By H. L. D. Mahindapala –
In the past the voters had repeatedly delivered one consistent message to the UNP: Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Party leader, is not fit to rule the nation. Last Friday in Elpitiya they repeated that message for the umpteenth time. It is a vote of no confidence in Ranil, the permanent loser. Once again the people were saying that they don’t trust Ranil, the most notorious bank robber of Sri Lanka, who will not hesitate to sell the nation like the way he sold our soldiers to the West and Tamil lobby in Geneva.
The Elpitiya voters didn’t stop at that last Friday. They went further and added a new name to the UNP list of losers. They added the name of Sajith Premadasa who is now seen as a puppet of Ranil. The people were not moved one whit by the razzmatazz at the Galle Face Green, or all the hype whipped up to boost the image of Sajith. Poor Sajith! He has been kicked out before he could even start. It is not that he had committed any gargantuan crimes to discredit his name. He hasn’t had the power in his hands yet to commit political crimes like Ranil. But in Elpitiya Sajith was made to pay for the sins of his master by the voters who took the first chance available to declare their verdict on Ranil’s regime. The people declared unequivocally that do not see a difference between the puppet master and the puppet.
In his speeches, however, he emphasizes, quite dramatically, beating his chest, that he is “Sajith Premadasa”, (“Mama Sajith Premadasa”) hoping to cash in on his father’s name. He seems to be invoking his father’s name to make the people believe that he plans to return to his father’s people-oriented programmes. Repeating the “Mama Premadasa” mantra, as often as he could, also hints at distancing himself from Ranil. He aims to make it known that he not like Ranil. At the same time he is bending over backwards to appease Ranil who is the anti-thesis of his father, President Ranasinghe Premadasa. The first thing that Sajith must learn is that he cannot ride two horses at the same time because both stand at the two extreme ends of the political spectrum.
To begin with Ranil has perennially been in cahoots with the West, the immediate North, and the foreign-funded NGOs. He has embraced them as if his life hangs on them. President Ranasinghe Premadasa, on the contrary, stood firmly against the West, the North and the NGOs. In fact, this trio, along with the “Kurunduwatte kelli-karayos”(Big Knobs), treated him as the antagonist they loved to hate. In turn, President Premadasa had no compunction in telling the West, the North and the “Kurunduwatte kelli-karayos” to go to hell. He did not hesitate to virtually revoke JR Jayewardene’s invitation to send Indian troops back home. He told Rajiv Gandhi to take his IPKF out of Sri Lanka and shove them in the holes from where they came. He also had no hesitation in kicking out the British High Commissioner, David Gladstone, within 48 hours.
He was proud to be a part of Kehelwatte and play football rather than hob-knob with the “Kurunduwatte” cricketers. (He grew up in the days when the elite played cricket and the others played football). He wore the national costume and walked in slippers. Sajith is a pale imitation of his father, wearing a white shirt and trousers without shoes. He walks in slippers. That is his big symbolic concession to his father’s commitment to his people. He wants to be a Gandhi in trousers.
President Premadasa was committed primarily to the Southern pluralistic political culture. In his political agenda the Southern political culture, derived directly from the grass root forces, was ranked solidly as the primus inter pares. The newly coined phrase “the peoplised political culture” conveyed the meaning of democratising, equalising, and liberalising the economy, society and politics. True, in his time he wielded power with an iron fist. This was inevitable because he was forced to fight fire with fire. There was no alternative to a leader fighting two fascist terrorist gangs – one in the north and one in the south – within a democratic framework which, of course, had its ineluctable infirmities. After he crushed the Sinhala Pol Potists in the JVP he told me once: “You wait and see, if I defeat Prabhakaran sooner or later, they (meaning the political pundits) will come at me questioning not only why I did it but also the way I did it!” It was Mahinda Rajapakse who crushed the Tamil Pol Potists. More than President Premadasa it was President Mahinda Rajapaksa who had to face the forecast questions, both locally and internationally.
The first message delivered to Sajith from the South is that he is not perceived as his father’s son but as Ranil’s puppet. The wide gap in the voting between SLPP and UNP at Elpitiya indicates clearly – more than the votes polled by both parties – that the Ranil’s UNP had drifted far away from the days when the UNP was rooted in the hearts and mind of the people wooed and won by President Premadasa. The question now is whether the UNP can close the gap with the minority votes? That’s a big “IF” with the minority groups like the TNA losing its capacity to deliver massive bloc votes from the north and the east and take Sajith over the critical 50+.
The voters of Elpitiya have also taught Sajith his other lesson in politics: if you hang out with Ali Baba and his forty thieves you can’t expect the people to trust you with their hard-earned money.
Sajith was hailed as a fresh face that can make the people forget the sins of Ranil. The defeat of Ranil in the internal power struggle was seen as victory for the UNP. With Ranil out of the way it was argued that Gota would have hard time fighting the new “Mr. Clean” of the UNP. But the victims of the Yahapalanaya regime in Elpitiya were not willing to forgive or forget. They got their revenge last Friday.
The Elpitiya result can be read as the beginning of the Arab revolution in Tunisia, or the coloured revolutions in Europe, or the umbrella revolution in Hong Kong. The Sri Lankans who took to the streets when the price rice was increased by a few cents in 1952 took their time this time round. Totally exhausted by violence they were waiting for the ballot boxes to open to deliver their opinion peacefully. And the first time the postponed elections were opened they took their chance to guillotine a vital part of the corrupt Ranil and his Yahapalanayakos with the sharp edge of the ballot. Most of all, Elpitiya has taken the cockiness out of the UNP leaders. They will put on a brave front no doubt. But they know that they are now on shaky grounds. Nevertheless, they will put up a last ditch fight in the coming months of cohabitation, of Gota wins. It is the Parliamentary elections that they dread. If they lose the Presidential election on November 16 then they will begin to worry as to how they would go home without the official cars in, say, mid-2020.
Of course, in the coming days there will be a plethora of theoreticians who will pop up to spin the electoral statistics. Apart from the numbers, Gota Rajapakse so far has had a good run. First he cleared the hurdle of his citizenship in the Supreme Court. Second, he won the agreement of President Sirisena to back him. Third, he won Elpitiya. He started early wooing key elements in the electorate like the professionals and intellectuals. There were no rivals ready to cut his throat, sending nervous messages to the electorate that the petals of the Phottuwa were coming apart. He presented the promise of a solid, constructive and a stable future with security for everyone.
On the contrary, the UNP leader, Ranil, played the most sordid role of undercutting the most popular candidate in the UNP. As usual, he could not read even the trends and the forces operating within his own party. At a time when the nation is in search of stability and security he was tearing his own party apart and sending signals of impending collapse and disaster. Once again Ranil was playing the role of undercutting anyone who was posing a threat to his supremacy. However, unable to beat the rising tide against him in the Party, he eventually kissed the hand that he could not cut. But the damage he had done to the image of the party could not be remedied. The Party in its wisdom rallied behind Sajith and rejected once again the loser. Ranil survived as Party leader only by manipulating his henchmen in the Working Committee.
Any other party leader, who has even a smidgin of self-respect, would have resigned long time ago, humiliated by the rejection of the people and his own party. But not Ranil. It is not in him to acknowledge that his use-by-date is over. His image hovering in the background will not help Sajith to make headway in the electorate. The UNP can recover and hope for a future only if it decides to kick him upstairs with a nonessential post like the Leader to Light Lamps on Ceremonial Occasions.
Since the Party does not have the guts to clean up its corrupt leadership the people will have to do it in the coming elections. Ranil obviously has given up the Presidentship hoping to be the Prime Minister. One incontrovertible certainty in the prevailing fluid political situation is that Ranil will never win the premiership in the 2020 parliamentary election. Elpitiya has already forecast that Ranil’s chances of becoming the next prime minister are as great as John (Viagra) Ameratunga becoming the Mahanyake of Malwatte.
The ill-fated shadow of Ranil that fell across the nation has not brought any redemption to the nation. The nation must admit, after all these years of failure, that a new era is possible only when the nation is free from corrosive, corrupt and kleptocratic politics of Ranil.
As they say, some are born fools. Some achieve foolishness. And some go down crushed by their own stupidity which they refuse to recognise and remedy even when they were sinking into their self-made Black Hole.