21 May, 2019

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First The Party, Then The Country

By Ruvan Weerasinghe

Dr. Ruvan Weerasinghe

Dr. Ruvan Weerasinghe

First a card carrying member of the SLFP, then a Sri Lankan – that’s what President Maithripala Sirisena proved to be in the end. That can also be so for many politicians in the UNP, JVP, JHU or any of the plethora of parties and alliances contesting elections in Sri Lanka. We need to advocate voting for principles over parties in the forthcoming elections.

When President Maithripala Sirisena agreed to give nominations to the very person he took a courageous stand to oppose in the interest of the people of Sri Lanka, he didn’t just let them down. He dealt yet another blow to the Sri Lankan identity.

Sri Lanka has had more than its fair share of thought leaders who espoused diverse forms of identity as valid, or even more potent, than our common Sri Lankan identity. Ranging from the old caste system that still has its proponents even among some educated individuals, to the ‘brown sahib’ that gave us respectability (and jobs) among our colonial masters, we have dabbled in other forms, especially our ethnicity (as espoused by the LTTE and to some extent the JHU) and our religion (by the likes of the more extreme elements of the SLMC and the BBS).

President Maithripala Sirisena, has added yet another identity as a reasonable and valid one to replace our Sri Lankanness. While his unexpected and fearless act of defecting from a party he was so much a part of gave us hope of a statesman emerging in Sri Lanka, his capitulation to be more worried about being accused of splitting the party than letting down the people who voted for him, would probably class him with all politicians before him – not acting truly in the interest of being Sri Lankan first, and card-carrying members of a political party second (or indeed at least third, behind our philosophical worldview). So, he has unintentionally forwarded party as a more important identity for us than our nationality.

The UPFA manifesto

Can there be one? To say that a coherent manifesto is impossible for the UPFA, would be an understatement. When the President of the party still speaks of furthering the steps taken towards good governance (a word that brings distaste to the mouth, Yahapalanaya), and the majority of its top leadership scoffs at it, or more accurately hopes to put do away with it (by possibly stoning the law enforcement agencies of the state), there could be no coherent manifesto for the UPFA – nor even the SLFP.

MaithriTo be sure, the rank and file of the UPFA who have benefited from the 10 years of Rajapaska rule, would be far happier if they were given another chance to emulate their leaders who now appear to have ‘made hay while the sun shone’. They had missed that opportunity – or didn’t realize the levels it could be taken to. It is crystal clear now that in any internal party vote between strengthening good governance and renegading on the progressive steps taken in the last 6 months, the latter would easily triumph. This is all the more clear as we see, not just the big crooks within the party being nominated, but even those few who were to be not given nominations by the leadership of the UPFA, now being given prominent districts to contest from. The corrupt of the corrupt.

If we are to believe that both in the SLFP and UPFA constitutions, it is the General Secretary who controls the nominations (as implied by the President of both), we need to fairly and squarely lay the blame on both the top officials of these two parties for it. However, that is not the full story. When the former president was the President of the party, none of this (the constitutional provisions) mattered. There was no doubt in our minds who controlled the nomination process. And the General Secretaries of the two parties didn’t utter any words to the contrary – simply obeyed their master. In a situation where the very leaders of a party exemplify the meaning of being spineless so clearly, what can we expect of their members?

More worryingly, what does that do to the real leaders waiting in the sidelines? Those who would fearlessly proclaim that what is important is our national identity as Sri Lankans, and not our party, our ethnicity, religion or our cast? They would be blocked out from nominations from the party and the alliance for some time to come.

The young voice

Working in a vocation that revolves around the youth of the country, it is clear to me that there are many among them who think differently. Those who are sickened by the charade played by our pontificating politicians. It gives me hope for a better Sri Lanka. Where the Sri Lankan identity will finally be more important than any of the sub-identities that have been brandied about so freely by so called leaders of our nation.

This is a generation that at one and the same time are ‘tolerant’ and yet loathe ‘pretense’. They are able to call the bluff. They may not be as expressive as the generations before them so that you don’t see them in marches and protests the way we are usually used to. But when they are called upon to vote at an election, they will certainly make their ‘voice heard’.

And they are sickened to the core about the circus being played out before our eyes. How our polity dances to the tunes of the political parties that just love election time. It’d be hard for them, except the few card-carrying types among them, to vote for a party that tries to keep up pretenses as to what it stands for.

This should be a clear warning to the President and the SLFP/UPFA, that they are going down a slippery slope, when they rely on their old slogans of war victory (‘we won the war’) and fear mongering (‘the UN will take all our leaders to the tribunal’).

Why support the UPFA?

There are still a few reasons for people to support the UPFA. Primary among them is the band of robbers and their supporters who benefited financially over the past decade. To be sure, this is a small, though raucous and vociferous, bunch. We shouldn’t fear their rhetoric – as we saw, they shiver before state agencies such as the FCID and the courts (when these are empowered to play the role they are meant to).

Then there are the few intellectuals who have ‘bought into’ one of two stories (myths?): (a) Sri Lanka, as many countries in the region have showed (to be sure, with the exception of India), needs a strong leader – even a dictator; or (b) Sri Lanka has only been united in history under populist ‘Sinhala Buddhist‘ rule. Some business leaders join this group in the interest of ‘stability’. These types are referred to the excellent piece by Priyan Dias on the ‘Choice between stability and virtue’. Indeed, it is this very community, the intellectuals and the business community, who should welcome the kind of ‘instability’ that led many countries in the world to new heights in scientific discovery and economic gain.

So, is there a way forward for the UPFA or SLFP? Yes, but its going to take time and guts. The kind of courage that even the fearless Maithripala Sirisena demonstrated in January (just 6 months ago) didn’t have, in the end. The party needs to be reconstituted around a new leadership with a more appealing and forward-looking agenda, than that of harping on its past success. It is indeed when parties (or for that matter countries, and individuals) recall the ‘good old days’ that we need to recognize the signals of decline (and lack of relevance).

In short, the party cannot be ‘patched up’ – it needs to be flushed of its old garbage, and completely rejuvenated into a new and potent force. That takes time. Possibly a decade.

How to vote at this election?

This is the question on most people’s lips. Especially after the 3rd of July night ‘sell out’. Common responses range from ‘giving up’ to ‘spoiling vote’. After all, if the only person we really trusted could let us down so badly, they argue, who can we trust for the future? This is another legacy that Maithripala Sirisena would have to carry.

What seems clear is that no principled voter can vote for a party that has no principles itself! A party at conflict with itself. Unfortunately, that has today become the very definition of the SLFP and therefore, the UPFA.

What hope is there outside of it? Can the UNP be trusted? Or the JVP? Or indeed the JHU, TNA or SLMC?

It is clear that, unlike ever before, Sri Lankans may be prompted to vote for parties and people that they’ve never before voted for. Sinhalese have often expressed confidence in the TNA having good leaders! Tamils have said the JVP seems to be the only party talking sense! This is not altogether a bad thing. It may even be a positive development. People forced to vote on principles rather than on dogmatic party political lines that they traditionally have been used to.

Of course, campaigning could change all that. Established parties know that what matters finally is not principles, but promises. Especially promises of prosperity. This is true not just in Sri Lanka, but in all countries where poverty is a significant issue. On the other hand, people are also used to being let down on the promises.

The ideal solution would be for all progressive parties to form an alliance. The good forces within the UNP, the JVP , the TNA, the SLMC and the JHU can indeed from a strong alliance around the delivery of authentic good governance. The lasting kind. The kind that will enable the populace to be truly free, business to thrive and education to take us to greater heights as a country.

Is this hoping for utopia? The next best thing is for these parties to contest separately with a common goal to defeat the regressive UPFA. Sri Lanka cannot afford to go back on the baby steps towards democracy that we have taken in 2015. Ideally, no single party should have a two-thirds majority in parliament. None of them can be trusted with such power. Coalition politics is always better. It ensures that extremist views are tempered. That sanity would prevail.

To be sure, the only potent force able to send a clear message of ‘no’ to the UPFA (and more specifically to the band of robbers who have taken control of it) is the UNP. Though fraught with its own goofs in handling the Central Bank issue and tendency to autocratic leadership within, the new checks and balances introduced in the 19th Amendment to the Constitution can ensure that rule will be by consensus than autocracy. As such, pragmatically speaking, though never a card-carrying party member, it seems clear that only a vote for a coalition around the UNP could ensure that we as a nation can avoid going back to the dark days of the pre-2015 era.

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Latest comments

  • 7
    26

    All this diatribe to ask to vote for UNP. Get a life pal.

    • 6
      2

      Dr. Ruvan Weerasinghe,

      Have you given any thought to the following?

      The Secretaries of the SLFP and UPFA are both Rajapaksa supporters.

      Under the Law when an Election is declared the legal power to communicate with the Elections Commissioner rests with the Secretaries.

      Thus any one of those Secretaries can nominate Rajapaksa or anyone as a candidate not withstanding the protests of the party leadership (in this case President Sirisena).

      When that happens the only recourse is the Courts.

      The parliament that Sirisena inherited had a preponderance of Rajapaksa supporters.

      After January 8th there were two faction within the UPFA in Parliament, one supporting Sirisena and the other supporting Rajapaksa.

      Unfortunately due to foolish actions of the RW govt the faction supporting MR began to increase, weakening the MS faction.

      There were THREE no confidence motions pending against the UNP led govt that the govt was sure to loose.

      There was a COPE report that was due in July that censured CB governor, the Finance Minister and the PM.

      Can you therefor explain how MR could have been stopped from getting nomination to contest either from the SLFP or the UPFA?

      Sirisena’s Statesmanship was put beyond doubt when he did the following after becoming the ALL POWERFUL President (as powerful as post 18A MR).

      Appoint RW as Prime Minister not withstanding the fact that he did not command the confidence of the majority in Parliament.

      Reduce his own term of office from 6 to 4 years (though Parliament reduced it only to 5 years)

      Transferred all legally possible powers to the PM and the Cabinet.

      Thus becoming the ONLY sitting President to have honoured the pledge given to the Lankan Population to do everything possible that did not require a referendum to weaken the Dictatorial Presidency to which he got elected.

      What Sri Lanka needs is an intelligentsia that can express BALANCED views not half baked lopsided critiques.

      I do hope you will take the trouble to clarify your position in view of what I have written above.

      Kind Regards,
      OTC

      Kind Regards,
      OTC

  • 12
    6

    Dr. Ruvan Weerasinghe

    RE: First The Party, Then The Country

    Do you believe what he is saying? I don’t anymore, unless he has something up his sleeve, to pull the rug under Mahinda Rajapaksa, a second time, after all those nightly meetings. Where does he belong. He himself said it that according to Mahinda Rajapaksa, he belongs 6 ft. underground.

    So what happened? Either Rajapaksa gave a few billions from the stolen billions or the Chinese gave a few Billions or both of them gave several billions.

    Don’t believe, anything this Spineless, wimp, liar, coward, crook, bribe taker and traitor to 6,200,000 Sri Lankan voters is saying. Don’t you think CBK loves the Party mote than this traitor, who linked up with the Liars, crooks, thieves, and criminals?

    Sirisena: The Greatest

    1. Spineless

    2. Wimp

    3. Liar

    4. Coward

    5. Traitor

    6. Crook

    7. And Bribe Taker in the Land of Native Veddah Aethho, Ever.

    Yes, Ever.

    • 1
      1

      Dr Ruvan and Amare,
      Just tell me whether you guys respect DEMOCRACY?
      I know you guys say wholeheartedly YES AND YES AND YES as you guys always project yourselves as paragons of virtue …..
      Then, tell me how SLFP President MY3 could oppose the will of almost 98% SLFPers who wants MR back?
      Just tell me DR R, how the hell my3 could resist that overwhelming demand as a politician?

      First the party then the country, you write …
      What a b.s. when you and your friends decide what’s good for the country when 98% of one of the major parties think otherwise?
      Unbiased thinking is one of major qualities of true learned men … But, fakes does not possess the quality … They may have few letters at the end or beginning .. But, I admit some have very handsome looks …

  • 10
    5

    Is it possible for. JARAPASSA to swap CLOTHES and title of THE PRESIDENT ELECT SIRA PASSA AND ATTEND FOREIGN FUNCTIONS IN THE NAME OF SRILANKA GOVERNMENT???

    NOT TO FORGET THE ” THIEF ” WIFE SHIRA….PASSA AND THE GARBAGE BARBARIC IILLITERATE SONS TOO??

    LIKE HAVING AAPPA BREAKFAST FROM THE SAME PLATE??

    HE HE MAMMA. LUDJAI .

  • 13
    4

    YES YES YES.

    Vote NOT for the thief, murderer, rapist,
    Vote NOT FOR the invertebrate and/or Judas

    Vote for the ELEPHANT.

    • 3
      0

      Navin

      “Vote NOT for the thief, murderer, rapist, Vote NOT FOR the invertebrate and/or Judas”

      I will not be able to vote for the next 50 years.

      When did you acquire a taste for luxury?

    • 3
      0

      Jaaywewa Navin!!!!

  • 10
    3

    mr siriaena is a liar. he told election 8jan, he will wipe out corruption and criminal now he is supporting to the same people .he is not fit for president, india is watching mr sirisena

    • 4
      0

      MY3 had a golden opportunity to clean the SLFP from thieves, rapists and murders and get a new set leaders put in place to prepare it for future. That would have been the best thing he could have done for party.

      JHU, JVP, UNP et all going to canvass for clean politicians in this election and UPFA is going to get hit hard in public when they rip off UPFA drug dealers, ethanol guys, thieves and murders. It is going to be a very humiliating experience for UPFA.

  • 3
    0

    We need Candidates whose Ethic is to Work for the Good of the Country, rather than Support a Party or Individual?

    Aren’t Party Politics the Antithesis of ‘Yahapalanaya’ or Good Government? The Democracy which the British left us with, has become twisted into a Mockery of its original Form.

    Why should not These Contenders contest as Independents, and tell the Voters How They would Develop the Country and its People, rather than Promise to support an Individual, or a Political Party that is not really Sure what its Priorities are?

    Those that Win, would then be able to form a Government of Like Minded people and Work for the Good of all Sri Lankans, whether they live in the North, South, East or West!

  • 4
    3

    [Edited out] Borusena should be sent to plough the fields of rajarata, that is where he belongs!

    • 8
      2

      Patriot

      “[Edited out] Borusena should be sent to plough the fields of rajarata, that is where he belongs!”

      Where do you think people should send MR, Gota, Basil, Dayan, Mervyn, Duminda, the entire armed forces, …………… all the b***s carriers who bat for the clan in this forum?

  • 1
    0

    Parties have no principles. Manifestoes are full of rhetoric cliche. Multi party system is a failure in Sri Lanka. Members cross floors and it is upheld by courts making the proportional representation, a mockery. Should see whether the proposed national govt is practical or a farcical attempt of status quo. If the president is firm to say no to criminals anti social fanatics giving room to sensible new faces and if they too tend to drift must have the courage to dismiss them mercilessly. The electoral reform also should give weight on the unity on a nation wide electorate.

  • 5
    0

    As the Leader of SLFP & UPFA, has he signed that “12 March” Declaration? If YES, definitely, he is not worthy to be called a Leader. If he stood FIRM on his declaration of Yahapalanaya, his SLFP/UPFA would have disintegrated and we would have clearly “identified” the “Rouges”, “Criminals” etc. and that would have given us the greatest facility to make our “choice” on 17th august 2015. Anyway, as I said, this President is going to be in office for the next five years and we have to make our choice with great difficulty. We have a lot to get through this Five Year period and we are in the process of making a quick “Assessment”. We cannot afford to “let lose” this last chance drop from us.

  • 1
    0

    In SL none of the election promises are ever fulfilled including by M3. If there is an election promise that means that will never happen. If there is no election promise on a matter the possibility is that to happen.

  • 4
    1

    MY3 has shown his true colours and its a fact he is power hungry, realises how comfortable the position and will not give it up. He has not shown any leadership qualities so far but is very clever in breaking his own party and creating breakaways from his own party to oppose there own at the election. A unscrewpless devil!

    This man can not think beyond his nose and its very evident he is being instructed by others. It is a eye opener for all and lets be decisive in making the right decision at the elections.

  • 2
    5

    Ruvan Weerasinghe

    Where did you get your doctorate?

    I hate the doctoring doctorate doctors.

    Why can’t you bluntly say that we must support Mahinda.

    Mahinda is our saviour.

    There is lot to achieve when he becomes the Prime Minister.

    I will be fighting for my share for taking all the risks and supporting him without any fear.

    I am looking for my retirement in Sri Lanka following Mahinda becoming the Prime Minister.

  • 4
    0

    Dear Mr Pres. how ever you are a cheater you fooled the nation, if its like that, you could have told the Nation on January 8th that the party is first. how ever now the nation mind has changes and no believe on you. you too get los.

  • 1
    1

    Ruwan Weerasinghe,
    I am an old man who could speak to SL politics from State Council days when a person called Sir D.B.Jayatilake was the chief minister. Then there were no parties; there were groups. There was a ballot box for each candidate with a different colour.The voter cast the vote into the ballot box of the person of his/her choice. Under the Donoughmore Constitution that is how people voted. Sir DBJ was a highly educated scholar Who studied at Oxford University, Wesley College and a Pirivena called Vidyalankara Pirivena.He was a Buddhist leader who was elected once to the Legislative and twice to the State Council(to Kelaniya) uncontested. Even in the other electorates each candidate had to show his/her own record and plead for the vote and get elected.Those days also there were thugs from known, powerful families. Because of British propaganda, very wrongly, leftists were branded as trouble makers and misfits, but certain voters brought some leftists in to power as those politicians had served the masses in their own ways. That is why even today, Yatiyanthota, Beliatta and Akuressa areas are considered to be leftists’ electorates.

    When Sir Gerard Wijekoon contested Kandy, Piyadasa Sirisena attacked him on the basis that he was a Catholic. When Patriot E.W. Perera contested Kelaniya, after Sir DBJ, the popular view was that the former lost to JRJ because he was an Anglican-Christian.However, the party rivalry as it stands today, never existed before. As a Nation, its a big loss.In that respect it will be a progress if we could bring back that campaigning and voting aspect of the D’more Constitution( under which even the Universal Franchise was introduced.)

    From the good old days of 1940s all the cards that are being played now against the opponents based on nepotism,bribery, corruption, caste etc were played then too.

    If one gets a scale and looks for the more corrupted and the less corrupted, to me both sides are the same. We cannot forget the 1977 + 17 era and the atrocities that prevailed then. Now let us see the good things that happened too between 1977 and 2015 and examine who outnumbers the other.

    Its a sin to blame Mr Sirisena for everything. The position became too heavy…after all…” …burden lies the head that wears the crown (Shakespeare)” Mr MS delegated the work to RW & CBK who took mean advantage out of the situation and did so many things illegal. It is unfortunate that we flouted the provisions of the constitution towards appointing a Caretaker Govt via the parliament as we did in 1959 after the death of Mr SWRDB. Why did not we control the UNP Cabinet and the merry-makers then? Why should you call Mr MS names? Why were you silent then?

    It is my fervent hope that a constitution like the Donoughmore Constitution will see the light of day and make Sri Lanka a peaceful and peace-loving nation again, sans Conspiracies .

    R-2.

  • 1
    7

    Ruvan,
    Have you thought about the other possibility MS may have considered????
    i.e. Country FIRST and his (MS) political life SECOND!!!!!
    He may have realized the bleak future of Sri Lanka under Ranil W. and INGOs.
    Under Ranil (with a track record of pleasing the minorities for vote) the merger of North and East, and eventual Tamil Eelam and the remote control of SL by INGOs and Nowray are inevitable.

  • 0
    1

    Dear Dr. Ruvan

    It is the way in which President Sirisena has handled the nomination that is really the issue here. If he has said that he will consider nominations when the time comes, that would have been fine. Or, like Prime Minister Ranil, if he had expressed the view that the former President would not obtain many votes, that would have been also acceptable. The issue here is that President Sirisena went on record as saying that he will not give the nominations to the former president, but in the course of a few days he has done so. Political inexperience? Maybe. Loving the party? – no law against that.

    In this game it is the peoples choice that determines victory and defeat, and, it must be said, the way in which the political parties can manipulate the feelings or the voters that will decided the winner or loser.

    There is no law preventing anyone from voting for any nominated candidate. All parties are equally valid, and this is the stand that any Sri Lankan must take. We have all agreed to this democratic system, and accept the results.

    There are accusations on all sides of corruption, as well as fear mongering on each side. Both sides are guilty of this. If that is the way to run a campaign so be it, the people will decide. This is not the ideal.

    It is only by electing the opposing forces and having them reach an agreement in parliament that we can solve our problems. There is no point in blaming the voters who are the ones who sustain the party that they vote for. The popularity of the SLFP rests on its voter base, whose voice needs to be heard, there is no point attacking the messenger. They can ask for whatever Sri Lankan Identity they want, and negotiate the final one. Are you telling them all to vote for the UNP?

    If there was no democracy under the former government, then the current president was not elected under a democracy. If the dark days were before 2015, what about before the war ended? How is it possible to go back to the previous government when the former president is only one man contesting from one district?

    What I would say to the voters – educate yourselves, and vote for what is best for the country. The issue is competence, not corruption. There must be no violence.

    A student will benefit more from a competent, though corrupt, bribe taking nepotistic authoritarian fundamentalist professor more than a ‘clean’ one without any competencies. In your case, I must add, being ‘clean’ and competent go together, but voters may no always have that privilege to vote for clean and competent candidates. There is always the law (by the way President Sirisena is the only person in this country above the law) to handle these corruptions.

  • 0
    0

    The whole problem in Srilankan party politics boils down to lack of democracy within the party for the past sixty years. Good democratic countries have pre-selection of candidates within the party and candidates do not generally contest again if they loose one election. I am not sure even this will work in Srilanka as the money power of the politicians plays a major role in any election.It is now up to the people to choose the best out of the the list produced by the party secretaries.

  • 0
    0

    @KOW The primary election within a party like in USA is not possible here. If preference vote is reduced to one and made mandatory, no posters bills notices to advertise allowed and if it is statutorily honoured i.e., the heirarchy can be recognized infighting sealed instead of rejecting that as caste votes or bribed etc. The display of number and candidate profile through screen boards in Pettah bus stand Fort station and other prominent places be done by the election commission and the money be allocated by the state. Reginald Cooray says that he has no money for campaign, it means for posters and hand bills millions needed!

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