10 August, 2022


Crisis In The UNP, Whence It Came, Whither It Goes?

By Vishwamithra

“History never really says goodbye. History says, ‘See you later.”   ~Eduardo Galeano

From the time he entered the chambers of State Council of Ceylon in 1943, JR Jayewardene had been branded as a reactionary Capitalist. He had to withstand a vituperative onslaught of political attacks from the then ‘Left-wing’ political leadership that mainly consisted of Philip Gunawardena, Dr. N M Perera, Dr. Colvin R de Silva and Pieter Keuneman. JR’s political and economic viewpoint that promulgated a philosophical allegiance to the then Western-based and fundamentally anti- Marxist/Leninist political economy, made him ‘enemy of the proletariat. But what was not highlighted at the time was that while JR was a 100% product of the local education and upbringing (JR had his education up to the Ceylon University and Law Collage), all of his political rivals, S W R D Bandaranaike, Dr. NM, Dr. Colvin, Keuneman and Philip Gunawardena were educated abroad, belonging to the Oxbridge (Oxford and Cambridge) culture.

Ranil Wickremesinghe and JR Jayewardene – Youth Awards Ceremony – 1985

J R did not vacillate. In the face of this scathing and sarcastic scorn, he confronted them with analytical and logical calmness that the present-day politicians are completely widowed from. His brilliant wit and cutting repertoire had no match in either State Council or Parliament thereafter. Yet his position in the political party he belonged to, United National Party (UNP), was another matter altogether. When the Party’s founder-leader, D S Senanayake died in 1952, given the evident unwillingness and lack of self-confidence on the part of Dudley Senanayake, D S’s chosen successor, J R Jayewardene, the Minister of Finance of the first Cabinet of Independent Ceylon, albeit his young age and being a newcomer to politics in the context of experienced and well-entrenched and overseas-educated Cabinet of Ministers, was being mentioned for the UNP’s leadership. JR, in spite of his cold and calculated approach towards politics, which is rare in an environment of emotional and subjective appeal by his rivals to the voting population in the land, was mentioned as a qualified and credentialed successor to D S Senanayake.

Professor K M de Silva’s biography of JR Jayewardene of Sri Lanka, Volume One, pages from 250 to 261, chronicles the intricate planning, careful execution and eventual success of the conspiratorial saga behind Dudley Senanayake’s ascension to the posts of Prime Minister and Leader of the country’s Grand Old Party (GOP), UNP. Thus, both the first two leaders of the UNP and the first two Prime Ministers of Ceylon were father and son. But to their eternal credit, neither of them practiced nepotism the way the Bandaranaikes and Rajapaksa of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the ‘common man’s party of the country indulged to an extravagant extent. The UNP not only refrained from practicing nepotism, it also elected the first ever non-Govigama candidate as President in the country. And it was J R Jayewardene who paved the way for R Premadasa to be the leader of his Party.

Being a man ahead of his time, JR always saw ways ahead of his peers and knew that handing the reins of the UNP to Premadasa was not only politically wise, it was also the right thing to do. What Premadasa did with the party’s reins was another matter altogether. But the clear signal of a deviation from the traditional path that national political parties trekked alone is a daring and novel move. A very few leaders have such vision and daring to attain the goals spelt out in the vision. It is his party that is in crisis today and it revolves around the leadership of that party. Ironically the man in the middle is his own nephew, Ranil Wickremasinghe. Ranil’s mother was the daughter of D R Wijewardene, the media mogul, who was JR’s maternal uncle. Ranil’s pedigree is quite impressive in a traditional sense. But this is 2017. Tradition is as relevant as superstitions of an era gone by. Social media has revolutionized the mode of communication among social groups. It has taken quantum leaps in the raw alacrity in which news reaches its customers. While some items of what is broadcast and telecast is dead wrong and completely inaccurate. Social media has become the playground of those who habitually engage in conspiracy theories. Against such a fast-changing backdrop, a political leader needs to be acutely alert and extremely quick on what he can and should do.

In such an exciting scenario, today’s UNP leadership is facing a tremendous challenge. The youth of the country is glued to the social media and what is emanating from that technological evolution is the gospel for them. Equipped with the smartphone, this generation is pursuing news and news stories with alertness that they are usually expected to apply to their studies. Whether the UNP leadership likes it or not, that is the harsh reality they have to face. If they are to come out as winners in this domain, no pun intended, they need to structure the party in such a way that those who make decisions are either equipped with a fair knowledge of the application and execution of the social media themselves or  have the right kind of staff who could do that.

Today’s voter is much more sophisticated than the politicians credit him with. His alertness and quick response to the issues and their ultimate resolution play a decisive role in the way they eventually decide to vote for. At the same time, an extremely aggressive approach to the current crises with self-confidence- the way in which both Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake dealt with the media personnel during their dark days in the UNP, 1991 to 1994- and a media management manned with professionals is an indispensible part of the reform that the UNP needs to undertake. In fact, the whole structure of the party needs to be staffed by fulltime professionals, especially the posts of Secretary and Chairman. Ranil and his friends need not look anywhere else. They need to look at the example set by the greatest reformer of the modern UNP, J R Jayewardene and the extremely aggressive and forward-looking changes that he made within the UNP.

To paraphrase George Santayana, ‘if one does not learn from history, one will be condemned to relive it’ is an understatement in the context of the crisis faced by the party stalwarts. Ranil Wickremasinghe and his friends in the United National Party are indeed heading towards a cliff. It is not necessarily deemed for a turn back. On the contrary, it is not only advisable but seems more indispensible to go to the cliff, look at the abyss and challenge it by crossing over to the other side. That is precisely what J R did after the demise of his predecessor in 1973. For that kind of an adventurous step, one needs guts and self-confidence. People look up to strong men. They know how to differentiate strong men from the weak ones.

Crises challenge the character of men and women. Those who keep their heads strong and stern will certainly triumph and those who do not will wither away like a fragile leaf under the hot sun in the summer. A victory in a narrow sense of who prevails in the very short run is no victory. Winston Churchill did not weaken against a brutal onslaught by Hitler and his mighty military. It is the responsibility and duty of the UNP and its leadership to tell the people in no uncertain terms that what the people rejected in 2015 Presidential Elections should not be allowed to come back. That’s a no-no.

However, the odds seem to be overwhelmingly against the UNP. Its gradual decline in its own voter-bank does not tell about a forward-looking political entity. Hence the transformation of the party is a must and any person or organization that advocates against such a transformation is in effect acting against the current and future interest of the party and its history. However, what the leaders of the UNP are facing today is not a binary choice. There is a wide range in between what is black and white. The shades in the middle cannot be disregarded as unnecessary and redundant. Politics is essentially living in the ’shades’. Those shades shadow over a wide range of options that are not visible to the incurious mind. But the voter is alert to such shades. It’s only cynical politicians who opt to ignore such intelligent voters. It is absolutely ridiculous to say that today’s voter is wrong. In marketing terms, ‘customer is always right’ and branding the customer as wrong is done at great peril to those who solicit their vote at each election cycle.

Crises come and crises go. Yet man has learnt not only how to survive them, he has also learnt how to make a crisis a friendly challenge rather than an all-consuming personal disaster. The UNP’s time of crisis has come. At the end of the road, it must find itself bloodied and exhausted, but still standing. 

The writer can be contacted at vishwamithra1984@gmail.com     

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Latest comments

  • 0

    US Embassy has delivered Cash to bribe SLFP ministers. RW WILL WIN. India and US will not allow the NCM to win. IT is that simple.

  • 1

    “JR is the best and the wisest UNP Leader ” according to Vishwamithra..
    What has Dr Ranil done for the Party and the Country and How wold he go down in the annals of Srilankan history. ?.
    Here is the list.
    * Couldn’t win even a hook Raffle after his short stint at TT.
    * Gave Mr Pirahaparan the Homeland under Dr Ranil’s ISGA, which fortunately Mr Pirahaparan refused
    * .Signed away the Sovereignty of the nation to to the UN and the West to please the LTTE Diaspora and the Vellalala Party TNA, with the help of Maggy of course.
    * Gave the natives the biggest biggest BS Promises in Srilankan Political History in the form of free 22ct Bracelets to 1 Million Dalit jobs to assemble Hoax Wagons.
    * Imprisoned Buddhist Monks.
    * Sold the Nation’s wealth to foreigners and UNP crooks for peanuts.
    * Marginalized the UNP Buddhists and kept them in the Bush.
    * Gave the NGOs a free hand to build the biggest X Mas tree in the Southern Hemisphere
    * Now Dr Ranil is ready Ban the Vesak Pandals’.
    * Decimated the UNP vote base in 3 years of his Yahapalanaya.
    * Helped his ex Royal mate to pull off the biggest Robbery of Public Money in the History of Mahavamsa.
    But one thing though, Dr Ranil did one good deed inadvertently of course to give the ex Prez Mr Rajapaksa, a handful of the best UNP Sinhala MPs to defeat Vellala Hero Pirahaparan.

    • 2

      KASmaalam K A Sumanasekera

      “What has Dr Ranil done for the Party and the Country and How wold he go down in the annals of Srilankan history. ?.”

      Let Dr Mahinda (LLD + 3 X PhD) gloat and claim all the glory to himself yet the fact remains that his contribution to war effort is like “It is the last straw that breaks the camel’s back”

      Actually Ranil will be remembered as the one who successfully broke the back of the LTTE.

      “* Imprisoned Buddhist Monks.”

      Do you really believe that thugs should be exempted from long arm of the law simply because they are clad in saffron dress? Aren’t you bothered if those thugs rape your mother, grandmother, your wife (if you have one), daughters, sisters, nieces, sisters in law, mother in law, …………….. ? .

      ” Helped his ex Royal mate to pull off the biggest Robbery of Public Money in the History of Mahavamsa”

      Then the robbery didn’t take place if it is in the History of Mahavamsa.
      Seriously, could you narrate how the robbery actually take place? I am interested. Were the robbers wearing balaclava to hide their faces? Were they carrying any weapons? Did they use any getaway vehicles? How did the robbers get into the high security vault? Is it an inside job?

      What did Central Bank lose in total?
      Are you sad the robbers didn’t share the loot with you?
      Basil must be sadder than you are.

  • 2

    Ranil will pass the test of time and he will win.. There is no doubt about it. It will be a doom day for M3 and co. MS is most corrupted one and he is the one who protected all corrupt ones.. He perverted the course of justice.

  • 1

    There is a difference to the quality of legislators of earlier days and today. Today mostly 3rd class citizens are occupying the legislature. Parliamentary affairs are comparable to prostitution the mama sang role is played by mama sanga. This was not the case those days. Citizens are trapped by the politicians by usurping freedom of association and various rights. Next it will be a free for all within legislature to fight for larger share looting that remains.

    • 1


      “This was not the case those days.”

      When was this ” those days” started and ended?

  • 0

    There are several governments the world over in crisis – US, Canada, UK, several in EU, Australia, Saudi Arabia, several in SE Asia, South Africa. But life goes on.
    We are no exception. The country is in crisis. Why single out UNP? SLFP is in crisis, so is TNA and so on.
    What about SLPP? This has a chairman but no leader as such. The crisis will become visible when the jockeying for leadership starts. Life goes on because we accept and have got used to the poor gets poorer while growth and GDP is on the ascend – so they say.

  • 4

    Some are arguing that RW has made sacrifices for the party ! If RW had any chance of taking on MR he would have. Because he had no chance and he feared the hammering he would have got RW hid behind Sarath Fonseka and second time Sirisena. To call that a sacrifice is another joke.

    Mangala is saying that even if he lost RW could have made money. Thank you for that admission Mr. Yahaplanaya. RW even without contesting made money. What about all this talk of good governance ? Who are you fooling ?

    When it is so obvious that the UNP can never win under his leadership, RW should have made the sacrifice and retired .

    • 0

      What sacrifices? He used to tax payers to see the world 1994-2018 and may be for two more years. He is laughing at us – the bloody fools.

  • 2

    Thanks to jr we had 30 years of war and terror?

    • 0

      Dias: True. Bloody true.

  • 0

    JR sat on his bu## while Colombo was burning in ’83 and anyone who calls him a statesman should get his/her head examined. So Vishwaamithra says UNP nepotism is good but not the SLFP nepotism..why? Because Vshwaamithra supports the so called Grand Old Party, what a load of BS. Dudley was DS ‘s son and RW is JR’s nephew and this intellectually challenged Viswaamithra tries to justify UNP’s nepotism.

    • 3


      “JR sat on his bu## while Colombo was burning in ’83”

      So did the other public racist S W R D Banda in 1958 when the armed forces and police were not politicized by the crooks the Pancha Maha Balavegaya.

      In case you don’t remember please note the weeping widow was the wife of SWRD Banda, Anura and Chandrika were his children, Don Alwin Rajapaksa’s children and grand children are not only politicians but alo crooks and war criminals. Dr Mahinda’s 156 members of his family ran most of state departments/institutions and controlled more than 80% of state finances.

  • 0

    Those days were the days prior to the ascent of the National wearing rogue to power in 1977.

  • 0

    SWRDB indicated in the debates that DS was a Middle School dropout and that DS and Sir John both did not have the intellectual capacity to debate under certain bills presented by members. They were famous for nepotism. That time value systems were different.It was their friends and relatives who were mostly in the Judiciary, Excise Dept, Attorney General’s dept, 3 forces etc etc. It was not called Nepotism those days. About DS’s English read Sir John’s Auto biography and Dr Kappie Kannangara’s book on social changes in Ceylon.

    1977 open economy ruined our value systems. JR prevented Rukman and others trying to hold positions in the UNP as, intellectually he was below standards. His essays on his grand father DS and uncle Dudley reflect his depth of thinking.JR halted Senanayake nepotism. Even Ranil was below JR’s mark. That is why he told Sirisoma Ranasinghe to introduce Upali Wijewardena to the Kelaniya electorate.Sirisoma started Helena Wijewardena girls’ school in his own property for that purpose.Helena was Upali’s father Wally’s mother.
    JR had his own Nepotism. Son Ravi was a hidden paid advisor.Arranged Military contracts and commissions for Ravi’s 1st wife and the 2nd wife both.Sister-in-law Mrs RPJ was a Perm. Sec. to a Ministry.Bro HWJ’s son was NARA Head …..and many others.
    His party went into disarray partly because the whole country lost its traditional values. Were taking away Mrs B’s Civic Rts, the Referandum fraud , stoning homes of Judge’s houses, pardoning Criminals like Gonawala Sunil , the 1983 massacre of Tamils and giving weapons to Civilians to protect the party good deeds ?
    This writer fails miserably in his thesis on Mr JRJ.

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