“The first panacea for a mismanaged nation is inflation of the currency; the second is war. Both bring a temporary prosperity; both bring a permanent ruin. But both are the refuge of political and economic opportunists.” ~Ernest Hemingway
This missive or column, whatever you may call it, is intended for all those who claim to represent the broad masses of the land: Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher and all others. In a context of political parties, it is directed at the United National Party (UNP), Democratic Party (DM), Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), Sri Lanka Freedom Party (CBK wing), Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and any other political entity identified with resistance to ‘Familiocracy’, nepotism, corruption, racism, religious disharmony, financial bungling, wasteful State-sponsored carnivals, economic amateurism, ill-planned infrastructure building and all other anti-societal mechanisms and election gimmickry and to their leaders who are at present embroiled in a distressing dilemma as to how to displace the current governing coalition led by the Rajapaksas.
In short, they have two major concerns:
1. what is the common platform that all of them can get on?
2. Who is the ‘best’ candidate who can deliver the election on that common platform? The more you ponder, the more distressing it gets as the leading parliamentary Opposition has failed, over a period of twenty years from 1994 to 2014, to wrest the national agenda from the Government.
So long as the control of the national conversation stays with the Government, the Opposition’s role becomes exclusively one of reactive response as opposed to proactive; instead of dictating the flow of events of national significance, the Opposition becomes a virtual prisoner of the one who controls that flow of events, losing the political initiative which is vital and crucial in the process of recruitment of new members to their ranks. People do not get attracted to an alternative political agenda by random; they do not join new political trends without thinking twice or weighing advantages over disadvantages.
People do not back a political party for the sake of the country or patriotism nor do they leave a political party because they find that party corrupt or wasteful. Although negative campaigning in politics always works, that negative campaign must always carry an underlying positive agenda, an agenda which should effectively portray something very helpful and supportive to the voter and it should be communicated in the right lingo and with the necessary coating. This is what, not only the United National Party and its leader but also the rest of the Opposition, have failed to realize in earnest.
Winning an election cannot be executed in a matter of weeks or even months. The essential preparatory work that needs to be conceptualized, planned and undertaken is enormous and could be wide-ranging. It could also be extremely hard at the beginning, in the middle and at the end. There is no rest for crusaders who embark on ‘change’. History has shown us time and time again, from the ancient Roman times in the West and the Maurya Empire of Chandragupta and Chanakya in the East, that change of regime does not just happen. ‘Change’ essentially resides at the end of a long and demanding journey, a journey that takes the warriors through valleys and peaks, minor victories and dreadful defeats and tears and sweat and even blood. That character of a struggle for power is defined and shaped by its leaders; its core message needs to be identified with the leader/s themselves.
A glaring example of such a massive campaign was the political campaign initiated and masterfully executed by the current US President Barak Obama in 2008 against the juggernaut called the Republican Party. When Obama offered ‘Change’, people identified the concept of change with Obama. In other words, in a very literal sense, Obama became the change that the people expected. The message and the messenger became one and the same! Now the question is: Is there a leader among those on the field today who could be identified as the “Change”?
The contrast between the Opposition that was led by J R Jayewardene in the Nineteen Seventies against such a formidable and populist political leader like Sirimavo Bandaranaike and the present UNP and other Opposition parties is as stark as the glistening stars on a clear night. The work carried out by the then UNP, ranged from Satyagrahas to 100 meetings in one day all over the Island, keeping the diehard UNP supporters on full alert on a 24/7 basis, structuring the Party so that each Grama Niladhari division had a Party branch, Youth Branch and a Women’s League, feeding the supporters on a consistent and constant basis on the activities, educating the cadre on policies and programs of the Party, organizing workshops, seminars and regional conferences regularly and unleashing the best Party speakers such as Premadasa, Gamin Dissanayake Lalith Athulathmudali, Ronnie de Mel, A C S Hameed, K W Devanayagam and Nissanka Wijeratne all over the countryside on a very regular and consistent basis.
Nothing of that sort is being done now. No speakers of extraordinary quality are available today with the UNP. Not a single one who could be compared with those mentioned above, either in the quality and style of speech or the content and substance of speeches is available. Only speakers in the Opposition today who command the respect of the public and the only ones the people would trek dozens of miles to listen to are Anura Kumara Dissanayake, the leader of the JVP and General Sarath Fonseka, the leader of the Democratic Party, for one common reason: ‘Fearlessness’ in attacking the Rajapaksa regime unreservedly. (Karu Jayasuriya too could come close to the other two in this)
Now we come to the crux of the issue. Can all these diverse individuals come to an agreement, firstly on a common political platform and secondly, on one single candidate who would pose the best challenge to the incumbent Rajapaksa. Whatever they could disagree on, they must also realize that if they are really eager and keen to defeat the Rajapaksas then that can be achieved on the election front only by fielding one single candidate on one single issue platform. The sooner they realize it, the better for them and it would be infinitely better for the country.
The Rajapaksas are beatable but that does not mean that it could be accomplished without any labor.
Only potential candidates who have openly declared their objection to and condemnation of the Executive Presidency are General Sarath Fonseka, Anura Kumara Dissanayake and Karu Jayasuriya. True, both Ranil Wickremesinghe and Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaranatunge too have made the same declaration but their word is not likely to be taken seriously by the local voter. They are not trusted by the voter as both have gone back on their word, time and time again.
Venerable Sobhitha is untested material. But in writer’s view he has the most credible credentials as far as trustworthiness is concerned; he also has a readymade electoral organizational structure given that at least one temple in each and every village in Sri Lanka would support him. But persuading other lay political leaders to back a Buddhist Monk for the Presidential Elections would be a more difficult task than one would envisage.
Karu Jayasuriya stands as the most acceptable candidate not because he stands as an excellent choice but because the gallery of candidates and platforms from which the candidate has to campaign from, seem far too restrictive of one’s choices. It is quite apparent that not only the government-backed propaganda machines are trying to vilify Karu as a mediocre candidate but the utterly despicable campaign run by another private media group too is trying to paint a totally distorted picture of Karu J and portray him as a person that he is not. Well that is politics.
Ones who have taken politics personally would not matter in this great enterprise called politics. Such short-sighted charlatans would fall by the wayside when a well-oiled campaign starts generating vibes that only a politically-savvy person could relate to. Karu Jayasuriya’s greatest advantage is that he stands alone as the candidate trusted by the majority Sinhalese Buddhists while at the same time has no squabble with the minority parties. Winning the minorities without antagonizing the majority is a plus in this forthcoming Presidential Elections.
So, all these leaders must get inside a room, argue, quarrel and even exchange fisticuffs, but don’t come out until you decide who the common candidate should be and what the common platform is. No option is available, other than to perish one by one or as a group!