vested with Wickremesinghe, by virtue of him being the leader of the party, the power to handpick the rest of the party leadership, including the deputy leader, national organiser, general secretary, et al.
What Wickremesinghe got approved by the UNP Convention yesterday was his equivalent to the 18th Amendment, which his much more enterprising counterpart of the ruling party, Mahinda Rajapaksa, succeeded incorporating to the Constitution of the country .
Mr. Wickremesinghe’s new mandate would make the UNP a much weaker party. Its grassroots is despondent; its national and provincial level leadership have split and its vote base is on the downward spiral. For the next six years, he would reign over the ruins of his party.
However, more than anything else, what the latest amendment betrays is Wickremesinghe’s contempt for the very values of democracy which he has been spewing on political platforms. His bent for authoritarianism is no secret, despite his pretentions of liberal democratic advocacy. Such a persona should not be a surprise, though. Wickremesinghe, in his formative age of politics, was immensely conditioned by his uncle, Junius Richard Jayewardene, who more than any other post-independent politician is culpable of destroying the long held democratic traditions of this country in order to advance his political and personal ambitions.
J.R.J. broke this country to remake it to suit his own liking, and left it in a veritable mess that we are living in today. His less fortunate nephew has now done the same with the grand old UNP. If he is given a chance, he is capable of replicating his uncle’s deeds.
It is hard to believe that nearly 5000 participants who voted in favour of yesterday’s amendment may not have known the perils entailed in the proposed amendment. They knew and chose to disregard those concerns in order to please their political boss. So did the Members of Parliament who voted for the 18th Amendment one year back.
The story of the contemporary UNP, and also of the SLFP are itself an illustration of the dealings of hypocritical and self serving ruling elites of our time and the sycophant followers who continue to support to maintain this status quo.
Countries which transitioned from nominal electoral democracies to liberal democracies also observed a greater degree of clarity in decisions taken in the political sphere than in the past. Party followers also begin to wield a greater leverage in party decisions than their predecessors did.
That new status quo between the party leaders and followers creates a new form of social contract between the two. That explains why Labour prime minister Gordon Brown was compelled to quit the party leadership after the electoral defeat to the Tories, or the Aussie Prime Minister Julia Gillard could muster an opposition against her aloof predecessor Kevin Rudd and dethrone him.
However, the political culture in Sri Lanka is being powered by a culture of sycophancy. That culture of sycophancy stymies the progress of democracy. We are condemned to live under a primitive form of democracy which has strong dynastic and feudal attributes.
Ranil Wickremesinghe’s triumph at yesterday’s party confab is yet another pointer to this sorry situation.