The artificially sensationalized controversy within the UNP ranks about the authenticity of the party deputy leader Sajith Premadasa’s educational qualifications, in the twilight of its barely legitimate rule, is a strangely anticlimactic, but justly retributive, reversal of its unbroken mudslinging campaign against the Rajapaksas, whose democratic return to power they have been determined to forestall by hook or by crook.
The controversial 19th Amendment was primarily intended to keep them out of power for the foreseeable future. The calling into question of Premadasa’s academic attainments is actually much ado about nothing, provoked by the heated leadership tussle between two camps, within the party, the reactionary jaded old guard clinging to its hereditary ‘ownership’ of the party, and a relatively younger ginger group within its ranks; clamouring for a change of party leadership trying to make it less inimical to the rising nationalist spirit of the electorate. But it promoted pro-Premadasa propaganda as a negative marketing strategy by giving a little boost to his presidential nomination bid.
Sajith is embattled on two fronts: He is embarked on a struggle for rising to party leadership, and he has started, at least at the individual level, his presidential campaign. While the second (which is actually premature because it is still uncertain whether the UNP will agree to his candidacy) is already a lost cause, in view of the dismal performance of the Yahapalana regime of which he has been a senior member; his success in the first is of vital importance for himself and for his party.
But Premadasa, or his potential replacement who will come to lead the faction that is now loyal to him within the UNP, will have a historic role to play in the evolution of a stable two-party system of parliamentary democracy that will be safe from the undue minoritarian influence that is at present ruining the country. What is the thinking behind this man in the street opinion of mine?
There is a popular diversionary tactic used these days by the 2015 change makers and their propagandists, against those who are set to rescue the nation state from further destabilization and destruction. It is being adopted by the JVP and a handful of recent upstarts, like lawyer Nagananda, for their own purposes. This is to attribute the country’s current politically and economically ruinous situation, as well as its strategically exaggerated developmental backwardness over the past 70 years of independence, to a single alleged cause: what they identify as the ingrained corruption, lawlessness and general depravity of all the politicians who have been ruling, generally, as members of the two main political parties, the UNP and the SLFP taking turns. Significantly, these advocates of radical change avoid talking about the much more important causes of Sri Lanka’s worsening fate, such as the 30-year civil war and its poisonous aftermath, brazen foreign interference in its internal affairs that exploits it, and the related, recently introduced, Wahabist terrorism, to name just a few of those vital factors they overlook.
This indiscriminate attack on all past politicians, and all the current 225 MPs, plus the President, may look like gospel truth for the least informed few of the normally well informed millennial generation (18 – 40 year olds). It is a fallacious argument thought up and regularly peddled by the JVP for over 50 years now.
The same specious reasoning has been picked up by a few others, equally innocent of a general knowledge about how parliamentary democracy has malfunctioned; particularly after the 1956 watershed, more due to other potent factors including the communalism of some minority politicians than to corruption, which itself remains rampant, at least partly, as a result of minority politicians having the upper hand in parliament due to the fact that MPs belonging to the two main national parties are divided on party lines.(However, Lalkantha, JVP’s politburo member and well known trade union leader, publicly admitted the hollowness of the aforementioned fossilized line of thought recently; he also advocated a halt to Mahinda bashing. Whether his opinion is shared by the rest of the JVP hierarchy is yet to be seen.)
All genuine attempts, made by consecutive governments for the restoration of full national independence in terms of governance, economic development, cultural resurgence, education through the medium of native languages, and so on, with a view to creating a truly egalitarian society where all communities are treated without discrimination of any form, have always met with limited success due to the few powerful communalists among minority politicians, failing to cooperate with the non-communalist majority politicians; often they have exploited the competition between the two main national parties, the UNP and the SLFP, to dictate policies in the parochial communalistic, rather than, the national interest.
The virulence of minoritarianism in parliament is such that, assisted by other factors, it has indirectly reduced the SLFP to a mere wraithlike rump already, and it is leading the UNP (the current governing party) around by the nose. This reflects the parlous state of parliamentary democracy in Sri Lanka today, which has left the vast non-communalist minded ordinary citizens that form at least 95% of the population, virtually silenced and leaderless. The few communalists there are ruling the roost.
It is up to the two main parties to put an end to this anomaly immediately and to reverse the catastrophic course that Sri Lanka is being forced to take. Of these the almost dead SLFP (hence described as ‘wraithlike’ above) seems to have no future unless integrated with the newly formed SLPP; which now represents the ‘left of centre’ alternative to the ‘rightist’ UNP in the roughly two-party system that has evolved since independence.
The fact that there are no significant differences between their respective political ideologies, except for the UNP’s westward leaning neoliberal economic policies and the SLFP’s (or its reincarnation the SLPP’s) relatively independent, urban rural balanced, development oriented, economic structure and its nationalist stance in domestic politics and diplomatic relations with other countries, is a factor that is conducive for democracy. At this critical hour, considering the ground realities, the SLPP, but not the UNP, is most likely to produce the national leader that the country needs.
Sri Lankans are not so mad as to want to undergo the Yahapalana experience a second time. The election bid of every possible UNP candidate will be inevitably undermined by the stigma of their association with the destructive Yahapalanaya. Premadasa, or any other UNP candidate, will not be a formidable challenge to the SLPP nominee. Pre-2015 Secretary of Defence Gotabaya Rajapaksa was officially announced as the SLPP’s presidential candidate at its first national convention held at the Sugathadasa indoor stadium in Colombo on August 11, 2019. The announcement was enthusiastically celebrated across the country, setting off crackers.
Meanwhile, it is a fact that the UNP sorely needs at least a leader, like the late Premadasa, for its survival, but Sajith is not capable of filling that vacancy; primarily because he lacks even the leadership qualities that his father possessed. I say this because, instead of trying to appeal to the people as a capable leader of the same mould as his father, he tries to impress them, mistaking them for a captive electorate mesmerised by the personal charisma that he imagines he has, by his haughtiness of manner, lack of empathy with others, and his apparent superiority complex.
Sajith’s public persona, since the death of his father, has betrayed these personality deficits. Such a person is not fit to lead a political party, much less the country. Four and a half years of Yahapalanaya must have knocked some sense into the heads of the people who voted it into power in 2015.
However, I for one, think that Sajith P need not depend on his father’s name or fame alone to play the role that he is destined to play, as it were, but he’d better not dream of becoming president overnight. There is something more important for him to do before that as suggested at the beginning. It is up to him to correctly assess his importance or rather his current unimportance actually, to begin with; then, he needs to understand what that role is, and play it to the best of his ability, for his own good, and his party’s, and most importantly, for the good of the country in the long run. The historic role that I am suggesting for Sajith is to do with the preservation of the UNP as one of the two main parties in a successful two-party system (the other being the newly formed SLPP in place of the virtually obsolete SLFP), where bipartisan compromise, necessitated by national interest, obviates too much government dependence on communalist minority parties for the purpose of forming a stable government (The ground reality is that these communalist parties do not represent the vast majority of the ordinary members of the Tamil and Muslim minority communities, who are now with the Sinhalese majority). He must bide his time until he is able to claw his way up to the top of the party, and mark time until the SLPP restores the country to normality over the next few years. All peaceful patriotic Sri Lankans are patiently waiting for a democratic reversal of the catastrophic results of the foreign engineered regime change conspiracy of 2015. As for the SLPP, it should not take at face value any of the former Yahapalana worthies or their allies who now want to make common cause with them.