16 May, 2022


Can The UNP/SLFP Partnership Survive In The Long-Run?

By Gamini Jayaweera

Gamini Jayaweera

Gamini Jayaweera

2015 General Election is over. No one party has got an overall majority to form a government on its own. So naturally the party with the highest number of seats will find a partner to form a majority government on the understanding that both parties will work in partnership to govern the country for the next five years. UNP being the largest party in this election has entered into a partnership with SLFP, the second largest party, to form a stable government initially for a period of two years with provision to extend the term of agreement for further period based on the outcome of the partnership government during the initial period. The agreement is good in theory, but is this arrangement practical for two major political parties who have governed Sri Lanka since independence to risk one party’s political popularity at the expense of the other party in the long-run? We have already witnessed the number of unbelievable political activities that had been taken place just one week after the general election. It reminds us the former British Prime Minister Sir Harold Wilson’s famous quote “A week is a long time in politics” which highlights the erratic and pathetic behaviours exhibited by some of our politicians during the last two weeks. Can we expect this political partnership to survive for two years unless these politicians show some significant changes to their unacceptable behaviours?

Kabir Duminda August 21Partnering in the Commercial World

Partnering between Public and Private sector organisations or between commercial organisations has become a common practice in UK where the partners are working together to achieve their common business objectives by improving their efficiency, reducing costs, increasing bottom-line performance, and delivering their products and/or services to the complete satisfaction of all stakeholders. In order to achieve a successful outcome of this arrangement of partnership, it is vitally important that the parties change their behaviours to embrace the general principles of Partnering Culture such as Openness between the partners, Mutual Trust & Cooperation among the members of the partnership, Evaluating and Accepting Innovative New Ideas proposed by all parties, and Sharing Praise, Blame, and Commercial Losses or Gains by the partners.

Partnering in The Political World

In order to achieve a successful outcome of the political partnership arrangement between the UNP and the SLFP, it is important that we challenge both parties whether they are capable of changing their deep rooted attachments to certain party policies, agreeing to work on Mutual Objectives, and changing their firmly established Behaviours to embrace the general principles of Partnering Culture. Unlike partnering between commercial organisations a political partnership has inherent hindrances to a successful outcome of the partnership. Party culture is one of the major challenges to the successful implementation of UNP/SLFP partnership. The parties are committed to certain beliefs which are usually institutionalised and it takes a great deal of time and effort to change the hearts and minds of the membership to embrace the new partnership culture. There are many more partnering qualities which can be embraced and implemented by both political parties to achieve a successful outcome of the political partnership. Will the newly elected MPs from the UNP and the SLFP seize this opportunity that is open to them?

Honesty and Openness

It is important that both parties at the outset of this partnership should get real and genuine about their dealings. No one party should have hidden agendas, and secret meetings to undermine the other party to gain political advantage. Always demonstrate openness without hiding information from each other. Share one party’s knowledge and information with the other partner. Trust your colleagues in the partnership until they demonstrate that they are untrustworthy, unreliable, and corrupt. It has been said that “The best working relationships are built upon honesty, openness and integrity“. Can the elected members of the UNP and the SLFP coalition confront these challenges and embrace the new partnership culture to successfully govern our country for the next two years?

Party Politics

Naturally during provincial, and local elections, every political party will be working vigorously to achieve the highest number of popular votes at the expense of the other parties, irrespective of their partnership arrangements at the parliamentary level. In between general elections, UNP and SLFP have to contest against each other in provincial or local elections as separate parties where one party may blame the other party for underperformance of certain government policies and try to take the credit for achievements to capture the popular votes. Is it possible for politicians from the UNP and the SLFP not to use Partnership Killer Statements such as “That’s not our party’s responsibility”, “May be that will work in your party but not in mine”, “Our party’s approach would have been different”, and “Our party has done that before” etc. at least during the initial two years? Can we expect during the provincial and local election campaigns, politicians from the UNP and the SLFP to have a joint agreement to say to the general public that both parties are responsible for the successes and failures of the policies of the coalition government?

Behavioural Changes

In my experience, working as a Senior Commercial Manager during the last decade in a public sector organisation in London, it took about three years of hard work to change the culture of the workforce when the organisation merged with a private company to set up a Public Private Partnership. Though it was established as one organisation the workforces from the two fractions, the public and private had their differences in behaviours. Private sector employees thought they were superior to the employees of the public sector and vice a versa. Employees of both parties were suspicious of each other. One party’s approach to an issue was completely different from the other party’s perspective to the problem. In order to ensure that we work together as one organisation with one goal in mind we conducted Change Management Training courses which lasted for about one year for the Senior and Junior Managers, to understand each other and change their behaviours for the benefit of all stakeholders. One of the most important thing in this process was how to motivate the workforce to change their mind-set to work together in a commercially driven new environment. (Please refer to one of my previous articles titled “New President’s Vision – A Fantasy Or A Reality” published in The Colombo Telegraph on 5 February 2015.)

It has to be admitted that the ‘human behaviour’ is the prime source of hindrance for both the UNP and the SLFP working together successfully. Generally the leadership of most institutions have a propensity to be goal oriented and functional. It appears that the leadership of the UNP and the SLFP tend to follow the same path and they forget to focus on the changes in behaviours that are required from their elected membership to make the partnering agreement a success. Changing the mind-set of the elected members of both parties on collective participation, interaction with other members of the partnership, development of trust, and drive to achieve coalition government’s objectives is part and parcel of the cultural changes that are required for the successful implementation of the partnership agreement in a politically driven new environment. Are our elected MPs from the UNP and the SLFP capable of accepting the challenge to change their mind-set to work in a new political environment and achieve the objectives in the MOU that has been signed by both parties?


It can be seen from the above brief analysis the road to successful political partnering is a difficult one. But this is an opportunity for the newly elected MPs in the UNP and the SLFP to confront the above challenges responsibly on behalf of the millions of people who voted for them to ensure that Sri Lanka will have a opportunity to lay a strong foundation for establishing democracy for all, maintaining the rule of law, creating a stakeholder business culture, and reducing unemployment in the country at the end of the initial two year period. I believe that ultimately the survival of the partnering agreement in the long run will depend on the behaviours of the MPs from both parties and how optimistic they are about the successful outcome of the partnership arrangement between the UNP and the SLFP during the initial two years. Hope they will have the courage, determination, and wisdom to overcome the difficulties to make this partnering arrangement a success. According to former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty”.

*The writer is a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and is a holder of Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Henley Management College, Oxford.

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Latest comments

  • 2

    We have not been given any clear rational or set of out comes for a UNP-SLFP Patnership, aside from vague statements about addressing national issues.
    The fact is that there can be no national government without the TNA to begin with so any UNP_SLFP deal would be a Sinhala National Government – mainly to cover up and turn a blind eye to corruption on both sides!
    So in the absence of a clear set of outcomes and outputs for such a partnership, there is absolutely NO NEED for a UNP-SLFP partnership, which at this time appears as a recipe for corruption compounded.

    Nor is there a need for a gigantic national cabinet which will only perpetuate polity fragmentation and inefficiency in government. Sri Lanka is a small country and a cabinet of 10 QUALIFIED MPs is enough.

    The idea of the SInhala National Government is the brain child of Sirisena so that he can capture the SLFP after a classic back stabbing, and for Pathala Champika Ranawaka to become King of Lanka in the end and spread his noxious brand of racism. Both these individuals are dangerous and should be kept under observation.
    Ranil and the UNP should not fall into their trap.

    • 0

      Don Stanley:
      Your analysis is beginning to be borne out as the days go by and empty promises are made and broken.What is our alternative? A revamped JVP with people going out on the streets to push the insurance buyers and those from whom they seek to buy such insurance into the gutter where they belong? Such an enterprise, given the response of successive governments to anything resembling peaceful street protests is well enough known not to need repetition, don’t you think?

  • 2

    “Honesty and Openness and Integrity” will be a hard ask from our current lot of politicians (as well as most politicians the world over).

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if such optimism could be rewarded with a positive outcome!!

  • 3

    Cannot SLFP and UNP politicians function in a responsible fashion without Bribes? What is the purpose of this gigantic cabinet of 55 members for a SInhala National Government?

    The country, policy making is going to suffer hugely as a result of having so many Minister and Deputies messing around. What policy coherence can there be in country where so many politicians and cronies are running institutions? There is going to be total chaos and policy fragmentation and Ranil and Sirisena are only concerned about their political careers.

    This gigantic cabinet is a total violation of the SPIRIT and practice and meaning of good governance and the next struggle for civil society is the people vs. politicians who are winking at one anothers’ corruption!
    Final question is: How much is the gigantic cabinet of corrupt clowns from the SLFP and UNP for the Sinhala National Government, going to cost the Tax payer in Sri Lanka?

  • 1

    Finally a coalition of two opposite parties have been formed in the name of a ‘national government’. A jumbo cabinet is there not to serve any principles but the greed of individuals.

    Anyway, let us wait with some hope to see what they deliver!
    Sengodan. M

  • 0

    The question is not whether the UNP/SLFP alliance will last the 5 years, but whether the latter will remain a viable popular entity as it did 10 years ago. Sirisena and CBK have most successfully created fissures within it that will never be healed, by working tooth and nail to disempower that party, while nominally remaining within it, before wresting control of the party apparatus. The ‘SLFP’ members who have been BOUGHT with lucrative ministerial posts will gradually embed with the UNP. The rump may follow the JVP into near oblivion.

    Your glib suggestion that the PFI projects have been a success in the UK is far from the truth. Of course there are winners, the shareholders and the CEOs of the private sector companies AND the public sector employees involved who use the revolving door to move into the said companies.

  • 0


    Sir Harold Wilsons famous quote…A week is a long time in Politics…did not apply to Mahinda Percy Rajapakse who thought otherwise.
    Almost 10 years of the Executive Presidency was far too short for him.He wanted to continue forever!

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