By Rasika Jayakody –
It is impossible to believe that the newly appointed leadership council of the United National Party will translate into a meaningful reform. The leader who spearheaded nearly 25 election defeat is still at the helm of the party and Karu Jayasuriya has been offered the top post of a council that is gravitated towards the party leader’s line of thinking. Technically, there isn’t any real change in the internal governing structure of the party and the membership at the bottom rung does not feel any difference!
Sajith Premadasa, who emerged as a leadership hopeful at one point has now been reduced to an Internally Displaced Person of the same party of which his father was once the leader. Premadasa’s voluntary resignation from the leadership council failed to elicit any significant response from the party members and the decision finally played into the hands of the party leader who always wanted to get Premadasa out of the equation. In the end, the UNP has gone round and round and returned to the place where the party feels more at home – Square One.
Considering the present state of affairs, it is almost impossible to believe that the party would be able to secure any significant victory at any national level election, scheduled for 2014. President Mahinda Rajapaksa has already alerted the rank and file of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party that there will be a presidential or parliamentary election in 2014 and electorate organizers should work towards that.
Without any tangible party reform, the UNP is stepping into the battle field with a bagful of problems. It is clear that Party Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe does not want to re-strategize ahead of a national level election. By maintaining the status quo he is only accelerating further the deterioration of the party. Karu Jayasuriya, one man who can resurrect that the party and restore public faith in the opposition, is vested with a leadership council that pulls him backwards. Sajith Premadasa has isolated himself in his own little cocoon.
At this juncture, the second tier of the United National Party – primarily the members of its parliamentary group – are facing the most serious crisis. Realistically speaking, they cannot see any light at the end of the tunnel. No success is visible in the foreseeable future and they are pressed between the ordinary party members who are sick of being in the opposition for nearly 19 years and the top echelons of the party who have strangled themselves with their personal agendas. Most of them, as this writer perceives, are not bothered about who and who should be positioned at the helm. They need a clear strategy. In the absence of a clear strategy coming from the top tier of the party, there is a growing frustration among them.
So what is the solution?
Solution, at this point, does not lie with the top tier as it is extremely busy with solving its own problems. The only party that can reverse this disastrous trend is the second tier of the party who can collectively take the party towards a different dimension, without letting it stuck in the mudpool of the long-drawn leadership battle. The second tier should form a new centre of power in the party that is completely free of personal agendas and image boosting of certain individuals. They should base themselves only on key issues faced by the people on the ground and not on internal party matters.
Going by recent media reports, this writer can identify one such individual attempt initiated by Dr. Harsha de Silva to raise awareness of serious economic problems faced by the people as well as the government. But individual attempts suddenly spark and fizzle out without creating any tangible impact and that is exactly why a collective effort is needed. Regardless of what is happening at the top level, the second tear should stick to its plan and carry out its activities focusing on core issues faced by the people.
The best example for them is how the second tier of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) emerged in the early 90s after a series of shameful and disastrous election defeats. The SLFP top tier, just like the UNP today, was struggling hard to sort out its own crises and frustration was visible among the members of the second tier. The Leader of the party was frail and old, but was very reluctant to let go of power. It was in this context that some key members of the second tier – most of whom entered Parliament in 1989 – formed a new center of power in the party focusing only on vital problems on the ground, without getting involved in the leadership battles. Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was then a prominent parliamentarian of the opposition, played a pivotal role in this regard and spearheaded several successful campaigns such as paada yathra and janagosha which actually restored people’s faith in the Opposition. That laid the foundation for the Sri Lanka Freedom Party to regain political power in 1994 after 17 long years in the opposition.
Therefore, the strength of the second tier of the United National Party should never be undermined. If the second tier is mature enough to understand the task lying ahead of them, the UNP is not so far away from regaining its original strength.
*Rasika Jayakody is a Sri Lankan journalist who may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org