What is wrong with the UNP?


By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

A crucial presidential election is just around the corner and the two leading candidates are blundering along. It is crucial because it will set the direction the country would travel. No matter who wins, it will be a different direction as even the candidate representing the governing party makes statements that give the distinct impression that he is determined to change direction. In fact, a cynic may say that he, too, is an opposition candidate! Further, in spite of the claims by those who introduced 19A, a President with reduced powers will be able to guide direction, even if he is not able to hold portfolios. After all, he is empowered by the mandate of the people unlike the prime minister, who gets his mandate from the party or Parliament.

If we are electing a powerless president, can the colossal expenditure of this venture, which could then be interpreted as an exercise in futility, be justified? Haven’t the framers of 19A blundered very badly? Whatever they intended, as the choice is between two very strong personalities, it is very likely that whoever wins the election, will emerge a strong president unless, of course, Parliament is dominated by the Opposition.

Talking to many UNP supporters, one gets the impression that they are confused, for good reasons. Quite a lot have waning enthusiasm. Sajith’s superiority in oratory would have been the biggest challenge to Gota but, unfortunately, though fortunately for Gota, Sajith seems to have made a mess of it. By using words and phrases, without the proper understanding of the nuances, he makes life difficult for his supporters.

What on earth was Sajith thinking when he proudly declared that the only complex he has is ‘superiority complex’! At a recent meeting he said that the plan for transforming Sri Lanka is drawn in his mind and he has the knowledge, expertise and ability deliver it on his own, a claim that could be interpreted as a mere boast, as over the last four and half years, all he has done is nothing but continuing the village-awakening programme of his father!

There was a time when it looked as if the UNP would split and Sajith would contest as a candidate who had shelved the baggage of yahapalanaya but, of course, with added disadvantages too. Ranil took the conflict to the brink and relented at the eleventh hour, allowing Sajith to run as the UNP candidate. It looked as if peace had dawned on the Grand Old Party, at least on the surface. However, now it looks as if the cracks were widening again and Ranil had bowed to the inevitable, which is not too bad for him. If worse comes to the worst, he will be the leader of the opposition!

With a crucial presidential election around the corner, the decision by the Cabinet to approve the controversial Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact took many by surprise. Was it Ranil’s parting gift to his friend and supporter, the US?

Malinda Seneviratne asks a very pertinent question: "The MCC: Did the ‘going devil’ break the crock (koraha)?" (Daily Mirror. 31 October), playing on the Sinhala saying "Yana Yaka koraha bindagena yanawa wagey".

Sajith keeps on shouting, till his voice is hoarse and his batteries are partially discharged, that he will not sign any agreement which has the potential to harm the country and according to many, including some authoritative sources, MCC is one of these. Interestingly, the US Embassy has issued a statement that once the MCC is signed it could be discussed in Parliament! Is this the way US-inspired democracy works? Was Sajith not present at the Cabinet meeting at issue? If he was present, was he in agreement? Even if there is an iota of doubt, would it not have been sensible for him to suggest that a decision should be withheld till after the presidential election? The question is whether voters can take his promises seriously.

Even among the hard core UNPers, there is a minority, perhaps a significant one at that, of ‘Ranil Haters’. Not surprising when you consider that the long period, which may feel like eternity to some, Ranil held the helm of UNP, has been characterised by failure after failure.

They are waiting with glee, for Sajith to get rid of Ranil. I had to remind one UNP supporter who was angered by Ranil’s declaration that he would be the Prime Minister if Sajith was elected President, that would be the status quo.

It is a pity that these UNP supporters did not pay close attention, at least as much as I did, to the proceedings of the UNP conference where Sajith’s candidature was unanimously endorsed. That was the first resolution passed and the second was that Rani would be PM. There were three more.

Sajith now claims that he has placed his signature only for the appointment of FM Sarath Fonseka and all other appointments, including that of the PM will be decided later. Was Sajith so dishonest as to allow a motion to be passed which he did not intend to honour? Will the torrent of promises Sajith makes meet the same fate?

Not so long ago, on 2nd September to be precise, during his interview on Derana TV (360 with Sarath Fonseka - FM Fonseka tore Sajith to pieces, exposing his unrealistic promises like visiting every village in the country, visiting every Rana Viruvo individually but, worse still, making an allegation that Sajith is misusing the Cultural Trust Fund. But Hey Ho! After Sajth’s declaration that he would be handed over the reins of Security, Law & Order, FM Fonseka has joined the ‘Sajith Admiration Club’ and is on top-gear to make Sajith president. Had I been managing Gota’s campaign, I would have advised him to go to his giant rallies, play this interview on a giant screen and leave after a brief address. But, then, Gota promised not to attack his opponent, a promise which he seems to have kept so far, leaving that to his minions!

Sajith, obviously, has to show that he takes security seriously and had to get FM Fonseka on board but trying to make it a virtue is hypocrisy. However, when asked who the PM will be, he remains silent and gets his minions to say that this is not a general election.

Ranil has caused quite a stir by declaring that he will continue to be the PM and critics are bound to say that, in spite of Sajith’s rhetoric, it will be more of the same. More so, because 19A has made the PM even more powerful. What are the options for Sajith? Confirm Ranil would be PM or announce that no decision has been made and that in effect will mean that Ranil won’t be the PM. He opted for the latter and the question arises whether he can defy the resolution passed at the party’s national convention?

The UNP messed up with the nomination, taking too much of time due to internal squabbling. Not having learned a lesson, they messed up with the manifesto, as well. Whereas Gota has been going around the country with a manifesto prepared after extensive consultation for weeks, the UNP could present it only after some government servants had cast postal votes.

Perhaps, Sajith may now be regretting for not having broken off from the archaic shackles of the UNP!

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