12 June, 2024


Emergence Of The SJB As A Change Agent

By Ananda Jayawickrama –  

Prof. Ananda Jayawickrama

In recent times, many people who wrote to Colombo Telegraph expressed contrasting views on the emergence of Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) as a political party which demonstrates the potential to govern the country in near future. I accept that any person, resided inside or outside the country, may question or support the course of the SJB in the present political environment of the country. This article is not only an attempt to justify the formation of the SJB but also an attempt to start a fruitful discussion on whether the SJB and its economic, political, social, cultural and international contexts can make a path breaking change in the political landscape of Sri Lanka.

Rise and Fall of Parties

In democratic societies, political parties reflect an important role of representative democracy and are known as gatekeepers of democracy. In a dynamic democratic political system, some parties emerge newly and some parties become defunct gradually. The sole reason for the emergence of a new party or obsolescence of an existing party is the validity of its role as a representative democratic institution and a gatekeeper of democracy. A party will become obsolete or defunct when its membership, at least a sizable group, thinks that the party has failed to protect and promote their rights, expectations, interests and wills and therefore to stand as a gatekeeper of democracy. A new party emerges when at least a sizable number of citizens agreed to work in a common policy framework and action plan in order to protect their democratic institutions and stand together for the delivery of agreed upon rights, expectations, interests and wills. In educated and informed democratic societies, one may expect political parties to adjust regularly to the ground conditions for their long-term survival and existence. Political parties which consistently fail to deliver rights, expectations, interests and wills of its members, to stand as a gatekeeper of democracy and adjust to the socio-economic-political-cultural ground conditions are more prone to be defunct and obsolete.

As some people think, the emergence of the SJB is not a hasty mistake but a well-crafted timely feat in response to prolong requests of people of this country.  It is not a political error but a political triumph for people those who seek an alternative not only to the UNP, but also to Podujana Peramuna, Sri Lanka Freedom Party, leftist parties and some minority-driven parties. In this discussion, my focus is not to argue for a course that instates Sajith Premadasa (SP) as a better leader than Ranil Wickremesinghe (RW) or the vice versa. In my view, it was the UNPers who left the party during a period of near three decades from the point where RW took-over the leadership was instrumental in forming the SJB. 

RW took over the leadership of the party after the death of its charismatic leaders JR Jayewardene and Ranasinghe Premadasa and high caliber leadership candidates Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake. The UNP under the leadership of RW fails to stand as a gatekeeper of democracy since the democratic practices are not maintained within the party.  The UNP under the leadership of RW fails to protect and promote the rights, expectations, interests and wills of its general supporters. Conspiracy led by the party leader against potential leadership candidates, Karu Jayasuriya, SP, etc., promotion of his cronies to the party hierarchies and the manipulation of the working committee for his own benefits discouraged the membership as they felt that the UNP has been surrendered to a group of crony-capitalists who consistently ignored the community and village level grass root supporters, simply the vote machine of the party. 

The departure of party policies from people centered social democratic one to more liberal policy orientation and actions against general consumers, farmers, working class, poor, etc. in favour of crony capitalists has derailed the UNP from its founding principles and therefore experienced a massive drain of membership. Non-consultative and ill-informed policies and actions taken to win the hearts of minority groups in an attempt to solve ethnic conflict hurt the Sinhalese majority voters and as a result the Sinhalese vote base of the party drained down continuously. The loss of support from the Sinhalese community made it fairly impossible for the party to win a presidential election and a general election. Continuous and numerous election defeats branded RW and the UNP as “ever losers” and the loser mindset further reduced the vote base. After the Presidential election 2019, the mass supporters of the UNP expected the transfer of leadership to SP as he has proven his leadership capacity in reviving the membership at grass-root level. The UNP leadership, nevertheless, was not ready to transfer the power and in fact tried to devise a mechanism to cement his leadership until the death. 

The gracious acceptance of the new party by the masses has proven its legitimacy and relevance in the political course of this country. It is of course essential for the SJB and the UNP to come to an agreement to work together, however, such a coalition should neither affect the novelty of the SJB nor it should bear the sings of RW and his clang. What UNP is waiting at the moment is to build up its muscles to make a deal with the SJB, but the UNP should realize the fact that its muscles have been drained down to the extent of never recovery.

Reviving among All Communities

The leadership of SP and the SJB is well received at all layers of the Sinhalese community now. Certainly, the SJB claims the credits of respected and charismatic leaders starting from DS Senanayake, Dudley Senannayake, John Kotelawala, JR Jayewardene to R Premadasa and will shape its socio-economic-political responsibility based on such good deeds. SP has grown to a matured leadership inculcated through his ability to listen to other voices, comprehend different ideas and views and synthesize them for a new dimension. The Sinhalese masses have now realized that the SJB as a new party will and should have a novel approach for ethnic issues, minority issues and power sharing in a framework of one country. This open and transparent approach has provided a moral easiness for them to regroup around the SJB and its leadership. Another important trend is that the SJB is now receiving as a new option for minority groups to rejoin a mainstream political party after two three decades of extreme political fragmentation by communities. The Muslims, Sri Lankan Tamils and Indian Tamils communities, as individuals and small groups, begin to place their faith on SP as a national leader and join the SJB. This trend can be observed in different parts of the country including North, East and the plantation sector.

SJB as a Change Agent

In my view, one should not waste time and energy too much discussing the emergence and the credibility of the SJB given it’s inevitable emergence as a front-line political party. Instead, one should place more emphasis on what SJB can do to make a change in the socio-economic-political path of this country and achieve the prosperity that people and the country looking for decades.

I found some interesting comments below the article written to Colombo Telegraph on 23rd May by Dr. Mahim Mendis. One comment seriously questions the SP’s ability to transform public sector companies to a competitive profit-making sector by making it free from prolong political objective of employment generation. The same commentator questions “how a government enterprise be (made) profitable when even private sector ones are struggling”, “why a million of able-bodied men are driving three-wheelers while their women slave away in garment factories”. The commentator further went into say “This economy has been badly distorted by populist policies voodoo economics. This is my main objection to Sajith. Yes, that sort of policy will get him elected, but this that the purpose of elections, but not achieving the progress of the country”. Another commentator in nutshell questions the economics of dealing with foreign exchange crisis of the country and whether SP has a magical formula to resolve the devaluation of Sri Lankan Rupee even against the currencies of India and Bangladesh.

I presume that these comments and questions are much trickier to answer than a question on the emergence of the SJB. The SJB should make an investment in terms of intellectual capacity to find solutions to these issues than engaging in tit for tat mode of discussions. Certainly the SJB should find solid and comprehensive policy framework of covering areas of monetary and fiscal operations, trade and trade agreements, financial and investment market, labour market and wage rates, price stability and inflation, agriculture and agricultural issues, industrial and service sector performance, social security and social welfare systems, foreign affairs and international relations, education and skills development, governance and democracy, environment and disaster management, religious and cultural harmony, local governance and power sharing, etc. As the party has started an extensive discussion on its policy frameworks, the SJB will soon be able come up with solid and comprehensive policy framework in which attention be given not only to macro level issues but also to micro level issues such as why a million of able-bodied persons are driving three-wheelers, what is the magical formula that Sajith has to overcome the depreciation of the rupee, etc.

Guiding Principles of the SJB Policy

Following the policies of past analogues regimes, especially the working principles adopted by Ranasinghe Premadasa through-out his career, the SJB embraced the conceptual framework of Social Democracy as the guiding policy concept and principles of the SJB.  In general, the social democracy while maintaining liberal interventions/ non-interventions in order to entice businesses and enhance national income advocates socio-economic and political interventions to guarantee social justice by way of income redistribution, protecting the vulnerable, providing public goods such as education and health-care free of charge, regulating the economic activity to garner the maximum national interests, etc. Social democracy is, nevertheless, a concept and practical framework which has evolved significantly over the last five-six decades and practiced with significant variations in different countries. In my view, the policy orientation of main political parties in Sri Lanka is grounded on the concept of social democracy with a variation in approach towards more liberal economy or towards more socialistic economy. Certainly, the SJB would place its policy choice in between the principles and practices of the liberal economy and the socialistic economy. On one hand, the SJB should promote businesses and economic activity to the highest possible levels in order to increase the levels of national production and income. On the other hand, the SJB should make sure that it curbs the intolerable injustice and inequality such as 20% of poorest getting 4.8% of national income and 20% of richest getting 51% of national income through its redistributive and welfare policy instruments. This approach requires the SJB to balance the two objectives growth and equity not only at its macro level operations but also at micro level or sector specific level operations.

*Prof. Ananda Jayawickrama is a Professor in Economics at the Department of Economics and Statistics, University of Peradeniya. He also served as the first Director of the Postgraduate Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences (PGIHS) of University of Peradeniya during the period from 2015 to 2021. Currently, he serves as the President of the Intellectual Forum for People (Janathavadi Buddhi Mandapaya), a forum of university academics, researchers and experts. He is available for any clarification via email at ajayawickrama@gmail.com.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 12

    Ranil’s achievements -the UNP one time biggest party in the country, got less than the JVP and not a single seat in parliament under Ranil leadership.
    Lost most of the top ranking leaders of the party to other parties mainly to MR. Lost all the votes in the country.
    Ranil leadership denied the country of an alternative to the Rajapakses. Anyone is better than Ranil is what the people feel deeply.

    Ranils cynical robbery of the Central Bank gave the message that it is alright to rob as long as it is done by your intimate buddies and as long as you can confuse the people with all kinds of jargon( such as open bids for bonds, game changer etc etc !)
    Further to confuse the people Ranil travels overseas often , you see he has many things to discuss in Washington and he can discuss world affairs in English !
    After the failed coup of Sirisena , he scowled Ranil when he came to be sworn in like a pick-pocket. Never seen a President blast his PM like that !

  • 13

    Obviously Sajith Premadasa is not going to be a great leader. He is there because he is a son of a former President. That is Sri Lankan politics.
    If Ranil was a good leader he could have changed our politics. But did he ? He has now brought his unknown nephew Ruwan Wijewardena to succeed him as leader of the UNP. All in the family, just like the Rajapakses.
    Was Ranil a game changer ? He is only a crafty man with no scruples and no love for the people.
    But finally, in 2019, a long suffering people taught this man Ranil a lesson which destroyed him and shattered the UNP

    • 7

      The UNP was screwed up by the 1990s by internal squabbles. Also it has not recovered from the memories of the 17 years of misrule.
      Lalith and Gamini resented Premadasa and sought to undermine him at every turn. Premadasa hit back but at the expense of party unity.
      The UNP had lost about a third of its loyal voter base by 1994. In fairness to RW, he was not a splitter.
      Ranil may have won in Year 2000 if not for the LTTE bomb.
      Think of all the desertions to the Rajapaksa government between 2006 and 2008. One cannot blame it on an individual. Many leaders were desperate to win elections.
      There was a media empire that started meddling in the UNP. Has not Sajit been eating out of its hands?
      To expect the UNP to win after the war was won is unrealistic.
      Much of the disarray in the UNP in the past few years is because leaders do not know where to settle their disputes.
      Even JRJ or RP or anyone before them if returns to life cannot resurrect the UNP (as well as its avatar) which is a spent force. It survives on the failings of its rivals.
      What has the UNP or SJB to offer as credible policy?

  • 3

    Afganistan in the 80s had a war with the Soviets and in 2001 it was invaded
    by the US and ask the Afgans their experience with both of them ! One might
    wonder how this becomes relevant to our local politics . The difference I can
    see is , one is bullet and the other is ballot . One is certain it deals with enemy
    and the other is blindfolded by Friendly-Enemy who knows the tricks of the
    play ! For the Afgans , one enemy came and went and the other enemy will
    leave ! But the Voting Srilankkans , they remain blindfolded without an end
    in sight no matter who emerges and who submerges .

  • 3

    Another “VIYATHMAGA” without a “VISION” but a “MISSION” to bring back a “FAILED” empty force.

  • 4

    I earnestly urge Sajith Premadasa, leader of the SJB, to take plenty of Calcium and Vitamin D supplements to build up a strong backbone first. I also think it would be a good idea if he were to take two shots of whiskey (imported, of course) just before he is scheduled to deliver a speech in parliament.

  • 2

    If rejected Yahapalana crooks can transform themselves as a ‘change agent’why can’t Pohottuwa band wagon continue the charade in a different dress next time?
    This ******* thinks he is an expert in fooling the public and convince them that pigs can fly.
    Who wants to read this crap written by a University Professor paid by the public purse?


  • 3

    The country and people need a fundamental change in all aspects of politics, policies. We don’t need an alternative political party to replace UNP or SLPP. People gave a massive support to Sirisena as a common candidate for Presidency and elected UNP to form a National government to solve the problems of corruption, resolve ethnic problem by devolution of power and to get rid of Executive Presidential power. Unfortunately nothing happened and we are back to where we were five years before or even worse. I have not seen any concrete evidence to see SJB or SP has the power or courage or commitment to unify the country, or save the country from corruption and corrupters (most of our MPs from SLPP/SLPP/SJB/UNP are corrupted – you need to drain them ) and costed economic proposal for development and differentiate politics from Religion and a strong foreign policy.

  • 5

    All Sinhalese Political Parties since Independence had not been Gate keeper of Democracy. Depriving of the minorities to play a vital role in Ceylon/Sri Lanka has resulted in today’s Dire state. I am not convinced that Sajith Premadasa can make any difference. He has not been keen enough to find out the mastermind behind the Easter Bombings. Had Ranil.W handed over the PM post to SP in early 2018, the Easter bombings could have been prevented. The killing of the two police men by the Muslim Fundamentalists should have been solved by the GoSL forces.
    Without the rights of minorities being respected by the Majority, there is no real Democracy in SL.

  • 0

    Because of the negative perception of the voters of the pre 2015 regime, the Yahapalana regime was born. It was a motley coalition, but the center of the stage was Ranil Wicks. One may loosely describe that he was “drunk with power” and was far from reality. Though he professed to be a champion of democracy, there was a delay in the local government elections, which was held much later and as well as the provincial council elections which is not held even to date. He REFUSED to pause and correct himself with the stunning results of the local government elections and the disenchantment of the elephantine rank-and-file was growing. One may say that Sajith was “impatient” but that would be of no use had the symbol elephant was a marketable element. Don’t forget that it was the rank-and-file who informed “democratic” regional leaders that the elephant at that time was a dead entity and implied something new must come out. Since Wicks was always wiggling with leadership issues and the birth of “Telephonism” was inevitable. I am no fan of it, but it has shown its presence well as an opposition. Its governing capabilities are yet to mature.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 5 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.