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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Taming UNP’s ‘wild elephants’ – Editorial Sunday Observer

”If the UNP is to maintain discipline and take the party forward, its ‘wild elephants’ should be tamed. Despite the high drama enacted by the Reformist rebels, Wickremesinghe stood his ground.”

The United National Party (UNP) is embroiled in crisis, the worst since its inception some 65 years ago.

The UNP, one of the foremost political parties in Sri Lanka, has made a significant contribution to the country’s economic and social progress. There was a time the UNP was firmly entrenched as the strongest single political party in the country – especially after its landslide general election victory in July 1977 with a five-sixths majority under President J.R Jayewardene. The UNP was even looked upon as an invincible force in national politics.

When former Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake, the founding father of the UNP, made the inaugural address on September 6, 1946 at the Palm Court, Albert Crescent in Colombo, he would perhaps never had the foggiest notion that his party would descend to such a low ebb as it is today.

The UNP constitution encompassed all ethnic, social, religious and other groups. The party set up with 205 members, saw its membership swell to over 1.5 million in its first 50 years, producing seven Prime Ministers and three Executive Presidents.

It is indeed tragic that a party with such an unsullied reputation is with doldrums as, its members today are grappling with one another to unite the party. Mounting differences among its leaders, and seniors are my no means new. It is an open secret that President Jayewardene and the then Prime Minister R. Premadasa had serious differences. However, they never let such differences affect their political goals or the party’s reputation.

On the other hand, the leadership of a political party, or for that matter, any society or organisation, is something that should come with maturity and dignity. It is more creditable when it comes to the UNP since all its leaders, including the incumbent leader Ranil Wickremesinghe , have stood out with a proven track record. None of the stalwart UNP leaders cadged leadership but by their actions earned the top seat. Those illustrious UNP leaders, even in their wildest dreams, wouldn’t have organised protest marches or rallies to win party leadership.

Unfortunately, those high ideals have ceased to exist in the UNP. In this scenario, it is evident that UNP Deputy Leaders Sajith Premadasa and Karu Jayasuriya are battling it out with their own hidden agendas. They are apparently vying to realise their political dreams. This stance is by no means conducive to democracy as a responsible Opposition is a sine qua non for the country’s well-being.

Premadasa Jnr, who at one time went hammer and tongs for the party leadership, is now demanding that Jayasuriya be made leader. Most of the UNPers still repose faith in Wickremesinghe in view of his political maturity and wide knowledge on any subject which are undoubtedly far ahead of all UNP seniors.

UNPers still recall how Jayasuriya spelt doom to the party by defecting to the Government with 17 MPs and obtained a ministerial post. UNPers would never pardon Jayasuriya for that great betrayal which caused irreparable damage to the party. It was Wickremesinghe who absolved Jayasuriya and accepted him like the prodigal son on his meek return. Wickremesinghe, as a true leader, even went to the extent of offering Jayasuriya the deputy leadership of the party on his return. But Jayasuriya is singing a different tune today and claims that he is ‘ready’ for the party leadership. It came at a time when UNP leader Wickremesinghe had been out of the country. This is scandalous to say the least, and the greatest betrayal against the leader who had offered Jayasuriya a ‘political pardon’.

In contrast, Sajith Premadasa has barely shown any worthy credentials of a national leader. Even on the few occasions he had spoken in Parliament, Sajith Premadasa had merely focused on minor issues and problems in his electorate and barely on any national problems. This alone speaks volumes of his political immaturity. Could such a mere mortal like him – one who is unable to think outside the box become the leader of a national party? Could such a political neophyte be considered a national leader?

If Premadasa and Jayasuriya do not wish to see the UNP in the Opposition for another decade or more, they must shed their petty political differences and rally round Wickremesinghe to save the party from disaster. Wickremesinghe may perhaps not be the best leader in the UNP’s history but he still seems to be the best to lead the party as his personality and proven track record, are by far superior to other UNP seniors.

For example, Wickremesinghe always won his seat at the general elections with a large number of votes, be it from in the Biyagama electorate, Gampaha or Colombo districts. He always scored a first in the UNP list with a record number of votes. In contrast, Jayasuriya retained his seat in Parliament, coming fourth in the Gampaha district UNP list at the past general election. Since contesting his first election, Jayasuriya has lost more than half his vote base while Wickremesinghe on the other hand, increased his popularity in the Colombo district.

Moreover, Premadasa Jnr suffered a big setback with the UNP’s dismal performance in the Hambantota district at the past general election. Though he often bragged that he would give the Government a tough fight, it was smooth sailing for the ruling UPFA and the party even increased its number of seats to five in the Hambantota district. The jackpot question is whether a district leader who can barely impress the people of his own area, become a national figure overnight and muster islandwide support?

In the event the UNP is to make a comeback, the party must first and foremost adhere to discipline. There can’t be two masters. It behoves all to rally round a leader who could inspire national leadership and not upstarts whose thinking is confined to the grass roots level. Puerile thinking will not get the UNP anywhere in its forward march, except to the political wilderness.

In this context, it is heartening that the UNP Working Committee is moving in the right direction by initiating disciplinary action against four rebel parliamentarians, who have invariably overestimated themselves from the day they entered Parliament. Can mere Lilliputians and ageing beauty queens challenge the leadership of a political heavyweight such as Wickremesinghe?

If the UNP is to maintain discipline and take the party forward, its ‘wild elephants’ should be tamed. Despite the high drama enacted by the Reformist rebels, Wickremesinghe stood his ground. Only a mature leader such as Wickremesinghe could resurrect the party from the doldrums and not the instant recipes turned out by Premadasa or his extremist reformists.


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