“All government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter.”—Edmund Burke
The power struggle within the United National Party (UNP) between Ranil Wickremesinghe and the reformists, led by Karu Jayasuriya and Sajith Premadasa, seems to be heading to a disastrous finale with the announcement made on Friday, 20 July, 2012.
It was reported that the Working Committee of the UNP had decided to hold elections for its leader only once in six years, while the General Secretary, Treasurer and National Organizer of the Party would be appointed by the Leader.
This is in stark contrast to the existing mechanism by which the Leader, in addition to National Organizer and Deputy Leader, is elected each year.
Thus Ranil seems to be hell-bent on consolidating his position with the help of the Working Committee, the majority of who have been appointed by him, and virtually closing the door for Sajith and Karu for good.
At a time when there is widespread and massive dissatisfaction and disillusion in the country, regarding nepotism and neo-dictatorial powers exercised by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, when the general public and the free media are showing displeasure and are agitated by the undemocratic and unkind way they are being treated by the regime, when powerful government ministers are allegedly throwing their thugs and muscle power against the judiciary, and when all signs are indicating a potentially promising anti-regime trend in the mass voter-psyche, the UNP leadership’s preoccupation with shutting down the voices of its most popular politicians and those of their surrogates, appears to be a vulgar display of an attitude that is very selfish and uncaring at best, and damaging and disastrous in the long-run.
Foolhardy tactics and strategy
Furthermore, all these amendments to the UNP constitution, being launched on the eve of an election is foolhardy, purely from a point of view of tactics and strategy. It also signifies a total lack of disregard and a callous insult to the intelligence of the Party stalwarts, the majority of who hail from the general masses as opposed to the English-speaking Colombo elites. Even the Colombo elites, who are invariably identified with the principles and policies of the UNP, must be befuddled by this radical course the Party leadership is following.
Let us examine the players and their respective postures on this irritating issue. In the forefront on Ranil’s side, sit Joseph Michael Perera, John Amaratunga, Jayalath Jayewardene and Ravi Karunanayake. Joseph Michael is from the national list and consequently does not have any constituency to answer to. Jayalath and John, representing Negombo and Wattala electorates respectively, were elected from the Gampaha District and were placed 4th and 5th respectively out of a list of five elected from the UNP in the last Parliamentary Elections held in 2010. Ravi joined the UNP only in 2000 and as a result, had no history with the Grand Old Party. His close association with the late Lalith Athulathmudali brought him to limelight during the Democratic United National Front (DUNF) post-impeachment stage in 1993. He was placed number two in a list of nine UNP MPs, who were elected in the Colombo District, in addition to leaving his old constituency, Kotte, for the more assured UNP bastion of Colombo North.
Ravi Karunanayake polled 18% less than the one, who was returned first and barely one per-cent more than the third and fourth elected on the list. Moreover, all four of them — Joseph Michael, John Amaratunga, Jayalath Jayewardene and Ravi Karunanayake — ironically represent a strap of electorates starting from Colombo North to Negombo, one linking to the other, traditionally known as the Catholic belt of Sri Lanka. Around 70 % of our voters live outside this belt. However, even in the 1970 electoral debacle, the UNP managed to win Colombo North, Ja-ela and Negombo electorates, while the Wattala seat was lost only by about two thousand votes. But the results of the last General Elections, and the sweeping victory of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), show that the UNP has lost its base in the Catholic belt — a key minority group that helped the UNP ever since its inception.
Leaders among the Karu Jayasuriya and Sajith Premadasa group are MPs like Ranjith Madduma Bandara, Dayasiri Jayasekera, Buddika Pathirana and Ashok Abeysinghe. In the last Parliamentary Elections, Ranjith Madduma Bandara was placed number one in the Moneragala District, despite the fact that the UNP leader made the most bizarre appeal to his Party men, openly asking them not to cast any preferences for their own Party district leader. Yet, Ranjith Madduma Bandara secured more than 52% of the total UNP votes and was placed number one in the district. Dayasiri Jayasekera and Ashok Abeysinghe contested the Kurunegala District. Dayasiri was placed number one with 62% of the preferential votes, more than 30% over and above his closest competitor, and Ashok was placed number four among five MPs elected in the district. Buddika Pathirana’s feat was the most noteworthy, in that, as a total newcomer to politics, he beat Mangala Samaraweera, who was supposed to be the leader of the South, by obtaining nearly 69% of the total preferential count.
The contrast and disparity between the two groups of MPs on the frontlines of both factions is crystal-clear. A mere glance at the last Parliamentary Election results speaks volumes for the pros and cons of the two segments. Yet, when the chips are down and the lines are drawn, the worthiness of these statistics disappears into thin air. Ranil Wickremesinghe, even after losing one election after another, and losing more than 65 UNP MPs to the UPFA ranks over his tenure at the helm, wishes to stay in power, and for that he has the support of the Working Committee, majority of who were his personal appointments. That is one stark reality that the Karu-Sajith wing needs to realize.
UNP leadership struggle
Let us look at the chronological order of events ever since this leadership struggle began.
On 12 December 2010 — Long-awaited UNP sessions that were specially convened to ratify the new amendments to the constitution of the UNP held at Siri Kotha, at which event, the voice of the overwhelming majority of delegates were cheering Sajith Premadasa while both Ranil and Ravi Karunanayake, who was the then UNP organizer for Kotte, received audible boos.
On 23 March 2011— At the Working Committee meeting of the Party, Sajith withdraws from contesting Ranil due to pressure brought on by some senior UNPers.
On 4 May 2010 — Ranil Wickremesinghe appoints Ravi Karunanayake as National Organizer, in spite of the fact that Ranjith Madduma Bandara’s name was nominated at a previously convened Working Committee meeting.
On 12 May 2011 — Case filed by Maithree Gunaratne against Party on the appointment of Ravi Karunanayake as National Organizer.
On 28 July 2011 —The then Co-Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa declared at a news conference at Hotel Renuka, that he had asked Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya to take over the leadership of the UNP from that day.
On 21 August 2011 — Protest against UNP Working Committee at Colombo Municipality grounds and opposite the Opposition Leader’s office.
On 19 December 2011 — Elections were held for Party leadership and other posts. Ranil Wickremesinghe beat Karu Jayasuriya to be Party Leader; Daya Gamage beat Dayasiri Jayasekera for the post of National Organizer while Sajith Premadasa beat Ravi Karunanayake for the post of Deputy Leader of the Party.
On 19 December 2011— UNP supporters protested opposite Siri Kotha, creating havoc, and the UNP headquarters came under a barrage of stones and so forth and so on, consequent upon the declared election results.
More than a dozen UNP supporters, amongst, who were Maithree Gunaratne, Shiral Lakthilaka, Lal Perera and Ravi Jayewardene, were arrested subsequent to the riot that took place before Siri Kotha.
On1 May 2012 — UNP in association with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), organized a May Day Rally in Jaffna while the Karu-Sajith group summoned its supporters to Colombo for commemoration of R. Premadasa. The Jaffna crowd amounted to a mere 3,000-4,000 while the Premadasa Commemoration meeting boasted of more than 20,000 participants.
The two factions have painted themselves to two extreme corners, neither giving nor asking for any quarters. In the meantime, the government has declared that the coming two years are election season, thus making it almost impossible for the Karu-Sajith group to rebel against the Party for fear of being branded disloyal to its cause.
Middle ground compromise
Nevertheless, there is a middle ground that these two factions of the UNP can meet on for the greater good of greater numbers. Peace was made between Yasser Arafat and Israel. Anwar Sadat made a visit to the Israeli Parliament and then signed the Camp David Accord, backed by US President Carter; that was for a greater cause that transcended personal animosities and dislikes. Likewise, both these factions can and should meet on middle ground if their common cause is to rejuvenate the fallen Party and win at the next Presidential and Parliamentary Elections. However, this middle ground does not necessarily mean a compromise. Without compromising any fundamental principles, without sacrificing any basic policy element, the parties can make some headway for the sake of the millions of faithful party workers, who vote for the UNP year after year.
What is this middle ground? Can Ranil Wickremesinghe go back to the status of the Party as it existed prior to the UNP convention held in 2010 December? Can he restore all those who were victimized and grant a general amnesty? Can he bring Karu Jayasuriya and others, all of them barring none, back into the working Committee, from where they had been expelled? Can he reappoint all those, who were removed from the posts of Party Organizer?
On the other hand, can the Karu-Sajith group accept Ranil’s leadership? Can they refrain from criticizing the Party leadership at every turn? Can they put their mite behind the forthcoming Provincial Council Elections and make an attempt to increase their vote base at least by some percentage points, if they can’t win outright? What is at stake is more than their personal glory or their personal pride.
What is at stake is the very continuation of people’s freedom, freedom of expression, freedom of the press and hopes and expectations of millions of poor people — the very people who voted for this government expecting something much more than ‘Deyata Kirula’ and other tamashas.
Those expectations surpass mere slogans and encompass a fair deal in life, a better system of education for their children and freedom from fear of being abducted by ‘white vans’ and so forth and so on. The UNP as a total entity, not as a Ranil group and Karu-Sajith group, but as one single entity of political thought, is able to dream these dreams and the leaders of both wings owe it to the people of Sri Lanka, because they still constitute the foremost single political party in the country. Can both factions agree to and then implement a genuine ceasefire agreement?
In the early seventies, when there was a serious rift between Dudley Senanayake and J.R. Jayewardene, there was a man by the name of Paris Perera who rose to the occasion by bringing the two factions together. Dudley and JR met and made peace with each other at his residence and none of their respective followers were victimized. On the contrary, they all were accommodated. Is there a Paris Perera today? The writer thinks there is. Either Dr. Karunasena Kodituwakku or Kabir Hashim would fit the billet. But they need to summon courage to tell it to Ranil and Karu and Sajith and force their hands. This, in the words of Jawaharlal Nehru, is their summons to greatness.
For, they will help shape history by facilitating a true middle-ground, which one might call a compromise, and just what the country needs at this juncture.
The need for such a compromise becomes starker when the consequences of a failure to do so are taken into account. If no effort is made to unify the Party now and invigorate it politically, at a time when the government is unleashing what it terms as a two-year ‘Election Season,’ it will definitely turn out to be fatal for the Party.
A factionalized UNP going into this season of elections will soon pass the point of no return and the beginning of the end of the great UNP will start in earnest. And history will not be kind to those leaders of the UNP, whatever the factions they belonged to, who would bring the Grand Old Party to such a pass. courtesy: Ceylon Today