21 October, 2021


A New Centrist Alternative: Response To Vishnuguptha

By Dayan Jayatilleka –

Dr Dayan Jayatilleka

With the atrophy of intellectual activism and the dying out of an activist intelligentsia in Sri Lanka, it is not to be expected that anyone would engage intelligently and at length with what one writes. I am therefore thankful that Vishnuguptha has done so.  I am all the more appreciative because I have been a regular reader of the column since it made its appearance on the website Lanka Standard and then in pages of Ceylon Today. I find it knowledgeable, thoughtful, passionately argumentative and unafraid to confront that which most columnists prefer to avoid: the chronic crisis of the UNP.

Let me respond in the same constructive spirit as he has and take it further in search of a solution. What are we discussing? It is either the reconstruction and renovation of the UNP to return it to electoral viability, for which a new leadership is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition, or the launch of a new Centrist project and formation.

To my mind a viable UNP or a politically serious spin-off must position itself between and therefore define itself against both the minoritarian deviation of Ranil Wickremesinghe as well as the earlier majoritarian deviation of DB Wijetunga whose “tree and creepers” perspective gave the minorities the creeps and lost the UNP some of its traditional support, enabling Chandrika Kumaratunga to pick up the slack with ease.

This, however, is not enough. A renovated UNP or a new-born Centrist formation must also pick up on the dormant disaffection in the SLFP caused by (a) the imposition of a glass ceiling beyond which a non-member of the ruling family may not proceed or realistically aspire to and (b) the neoconservative reversal of the modernisation of SLFP consciousness by Chandrika Kumaratunga. This decidedly does not mean a restoration of Chandrika-ism.  What it does mean is an admixture of Mahinda’s tough-mindedness on sovereignty and security and Chandrika’s successful introduction of multiethnic pluralism into the SLFP.

Both these moves, not just the one, are imperative to retrieve the lost appeal and votes of the UNP, while attracting votes that have shifted to the SLFP under Ranil’s leadership of the UNP and Mahinda’s of the SLFP. These twin moves are also necessary to win over the young/new votes.

I strongly disagree with Vishnuguptha though, that a new centrist formation should not seek to contest a presidential election and should only enter a parliamentary one. In politics in general and in Sri Lanka in particular, no electoral opportunity or space should go uncontested. If one’s critique is of Ranil’s leadership rather than the UNP as a party, it is illogical not to contest the Presidential election while entering the parliamentary one. The presidential election also affords unmatched chances for heightening the profile of one’s project and getting one’s message across to the people. No party which ducks the high profile presidential contest and limits itself to the low profile, lower stakes parliamentary one, will or can be taken seriously.

What kind of Presidential candidate is needed? The incumbent regime’s very considerable legitimacy derives primarily but not solely from victory in war, but also from renewing the strength of the state and the status of the majority Sinhalese, both of which had been seriously diminished during the erosion of the state’s authority at the hands of the Tigers and external forces (e.g. Norway) during the Ranil-Chandrika years.

Therefore, no one who was and remains identified with that dark dismal age can be a serious contender. A viable candidate must be who fits one of three criteria: participation in the nation’s successful resistance to and fight-back against the LTTE; support for that resistance; or at the least non-opposition to the war. Credentials on this single issue will not suffice and has to be combined with a proven commitment to an open democracy and a fairer society. The centrist project that we speak of must be a progressive centrism on socioeconomic issues fused with a liberal, moderate nationalism.

What are the prospects of such a new centrist project? A brand new centrist party, outspoken on socioeconomic equity issues, broke through and carved out a significant space in the recently held Israeli elections, confounding the pundits who thought that the electorate had shifted so massively to the religious Right that Netanyahu’s coalition would sweep the polls. In the event he won narrowly.

As for the prospects of a progressive centrist Presidential candidate, he or she may not win the first time out, but then again, the man proclaimed by Barack Obama to be the most popular politician on the planet and by TIME magazine as “the most successful politician of his time”, Brazil’s Lula, contested the Presidential election three times, scoring an improvement in his vote and even losing narrowly, before he finally won.  As for the ‘who’ of it, there are several new politicians who are sounding good. If not, surely 20 million Sri Lankans, or let’s be frank, 15 million Sinhalese, can surely provide one.

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Latest comments

  • 0

    Since presidential elections are due in 2016, much can happen over the next few years. ‘Project president’ is a long way to go and things can change in the duration. RW has become a pain not only for the populace but for most UNP supporters as he still hogs center stage and stifles his party into defeat. His very appearance or mention draws a negative reaction from people. So it is unlikely that he will be a president as he loudly proclaims.

    Meantime it will be a long debilating confilct on the economic and political fronts. JVP and DUNF will gain ground and grass roots support. People will turn to other minority and ethnic parties for solace. Ruling UPFA will continue with reduced support base but no benefit for the country or people. Final outcome will be a hung parliment and a minority president.

  • 0

    Dayan Jayatilleke’s euphemisms know no limit. His most recent, for violence of the most blatant kind and the suppression of every democratic right of Sri Lankans by his mentor appears to be, “Mahinda’s tough-mindedness on sovereignty and security.”
    Is this academic truly without an ethical bone in his body?
    If this comment sounds “personally pejorative,” no apologies are necessary to a man who, by his consistent conduct, has proven to be one of the most unprincipled of the MARA backers to whom the hell that ordinary Sri Lankans are subjected to is some kind of game.

  • 0


    As usual Dayan is very good in Idealist proposals.Let us face it.What Ranil will do eventually is pass the Batton to the Elite( may be Ruwan Wijewardhana) and Sajith will be the second Prema(DASA) who shouts in front of the ‘hoi poloi’
    Unless some MIRACLE happens all elections will be rigged.Remember the signs of the CJ impeachment? The THugs and Hooligans calling shots while police providing security to the thugs.
    Now Extrapoalte this to the election day, I can imagine the incumbent Elections Commissioner will have another round of apologetic statements in a post election speach and MARA will be the Ruler for next term.
    Come General elections it will be even worse and MARA again!!!
    Provincial and PS elections you guess! ;-)
    So why don’t we ( also Dr. Dayan) talk about alternative methods of chasing the corrupt regime!!
    As he is very good in revolutionary, reactionary politics perhaps he can concoct some cocktail (tale).
    Why not just one for the road rather than talking about things that will never going to happen.!!!
    I am sure 2013 ( at the end of it) most Die Hard Mahinda fans will also get a reality check on the ‘Wonder of Asia’
    But the million $ question is what to do about it now.
    they all have created the ‘FANKENSTINE MONSTER’!!!


  • 0

    Dayan’s inability to think for out of the Box solutions is clearly revealed in this response.

    Do you want the opposition to play the games according to the agenda set by the President? Then you will get into his trap again.

    Both the Presidential elections won by Mahinda Rajapakse were not legitimate.

    In the first instance LTTE ensured his victory.

    In the second instance the contestant was Gen Sarath Fonseka who of course nullified the advantages of Mahinda being one among the three who could claim credit for war victory and his victory was stolen.

    When full government machinery is used for a fraudulent election the victory for Mahindra Rajapakse is assured.

    These are all the result of JR Jayawardene’s most cunning 1978 Constitution.

    Ranil is not the alternative to Mahinda.

    The opposition should concentrate more on issues and strategies rather than on personalities.

    It is true that Ranil is not the future leader, It is so obvious? But why harbor such thoughts always?

    The opposition should adopt Mao’s strategy! Not to confront the enemy on his strongest link, but to attack at their weakest.

    The first priority is a new constitution formulated under a new leadership Rather than depending on a flawed future election, it is necessary to mobilize the opposition for a mass movement for participatory democracy, good governance, rule of law, human rights and economic prosperity which should split the government in the middle and the government simply collapses under this relentless onslaught of the opposition and ultimately a new leadership emerges from the 15 Million Sinhalese!

  • 0

    Dear Dr Dayan

    I have followed your earlier article as well as Vishwaguptha’s response. I agree with most of what you say in both of these articles ( Vishwaguptha is btw not very accurate when he says Premadasa was highly popular when Lalith/Gamini challenged him, In fact Mr.Premadasa was becoming unpopular due to the ruthless crackdown of JVP and the perceived tilt towards authoritarianism as well as regime fatigue )
    But in your rejoinder above I believe you hint at someone like Mr. Sajith Premadasa , as he , at least going by the stated political stance , fits your description of the prospective leader nicely.
    Apart from that I cannot think of someone like Gen.Fonseka as Vishwagupta obviously has in his mind for obvious reasons.
    However 3 years is a long time in Politics ..there might still be time for another leader , a dark horse to emerge

  • 0

    New Project proposal by Dayan Jayatilake of center orinted political party.No class basis,represtent by all elities,good for Paris Culb in France.

  • 0

    The UNP policy of Ranil Wickransinghe is ‘What is good for United National Party (UNP)is good for the country.’ That is theame of UNP policy since Under-JRJ.
    But we need see deeper reality that what UNP, internal political-economy-soical engine is how politics designed for turning into power and mobility of Nation?
    In my view on UNP of heaven may be run on rigorousness of people,but nation of Sri lanka policies UNP by ruin our nation since 1977.
    During UNP era,without saying that the beneficaries of economy financial sectors FOREIGN AND URBAN CAPITAL AND THIER CORNIES OF UNP RELEATED HIGH PARTY RANKS OF RING LEADERS.They have reaped extrodiniary fortunes.
    Virtually NATION all industries, a Local agriculture that emerged pre-UNP peroid had been collpased.Leagcy of UNP rule left was, as whole achive nothing except WAR and MISERY PEOPLE OF SRI LANKA until 2009.
    CBK had been run 11 odd years without approch or ever-never address basic and fundamental social problems,and she run State and Govereance without any architectural cogitate set of mind.
    Is Dr Dayan you can coherent policies of UNP and Under CBK of SLFP had been undermine vital national INTEREST OF SOVEREGENITY,TERROTIOAL INTERGERITY ,INDEPENDEACE AND PILLARE OF DEMOCRATIC NORMS OF SRI LANKAN SOCIETY.Without such cognition of our society, we are not in position come conclusion of for New Centrist Alternative?

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