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Who killed the UNP?

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By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

‘RIP, UNP’? When I wrote a piece, under this title, way back in 2013, I was sincerely hoping it would never happen, perhaps, because there was still a trace of UNP DNA running through my veins. After all, my father was the first UNP MP for Matara albeit for only 33 days, elected in March 1960 to the shortest-lived Parliament of Sri Lanka. In fact, the full title of my article was “RIP, UNP? Hope not!” (The Island, 25 November 2013) which I concluded with the following plea:

“A vibrant Opposition is one of the corner stones of Democracy and is badly needed at this juncture, in Sri Lanka. There is no viable alternative to the UNP on the horizon. Hence my plea to all the big-wigs of the UNP. Please forget your petty differences and spend your energies on building the party than fighting each other. There is enough young talent in the party that needs to be nurtured than suppressed! Even if not for the party, you owe it to the country. Rather than RIP, may long live UNP!”

Although the infighting, I referred to was settled temporarily, the UNP was able to come to power in 2015, only though manipulations. Ranil did not want to contest the presidential election, nor did he want Sajith to do so. Instead, he hatched a plot with those with an inborn hatred of Mahinda, and persuaded Maithri to contest against his own boss, Mahinda. The morning after a hopper-dinner with Mahinda, Maithri announced his challenge as ‘the joint candidate’. No doubt external forces were behind these manipulations, as evidenced by US financial reports exposed later. Maithri was ridiculed but contrary to all expectations, he won.

Even in defeat, Mahinda demonstrated his political acumen by handing over the leadership of the SLFP to Maithri but the majority of the SLFP parliamentarians refused to support the Yahapalana government and were forced to function as an ‘orphan’ group. Meanwhile, Yahapalanaya transformed itself to a national government to facilitate a mega-cabinet! It did not take long for Yahapalanaya to be unpopular and to prevent the presentation of the COPE report which confirmed the first Central Bank Bond Scam, too, Parliament was dissolved by Maithri, at the request of Ranil. As the day of the August 2015 election approached, there were signs of an early Mahinda resurgence. To counter this, Maithri declared, openly and repeatedly, that even if the Mahinda faction wins the election, he would not appoint him Prime Minister which enabled a UNP victory. The very same Maithri is now ‘begging’ a portfolio under Mahinda! Perhaps, the hallmark of a successful politician is to be born without the gene for shame!!

Shortly before the presidential election, in November 2019, Ranil agreed, reluctantly, to allow Sajith to contest and must have savoured his bad defeat. Though Sajith withdrew from the lime-light, after this catastrophe, a group led by Mangala, encouraged him to leave the UNP. The continuing battle for the symbol led to Sajith buying a new party and forming SJB. The in-fighting between the UNP and the SJB made the recently concluded election a bit of a farce, as it was a battle for Sirikotha than for government.

The August 2020 election will go down in the annals of history as the most significant election in living memory for many reasons. It was very successfully conducted, during a pandemic raging around the world, and was one of the most peaceful as well. It shocked the winner Pohottuwa, too, as the result far exceeded their expectations. With the support of some allies, they got the two-thirds majority, considered nigh impossible with the proportional system of elections in operation at the moment. Though the total poll was 7% less than in the presidential election, the SLPP polled almost the same number of votes (6.9 million) and won some of the electorates it did not win in the presidential election.

Although it can claim success having won 47 seats as an ‘infant’ party, the SJB success was limited as it could win only one electoral district and polled much less than in the presidential election, getting 2,771,984 whereas Sajith polled 5,564,239 votes in the presidential election. What happened to almost three million votes?

The ignominious defeat the oldest major political party in Sri Lanka, the UNP was the biggest shock this election produced. No political commentator ever predicted this kind catastrophe and even whilst the results were being announced there were unofficial results circulating that Ranil and Ravi duo had won comfortably in the Colombo district. Ranil, who created a record by getting 500,566 preferential votes in the 2015 election, did not get enough votes to get elected. Mahinda broke his record by getting 527,364 preferential votes from Kurunegala, a much smaller district at that.

The final result showed the dismal performance of the UNP which polled less than 250,000 votes island-wide. In its fortress, Colombo, it got only 30,875 votes! The party that got a five-sixth majority, in 1977 under the uncle, has to contend with a single national list seat under the nephew. What ignominy!

There is no doubt whatsoever that Ranil is the giant-killer of the UNP but Sajith, too, should take responsibility for destroying his father’s party. He has done better than his father who tried to divide but gave up. Though the battle-cry during the election was taking over Sirikotha, Sajith seems to have lost interest, though some of his supporters are still keen. In a way this is understandable. Why should he take over a ramshackle outfit when he can build on his own invention? Though he can take a cue from the SLPP, which stands tall in under three years, one wonders whether Sajith has the capabilities of Basil.

Ranil is not the giving-up type and his acolytes have already announced that the UNP would be revamped! Can the UNP rise like a phoenix from the ashes? Though not humiliated in this manner, the UNP has risen from eight seats and nine seats to the seat of power, twice in the past. It is very likely that the staunch UNP supporters resorted to tactical voting, backing Sajith, as a divided vote would have been a greater disaster, and the million-dollar question is whether they would remain with Sajith or return. Perhaps, everything depends on how Sajith performs. If he does well and Rajapaksas fail, he could be the next president! What about the missing three million? Would the revamped UNP be able to get them? We cannot forget Maithri as his behaviour, too, contributed to the demise of the UNP. He is a ‘double-murderer’ as he has almost killed the SLFP as well.

Perhaps, it is Yahapalanaya, that ill-conceived marriage, which ultimately killed the UNP!

 



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Features

Mindset changes and the dangerous ‘Religious War’ rhetoric

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Israeli border police on patrol at the Damascus Gate in occupied East Jerusalem (Pic courtesy Al Jazeera)

Nothing could be more vital at present in the conflict and war zones of the world than positive mindset changes and the wish of the humanist is likely to be that such momentous developments would quickly come to pass in particularly the Middle East. Because in the latter theatre almost every passing hour surfaces problems that call for more than average peace-making capabilities for their resolution.

For instance, the Islamic Supreme Fatwa Council in Palestine has reportedly warned of a ‘Religious War’ in the wake of recent allegations that Israel is planning to prevent the Muslim community from having access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem in the month of Ramadan. If true, this development is likely to further compound the Gaza violence and take it along an even more treacherous track. This is on account of the fact that religious passions, if not managed effectively, could prove most volatile and destructive.

As pointed out in this column previously, peace movements on both sides of the main divide in the region would need to quickly activate themselves, link-up and work as one towards the de-escalation of the conflict. What the Middle East and the world’s other war zones urgently need are persons and groups who are endowed with a pro-peace mind set who could work towards an elimination of the destructive attitudes that are instrumental in keeping the conflicts concerned raging.

This could prove an uphill task in the Middle East in particular. For, every passing minute in the region is seeing a hardening of attitudes on both sides in the wake of issues growing out of the violence. Accordingly, if peace-making is to be contemplated by the more moderate sections in the conflict, first, we need to see a lull in the violence. Achieving such a de-escalation in the violence has emerged as a foremost need for the region.

Right now, the Israeli state is showing no signs of climbing down from its position of seeing a decisive end to the Hamas militants and their support bases and going forward this policy stance could get in the way of de-escalating the violence even to a degree.

On the other hand, it would not be realistic on the part of the world community to expect a mindset change among Israeli government quarters and their supporters unless and until the security of the Israeli state is ensured on a permanent basis. Ideally, the world should be united on the position that Israel’s security is non-negotiable; this could be considered a veritable cornerstone of Middle East peace.

Interestingly, the Sri Lankan state seems to have come round to the above view on a Middle East peace settlement. Prior to the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime taking this stance, this columnist called repeatedly over the past few months in this commentary, in fact since October 7th last year, for the adoption of such a policy. That is, a peace settlement that accords priority to also the security needs of the Israelis. It was indicated that ensuring the security and stability of the Palestinians only would fall short of a comprehensive settlement of the Middle East imbroglio.

However, in the case of the Ranil Wickremesinghe regime, the above change in policy seems to be dictated almost wholly by economic survival considerations rather than by any well thought out principle or a sense of fairness to all relevant stakeholders.

For example, close on the heels of the regime playing host to the Israeli Transport Minister recently, it accorded a reverential welcome to the Iranian Foreign Minister as well. From the viewpoint of a small country struggling to survive, this is the way to go, since it needs every morsel of economic assistance and succour.

However, if permanent peace is to have a chance in the Middle East it would need to be based on the principle of justice to all the main parties to the conflict. Seen from this point of view, justice and fairness should be accorded to the Palestinians as well as the Israelis. Both parties, that is, should live within stable states.

The immediate need, though, is to at least bring a lull to the fighting. This will enable the Palestinian population in the Gaza to access humanitarian assistance and other essential needs. Besides, it could have the all-important effect of tempering hostile attitudes on both sides of the divide.

The US is currently calling for a ‘temporary ceasefire’ to the conflict, but the challenge before Washington is to get the Israeli side to agree to it. If the Israeli Prime Minister’s recent pronouncements are anything to go by, the US proposal is unlikely to make any impression on Tel Aviv. In other words, the Israeli Right is remaining an obstacle to a ceasefire or even some form of temporary relief for the affected populations, leave alone a political solution. However, changing their government is entirely a matter for the Israeli people.

Accordingly, if a stable peace is to be arrived at, hostile, dogmatic attitudes on both sides may need to be eased out permanently. Ideally, both sides should see themselves as having a common future in a peacefully shared territory.

Peace groups and moderate opinion should be at centre stage on both sides of the divide in the region for the facilitation of such envisaged positive changes. The UN and democratic opinion worldwide should take it upon themselves to raise awareness among both communities on the need for a political solution. They should consider it incumbent upon themselves to work proactively with peace groups in the region.

The world is a vast distance from the stage when both parties to the conflict could even toy with the idea of reconciliation. Because reconciliation anywhere requires the relevant antagonists to begin by saying, ‘I am sorry for harming you.’ This is unthinkable currently, considering the enmity and acrimony that have built up over the years among the volatile sections of both communities.

However, relevant UN agencies and global democratic opinion could begin by convincing the warring sections that unless they cooperate and coexist, mutual annihilation could be their lot. Mindset changes of this kind are the only guarantors of lasting peace and mindset changes need to be worked on untiringly.

As this is being written, the ICJ is hearing representations from numerous countries on the Middle East situation. The opinions aired thus far are lopsided in that they do not present the Israeli viewpoint on the conflict. If a fair solution is to be arrived at to the conflict Israel’s concerns too would need to be taken into account expeditiously.

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Dubai scene brightening up for SL fashion designers

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Sri Lankans are lighting up the scene in Dubai, not only as musicians, but in other fields, as well.

At the recently held Ceylon Food Festival, in Dubai, a fashion show was held, with Sri Lankan designers doing the needful.

The fashion show highlighted the creations of Pubudu Jayasinghe, Tehani Rukshika and Peshala Rasanganee Wickramasuriya, in three different segments, with each designer assigned 10 models.

The fashion show was choreographed by Shashi Kaluarachchi, who won the Miss Supermodel Globe International 2020, held in India, and was 1st runner-up at the Mr., Miss and Mrs. Sri Lanka, in Dubai.

Shashi says she was trained by Brian Karkoven and his know-how gave her a good start to her modelling career.

She has done many fashions shows in Sri Lanka, as well as in Dubai, and has worked with many pioneers in the fashion designing field.

The designers involved in the fashion show, in Dubai, were:

Pubudu Jayasinghe,

a 22-year-old creative and skilled makeup artist and nail technician. With a wealth of experience gained from working in various salons and participating in makeup and fashion projects in both Dubai and Sri Lanka, he has honed his talents in the beauty industry. Passionate about fashion, Pubudu has also acquired knowledge and experience in fashion designing, modelling, and choreography, showcasing his multifaceted expertise in the dynamic world of fashion.

Tehani Rukshika,

who studied at St Joseph’s Girls School, Nugegoda, says she went to Dubai, where her mom works, and joined the Westford University in fashion designing faculty for her Masters. Her very first fashion show was a Sri Lankan cultural event, called ‘Batik’. “This was my first event, and a special one, too, as my mom was modelling an Arabic Batik dress.”

Shashi Kaluarachchi

Peshala Rasanganee Wickramasuriya

has been living in Dubai for the past 21 years and has a batik shop in Dubai, called 20Step.

According to Shashi, who is on vacation in Sri Lanka, at the moment, there will be more Sri Lankan fashion shows in Dubai, highlighting the creations of Sri Lankan designers.

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Features

A mask of DATES…

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Yes, another one of my favourites…dates, and they are freely available here, so you don’t need to go searching for this item. And they are reasonably priced, too.

Okay, readers, let’s do it…with dates, of course – making a mask that will leave your skin feeling refreshed, and glowing

To make this mask, you will need 03-04 dates, and 02 tablespoons of milk.

Remove the seeds and soak the dates, in warm milk, for about 20 minutes. This method will soften the dates and make them easier to blend.

After the 20 minutes is up, put the dates in a blender and blend until you have a smooth paste. Check to make sure there are no lumps, or chunks, left.

Add the 02 tablespoons of milk to the blended date paste and mix well.

Okay, now gently apply this mixture to your face, avoiding the eye area. Use your fingertips, or a clean brush, to evenly distribute the mask all over your face.

Once the mask is applied, find a comfortable place to sit, or lie down. Relax for about 15-20 minutes, allowing the mask to work its magic on your skin.

After the mentioned time has passed, rinse off the mask with lukewarm water. Gently massage your face while rinsing to exfoliate any dead skin cells.

After rinsing off the mask, pat dry your face with a soft towel, and then follow up with your favourite moisturizer to lock in the hydration and keep your skin moisturized.

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