By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana
Though I no longer support the UNP, because of its recent unpatriotic stance, I still do not, even in the wildest of dreams, wish for its demise. Unfortunately, this exactly seems to be what the leader and his deputy seem attempting to do. Are they so dumb that they do not see rhyme or reason or is it that their hyper-inflated egos simply do not care what happens to the party of the ‘Father of the Nation’? Have they completely lost the art of negotiation? Why are they encouraging battles by proxy rather than sitting down and coming to decisions that will benefit not only their party but also the country at large? Do we have to remind these two so called ’democrats’ that a strong opposition is vital for a vibrant democracy?
I cannot imagine why the UNP conference, which nominated Sajith as the presidential candidate, voted for Ranil to be the leader of the party till 2025. May be it was clever manoeuvring by Ranil. But having not raised his hand against the resolution then, is it not disingenuous of Sajith to attempt to get leadership now? Or, is it that we are to interpret that Sajith’s silence may mean disagreement? During the catastrophic Yahapalana administration, on many issues, Sajith observed the vow of silence, to speak against them later? Or, at worst is Sajith guilty of disloyalty and indiscipline.
Over the past three or four months, Thursday has been the decision-day for the UNP with many supporters waiting, with baited breath, for that never heard news; that the battle between the two big jumbos has ended. But it had been recurring disappointment as the two seem keen on continuing with elephantine errors.
Ranil wants to be the ‘leader-for-life’ is an acknowledged fact and he is blundering along to achieve this, in spite of progressively losing public respect. The biggest sin of the UNP supporters is not getting rid of him after the first two or three failures and heaven knows why they did not get rid of him a long time ago. Is it that the higher echelons of UNP lacked courage, or for that matter talent? The only person that could whip up some courage was Sajith and in spite of Kurundu Polu at Matara, he marched on to Siri Kotha to dislodge Ranil from leadership but was prevented access by road-surfacing work, started mysteriously!
Sajith lay low till the presidential election was declared and fought for two things in one go; the presidential nomination and the party leadership. Ranil, as expected, resisted to the last and finally agreed to allow Sajith to contest but did not concede leadership. Instead, he devised a cunning plan: arranged a party conference to endorse Sajith’s candidacy. In addition to the resolution nominating Sajith as the presidential candidate, which was passed unanimously with jubilation, another resolution was put to the jubilant crowd that Ranil be the leader till 2025, which was also passed without objections. Had Sajith won the presidential election, perhaps, he could find justification to claim party leadership, in spite of this resolution, but having lost, badly, he had no justification to do so. This was an elephantine error.
In fact, the biggest elephantine error on the part of Saith is not allowing Ranil to contest, as defeat would have been a certainty, and it would not have been difficult to dislodge Ranil after yet another defeat. Why did Sajith make such a vital blunder? Maybe, he was impatient which, by the way, is a distinct disadvantage in politics. After all, J R had to wait ages but when his time came, made himself the most powerful leader ever. Maybe, Sajith was led to believe that he was sure of victory. If that was the case his advisors, obviously, had very poor political judgement, not realising that the gross unpopularity of Yahapalanaya would have had a significant impact on any candidate. His actions after the defeat, resigning from the position of deputy leader and announcing that he would henceforth dedicate his life to looking after the leopards, more than anything else, going into virtual seclusion points out to having completely misjudged the situation. Vast crowds cheering, in spite of his recurring bloopers, may have put his hopes high.
After a period of hibernation, Sajith, woken up by supporters, started fighting for leadership. Ranil did not relent but acceded to his request to be made the leader of the opposition. His supporters first and then Sajith, started negotiations with leaders of the UNF to form an alliance to contest the impending parliament election. Ranil tolerated indiscipline and waited for a strike. He simply stated at the parliamentary group meeting that the issue of a new leader would not come up till 2025. Sajiths’ supporters recommenced a meeting that was adjourned and elected him leader!
After a multitude of Thursday meetings, Ranil gave everything Sajith demanded except the leadership of the party and gave Sajith two weeks to accept it. In spite of initial reluctance, Sajith seems to be agreeable to this, showing that he still cannot effectively challenge Ranil. The worst of Sajith was shown when he absconded from the working committee meeting which decided all these crucial issues. How can someone who lacks the guts to fight for his corner, be the leader?
Sajith has amply demonstrated that he lacks leadership qualities. Ranil outmanoeuvres him, effectively, at every stage. The majority of UNP supporters still support Sajith as he, probably, is the better option. However, many are frustrated that problems which could have been solved and should have been solved by discussion, have been fought openly; both jumbos committing elephantine errors which has brought the party to disrepute. UNP is at its lowest ebb and can sink no further. Both leaders are jointly and separately responsible for this mess: Ranil for his intransigence and Sajith for acting with complete lack of maturity.
UNP needs a totally new leadership and the opportunity would, perhaps, arise after the next parliamentary election. If Sajith loses the next election, as expected, Ranil is bound say “Two strokes and you are out”. He may be granted his wish to look after leopards!
Ranil would be leader till 2025. Who will be next? Plenty of time for contenders to fight over and supporters to ponder, while Ranil looks back at a career of defeat but power!