Colombo Telegraph

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

By 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?

Partnering 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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