Is there value in ousting Ranil?
When a political party faces a series of defeats over a considerable period, there is a tendency for
internal conflicts to occur. The UNP, the main opposition party which was expelled from power in 1994 is still struggling to come out of that chasm for nearly 17 years. There is a general perception that the Opposition leader Ranil Wickramasinghe cannot win elections. Everybody talks about ’ousting Ranil’ and bringing someone else in. Is this really going to work? Will Mr. Wickremasinghe’s prospective successor overcome all the prevailing troubles and turn the UNP into a victorious party?
Real revamping or useless talk
I think it’s high time to discuss these matters in a thoughtful intelligent way. The internal conflicts within the UNP which were prevalent for quite some time now, have intensified after the landslide defeat the party suffered during the recent local government elections. After the defeat, many people said and wrote many things about revamping, restructuring and resurrecting the party.
A pragmatic approach that benefits the UNP is needed
Some of these suggestions are very useful and some are not. And we must admit that some of these suggestions indirectly serve the intentions and political well being of President Rajapakse and his government. Therefore, the UNP needs a
pragmatic approach towards this problem. That pragmatic approach should benefit the party, country and the citizenry. These reforms and changes should not be based on jealousy and hatred. Instead, they should strengthen the unity among the leaders, members and supporters of the party.
SLFP was in opposition 17 years too
The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) was also in the opposition for 17 long years from 1977 to 1994. During this time, the party was plagued by various internal crises. Quite naturally any political party has to face such internal conflicts, when it languishes in the opposition. This is a common reality for any political party in the world. Therefore, in order to avoid such rifts, these parties make various kinds of reforms and changes from time to time so that they can strengthen the party mechanism to regain power.
Replacing leader only an experiment
Therefore, the United National Party also needs a change. But what is it? Is it just ousting the party leader or something deeper and more productive than that? Replacing a leader will always be an experiment. For the UNP, this is not a time to invest too much in experiments because if they go wrong it will only serve to worsen the prevailing crises within the party.
The Sarath Fonseka experiment
The United National Party did a ‘great’ experiment by supporting the common opposition candidate Sarath Fonseka in the 2010 presidential election. But at the end of the election, the common opposition candidate couldn’t even secure the
vote base which the UNP leader had in the presidential election in 2005. This risky experiment hurled the UNP supporters from the frying pan into the fire. It was totally a failure.
That is why the party should be very thoughtful when it is making drastic changes? Can a leadership change alone solve all the troubles that haunt the party? The UNP is now broken into many pieces. A large number of party supporters are inactive at the moment and they have adopted a ‘wait and see’ policy. There is another section of supporters who are still engaged in party activities, regardless of all the vicissitudes.
Enemies of the leadership are serving the enemies of the party
At the same time, there is another section of party activists whose behaviour is very detrimental to the party and its future. They are the people who criticize the party leader publicly and spread the idea that ‘Ranil cannot win elections’. Most of the people are engaged in this because they have ulterior motives and at the end of the day they are serving the enemies of the party. Sometimes, some of them might not be intending to pull back the party by their criticisms but anyhow that is the ultimate result.
We need a leader with different ideas to that of the ruling regime
It is quite obvious that the party leader has a huge role to play. Mainly, he has to unite all these factions and garner their support in all the activities of the party.He should have the knowledge experience and decision-making abilities. At the same time, he should have an alternative plan to address all the unaddressed socio-economic problems of this country which will be a vital factor for his success.
He should be an ‘out of the box’ thinker who can introduce new methods and solutions when it comes to addressing problems. His approach towards such questions should not be coterminous to that of President Mahinda Rajapakse, which is already proved to be ineffective. People have no use for a leader who seeks to implements plans and policies similar to Mr. Rajapakse’s.
Politically astute, internationally savvy
He should be a leader who can move along well with other nations and a person who can muster the support of the international community.In addition to this, people should recognize him as a leader who doesn’t give false promises on which he cannot deliver.
JR was labelled an imperialist too
Once, the late president J.R. Jayawardena also had the ‘imperialist’ and ‘anti-sinhala buddhist’ label and therefore he didn’t have much support from the grassroots level. But in 1977, he stormed into power with an overwhelming majority and established one of the most powerful governments in Sri Lanka’s history.
History repeats itself and the party can definitely make this happen again. That is why the party should be united and focus on its plan to regain power.
Can’t please everybody
There are some leaders who say “yes” to all the elements and struggle without being able to deliver on their promises. The UNP leader should be someone who has a backbone and therefore he must behave like a true leader. This doesn’t mean that he should act like an autocratic and totalitarian leader who suppresses and crushes all dissident viewpoints, but he should have the ability to pay attention to all voices and make the best and ideal decision in a straight forward manner. Basically, he should be a leader to and of everyone.
Who will lead and who is suitable?
Given all these circumstances,necessities and conditions we can analyze the leadership hopefuls of the UNP at this moment.
Mr. Karu jayasuriya is widely regarded as a good gentleman. he is characterized with many good and magnanimous qualities. He is a man of principle and has already rendered a great service to the party. In the same way, he is indeed a popular leader among the public. He’s widely regarded as a person who doesn’t give false promises. Even as a person, he has many great qualities and I too can stand by this fact.
But, if he’s elevated to the leadership at this moment, it will possibly jeopardize his entire career as a politician. What if he fails to deliver the desired results? Then he will be downgraded as a leader and hence the party will lose one of its greatest assets. If he becomes the leader riding the crest of an ‘anti-Ranil’ wave he will surely be a hostage of the anti-Ranil elements in the party. Because they are the ones who elevated him to the leadership and this will not help the betterment of the party.
Mr. Sajith Premadasa is the other hopeful for the party leadership. He is widely considered as a popular leader. But there has been an erosion of his popularity too due to some of his recent activities. It is Mr. Premadasa’s duty to protect his popularity by his deeds. Otherwise he will also have to face the very same destiny. Sajith Premadasa has a huge response from the grassroots level. In the same way, he has the support from youth elements too. These two factors are essential to bring back the party to power. Therefore Mr. Premadasa’s support is vital for the party to battle against the Rajapakse regime.
Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe, on the other hand, is an experienced, intellectual leader who has gathered a lot of experience as a deputy minister, cabinet minister, prime minister,party leader and a leader of the opposition. He has come across so many vicissitudes and faced numerous challenges. In the early days, Mr. Wickremasinghe played a key role in J.R. Jayawardena’s cabinet as the Education minister and no one in the present UNP has that advantage. In addition to that. Mr. Wickremasinghe has a huge acceptance in the international domain.
But, there is a widespread speculation, even among the party members that Mr. Wickremasinghe cannot win elections. We should analyze that point deeply.
RW can’t win elections – a myth
In the recent local government election, the government received 4296207 votes. The UNP received 2360922 votes.
Ranil got more votes individually in 2005 than the UNP as a party in 2001 and 2011
In the presidential election in 2005, Mr. Wickremasinghe as an individual exceeded this number and he obtained 4706366 votes. In that election, a percentage of 73.73 voters cast their votes. This ( 4706366 ) even exceeds the number of votes that the party obtained during 2001 general election ( 4086026 ), with a little margin. Even in that election, a percentage of 76.03 voters cast their votes and the UNP secured a clean victory.
In the presidential election in 2005, Mr. Wickremasinghe was defeated with a thin margin of 180786 votes. President Mahinda Rajapakse won that election obtaining 4887152 votes. As independent political analysts say, Mr. Wickremasinghe almost won the presidential election in 2005, in spite of the label which was pasted on him by the opposition as a ‘Pro-LTTE’er.
Tamil Tiger deal and disenfranchisement
Mind you Mr. Wickremasinghe nearly won despite the fact that Tamils in the North were not allowed to vote and nearly 350,000 voters many of them from ethnic and religious minorities traditionally voting with the UNP in the south were deliberately disenfrachised by striking them off electoral lists.
Mr. Wickremasinghe nearly won even though at the very last moment, the LTTE prevented the people in the North from voting and it turned the entire election result on its head. There were more than 200,000 votes in these areas and these votes could have easily made the difference. There is a widespread speculation that the LTTE made this move, as the result of a dirty money deal.
2011 LG election voter turnout
In the recent Local Government election, only 65.57% voters have cast their votes. Those who did not make it to polling stations stand at 34.43%. It means that in the recent LG election, 4524291 (more than 4 and half million ) voters have not come to the polling stations. This even exceeds the number of votes which the government had obtained, by a margin of 200,000 votes.
The UNP needs 2 million votes to be formidable
If the UNP can get another 2 million votes out of this 4.5 million, then the party would be in a formidable position. These ‘missing votes’ actually belong to the UNP. The task remains ahead if the UNP is to regain this ‘lost’ vote base. It is crystal clear that Mr. Wickremasinghe still has the ability to form a government.
There was a move by the party seniors to oust him from leadership in 2000 but, one year later, in 2001 he was able to form a government. He almost succeeded in 2005 too. Nevertheless we have to admit that Mr. Wickremasinghe also has some faults which need to be addressed.
Need to be addressed
First of all, the party should be strengthened at the village level.In 1977, Mr. J.R. JAyawardena strengthened the party at the village level by collecting membership fees and making the villagers stakeholders of the party. All the MPs and organizers extended their fullest support to the leader. With this decision, Mr. J.R Jayawardena was able to resurrect the village level supporters.
Through out the party history, the UNP faced a few disastrous defeats, particularly in 1956 and 1970. Both these times, Mr. J.R. Jayawardena was the unshakable power which kept the party together without letting it fall apart. He made a strenuous effort to revive the party after devastating defeats and he succeeded on both occasions. So, it is not impossible for the present leaders to repeat this.
Only unity will help the UNP now
The UNP needs nothing but unity; the unity among its leaders and the unity among its supporters. The government has lavishly provided all the ‘raw materials’ and ‘prerequisites’ for the party to be united and forge ahead to form the new government.
The government survives because of UNP conflict
The government still survives without any trouble thanks to the numerous internal conflicts within the UNP. The government makes its utmost efforts to trigger the animosity between the UNP leaders and make these internal conflicts perpetual. So it’s high time the UNP leaders understood this situation.
Cake now cheaper than bread!
Sri Lanka is submerged in debt and all our resources are being exploited by foreign countries and they are making huge profits out of all these deals. Cost of living is sky rocketing and the government has fooled all the government sector workers by giving false promises about salary hikes. Even a loaf of bread has turned out to be a luxury food item. Amidst all these problems, how come the UNP remains silent?
That’s what the common man asks.
Even the common man should have uncommon opportunities
The UNP brought out a true revolution in 1977 and as a result of that, ’the common man’ could afford to buy a television, refrigerator or a vehicle. But, the party could not explain this reality to the public, in a convincing manner. How can anyone forget the enormous hardships we all had to face during 1970-1977 era. As a result of this, people rallied around the party and took the initiative to form a UNP government.
It is true that Mr. Wickremasinghe as well as the UNP, have to confront various problems and most of them generated from “within”. These internal knife jabs are more vicious than the attacks they receive from the outside( the government). But once everyone understands the reality, it would not be so difficult to resurrect and revive the party. All leaders should be wise enough to address the ‘core problem’ without clinging on to those less important, superficial matters.
If they cannot opt for the obvious right choice which is visible before their own eyes, it is nothing but sheer ignorance and misfortune and petty personal agendas and personal grudges. Then no one should bother about the party anymore.