by Srinath Fernando
The United National Party (UNP) is the single largest political party in Sri Lanka and has had the good fortune of maintaining this position since it was formed in 1946. The founder of UNP was D.S. Senanayake, who was at the forefront of securing independence for Ceylon.
The ideals he cherished were carried forward by the successive leaders of UNP up to incumbent Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. Never in the history of UNP has it ever played the racist card for narrow political gains and on the contrary it accommodates all shades of political opinion. It has deep-seated values in promoting harmony among all ethnic groups.
The UNP represents the entire gamut of cultural diversity in Sri Lanka. It must therefore secure its right position. It must guard against false propaganda and must effectively counter adverse media coverage. It must challenge the State media as the Constitution has given equal opportunities for all individuals and organisations. The State media is not a private property of any person.
The Constitutional right of the UNP, as a leading political party, must be upheld. The State media must be challenged through democratic process and UNP has all the legal luminaries in its camp. The absence of a strong opposition would pave the way for authoritarian tendencies and given the Constitutional powers and Parliamentary majority, any government would exploit the situation to its advantage. It therefore behooves on the UNP to assert its rightful place in the society.
Ranil Wickremesinghe has proven himself to be an astute leader who was able to fire the first salvo at the LTTE. The Karuna factor had a crippling effect on the LTTE, which resulted in it losing control over the entire Eastern Province. In military terms this was a devastating setback for the LTTE. The credit for that must go to Wickremesinghe. This factor has not been properly marketed.
He has the ability to steer the UNP to an electoral victory. He does not fall prey to emotions as he knows full well that demonstrating emotions in politics would produce nothing and he is patiently waiting for the right opportunity. He does not believe in short cut to wealth by stealing public money and has demonstrated absolute honesty and probity throughout his political career.
He stood for two presidential elections; if he had such a history it would have surfaced at these two elections. Never did we hear any corrupt deals of Wickremesinghe in his 40-year political career. This is a truly a remarkable feat as majority of the politicians are tainted with corrupt stories.
One can conveniently call him ‘Mr. Clean’. Has this been adequately marketed? Given the current atmosphere, a leader with honest, educated and credible credentials is the most wanted man to take the country out of an abyss into which it has fallen.
Wickremesinghe does not believe in violence; if he did he would have stayed around the Presidential Secretariat until former President CBK relinquished two Ministries and forcibly taken over. Wickremesinghe was with the protestors and supporters but went home.
A man with a violent motive would have stayed there to stir public sentiments and stormed the Bastille as there was a significant public opinion in favour of a putsch at that time. This would have ended in a blood bath. He knew the outcome of such a decision.
Wickremesinghe never switched his loyalty to the UNP and remained a UNPer ever since he joined the party. He has twice been the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. No other member of the UNP is as experienced and qualified to hold the post as Leader of the UNP as he is.
Late Dr. Anton Balasingham berated Wickremesinghe when he cast an international net over LTTE and this amply demonstrated when LTTE boycotted the Tokyo Summit. Anton Balasingham was on record calling him a “cunning fox,” whereas Wimal Weerawansa calls him a Don Juan Dharmapala. Two distinctly extreme views but runs counter to what Weerawansa was trying to project.
A close analysis of the entire peace process shows that it was an unpalatable exercise for LTTE and they were waiting for a moment to get away from the peace process. This is the reason why LTTE started hating Wickremesinghe and persuaded the northern Tamils to vote against him. Is Wickremesinghe a clever fox who outsmarted Prabhakaran? This is a lesson for all the politicians never to rely on one’s emotions in public life, but rather on the logic and rationale of taking action. Leaders must change their tactics as and when the circumstances change.
Political parties too should undergo transformations to face new challenges. In one way Wickremesinghe was a shrewd politician trying to secure a peace deal without committing troops on a war path. The fault lies in the manner in which the peace process was sustained. The Norwegians should have been extra careful in attending to LTTE demands. That was a grave mistake that should have been avoided. There were many sections from the then-Opposition (now in Government) claiming that they too should have been engaged in the peace process.
The political management of a party is crucial for electoral success. A political party must have a strong propaganda and media unit that should be able to mount a challenge to adverse media reports and must position the party to brace elections at any time. A party must have adequate funds to disburse in support of its political action plans.
A political party needs to mobilise significant resources for election and running expenses and requires large amount of money from individuals or business as well as from interest groups. When a party relies too heavily on interest groups, it falls into to the agendas of these groups thus diluting the values the party cherishes. It must also outsource expertise in additional to its internal committees of experts.
With the advent of electronic media, there have arisen new social marketing networks hitherto untapped in election campaigns. The UNP should be prepared to outsource consultants who measure public opinion, design television and web advertisements, target and identify likely voters, raise campaign funds, write blogs and maintain websites and research the records of candidates and opponents.
There has been a tremendous change in the way the media responds to party actions and a holistic approach is required to mount a media campaign. The UNP should hold district and national conventions. It is also important to mobilise professional organisations, academics, clergy, artistes and agrarian and peasant organisations, national and international branch networks.
Discipline among party cadres is equally important. Unfortunately, indiscipline in the UNP Executive Committee level has been demonstrated to the whole world, where the Deputy Leader’s remarks and actions had run counter to the policies and actions duly sanctioned by the Executive Committee.
The cold war needs to be ended before the election and all must make a collective effort to show that the UNP is still a formidable force. This would be a mammoth task in the face of the State media. If discipline is not maintained it would then trickle down to the other layers of the party structure and cause irreparable damage to an electoral victory.
Karu Jayasuriya has issued a statement reminding his colleagues in the opposition that they should shed all political differences and make this a starting point to win a free and fair election on behalf of the masses. Saner counsel seems to have prevailed at long last.
(The writer is a freelance journalist ,political lobbyist and govt-public relations consultant.)