Assessment of performance of any officer/official or employee is of great significance not only to the body or company, corporation, department or ministry that employs the officer/official; it carries even greater weight and consequence for the officer whose performance is assessed.
One of the main components of the assessment is the periodical intervals at which performance is assessed or reviewed. This same tenet applies to any political party or any other organization whose main aim is to derive the maximum output from its employees or workers.
However, in each of these cases, the person whose performance is assessed or reviewed is brought before a panel of judges, comprising the CEO and other senior line managers or in the instance of the subject being the chairperson or the chief executive officer, the shareholders of a company. This is the norm that is being practiced at most progressive places of work. Although, the details may differ, the fundamentals remain the same whatever that organization is.
Eighteen years is a long period in office and that is exactly how long Ranil Wickremesinghe has been the ‘leader’ of the United National Party (UNP). It has had a fairly decent way in which the party leadership has changed hands; either for natural causes such as death of the office holder as in the cases of D. S. Senanayake, Dudley Senanayake and R. Premadasa or a peaceful transfer of power as in the case of J.R. Jayewardene to R. Premadasa.
Nevertheless, one exception to this was when Gamini Dissanayake challenged Ranil Wickremesinghe for the Leader of the Opposition position in 1994, after the UNP was ousted from power after 17 long years in office. This is most aptly called the ‘GD option,’ yet to be exercised by the would-be-successors to Ranil Wickremesinghe in the present context.
The ‘GD option’ is not merely confined to a challenge issued to the incumbent; it also consists of going through the full process of testing that challenge by a vote among the constituents selected for that particular vote. When Gamini Dissanayake challenged Ranil Wickremesinghe, the constituency was the UNP Parliamentary Group. The surrounding scenario was quite different in that, Gamini carried the baggage of being sacked by the Party for challenging the earlier President, R .Premadasa, by way of being a signatory to and an instigator of an impeachment motion. A significant number of old UNPers loved to hate him for what he, along with Lalith Athulathmudali, G. M. Premachandra and others had done to the party, bringing it to disrepute among the masses, thereby apparently causing the ultimate defeat at the Parliamentary elections in 1994.
Dissanayake as winner
But, Gamini Dissanayake had some firm grounds to stand on: he won his district, Kandy, most handsomely; out of 13 electorates there the UNP won 11, conceding only Udu Nuwara and Yati Nuwara to the People’s Alliance (PA) with the Kandy District result being, UNP – 52.3% to PA – 46.4%. As a matter of fact, only the Central Province was secured by the Party in the entire country. So, when Gamini Dissanayake came down to Colombo, he came as a ‘winner,’ not as a loser like Ranil Wickremesinghe who had lost Colombo District, 41.8% to 50.9%.
The collective body of UNP Parliamentarians, despite having some reservations about Gamini Dissanayake, chose him as their next ‘leader.’ The UNP Parliamentarians preferred the ‘renegade child’ to a docile loyalist.
Thus Ranil Wickremesinghe failed in his first challenge.
The UNP vote bank has shrunk from a respectable 45% to a dismal 29% in 16 years from 1994 to 2010.
Darling of the masses
During the same period, the number of elected members of Parliament has dwindled from 81 to 51. However, the present Parliament has only 43 UNP MPs, solely due to defections to the government side from 2010 todate. How ‘satisfactory’ a situation could this be?
No less than 61 UNP parliamentarians have crossed over from the Party to the PA/UPFA, among whom are UNP stalwarts such as Wijepala Mendis, Dr. Sarath Amunugama, Keheliya Rambukwella, Mahinda Samarasinghe, Rohitha Bogollagama, Lakshman Seneviratne and Johnston Fernando.
The tale does not end here. The United National Party, for the first time in its storied history, failed to field a candidate under its own banner in the 2010 Presidential Elections.
In every Provincial Council and Pradeshiya Sabha Election, the vote bank of the UNP declined progressively, to an alarming 22% in the last local government elections held in July 2011. The latest election debacle was delivered by the voters of the Eastern, Sabaragamuwa and North Central Provinces. While, the vote bank remained in the low 30’s as a percentage, all three provinces experienced a loss of at least one UNP Member. In the Eastern Province, the UNP received less than a dismal 12% of the total polled.
The leader has not attended a single meeting of the local government representatives with room and space for free expression of ideas and opinions. (The only meetings he has attended are the ones which were held to swear-in the elected members). On the contrary, when these local government representatives were called for a meeting by the Reformists’ Group, Ranil Wickremesinghe shamelessly sought the help of the government’s repressive machinery to curb that meeting. The very gates of the Sirikotha were closed to the Party grassroots’ representatives – Mahinda to the rescue of Ranil! That again is now part of that storied history of the United National Party. What is more laughable?
Who sits in judgment of this record? Ranil Wickremesinghe is the official leader of the United National Party. When Dudley Senanayake lost the elections in 1970, he came down to Colombo from Dedigama immediately after the polls count and phoned his life-long friend J. R. Jayewardene the following morning and asked him (JRJ) to be the Leader of the Opposition, whilst retaining the Party leadership. However, Dudley was a darling of the masses. Ranil is not. How does the Great Scorer who chronicles the game and its players write his verdict?
Grantland Rice, in Only the Brave and Other Poems wrote:
For when the One Great Scorer comes
To write against your name,
He marks – not that you won or lost But, how you played the game.
Leave alone the leader, but how did the followers respond, not to the leader, but to the whole tragic saga of the UNP’s decay? Are they not equally responsible for the quagmire that their Party is in today? A couple of weeks ago, in an editorial of a leading weekly newspaper in Sri Lanka, the most sensible question was posed: Have you no shame, Ranil? I will para-phrase this question: Have you no shame UNPers, to endure this tragi-comedy of Ranil Wickremesinghe and your own impotence? Don’t give the easy answer that there is no mechanism by which you can oust the leader. The leader is well entrenched in the cozy comforts of the Working Committee. Draw him out of that comfort zone. Fight your battle on your turf, among the masses, among the parliamentarians. That again is leadership. The people of Tunisia, of Egypt and of Libya did not offer those lame excuses. Yet, they were victorious. More often than not, it is harder to do the right thing.
The Great Scorer may not mark that you won or lost; but he will certainly pen a very sad commentary about how you played the game.
Ranil Wickremesinghe’s scorecard of vote % and number of MPs
Year UNP % Votes No. of MPs PA/UPFA% Votes No. of MPs
1994 45 81 50 91
2000 40 77 45 94
2001 45 92 37 66+13
2004 38 71 46 92
2010 29 51 60 127
courtesy: Ceylon Today