By Amrit Muttukumaru –
First things first. Congratulations and best wishes to the just elected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the expectation that he will govern our country in the manner he has promised in the run-up to the election and reiterated in his address to the nation after taking office. This include (i) democratic governance (ii) respecting the pluralism and diversity of our people (iii) zero tolerance of corruption (iv) meritocracy.
Although it is axiomatic that General Elections are crucial for the democratic governance of any country, it has special meaning for Sri Lanka at the current juncture when the country is sharply polarized as never before as witnessed from the results of the hard fought presidential election. This does not portend well for the country. It is in this context in particular and the democratic governance of the country in general that the general elections due imminently is crucial. It is a matter of virtual life or death for the country that the majority of parliamentarians belong to parties different from the party to which the president belongs. This is to ensure the check and balance to presidential authority even though it has been somewhat diluted by the controversial 19th Amendment. Even the proposed constitutional reforms need a strong parliamentary opposition to offset it being monopolized by the party to which the executive president belongs.
Towards this end it is a sine qua non that the UNP must be up and running to present STRONG competition to the party to which President Gotabaya belongs – Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) of which the leader is his elder brother – former president Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has CLUNG on as UNP leader for the better part of 25 years virtually by force by the brute power given to the leader by the UNP constitution. Under him the UNP has lost a record number of nation-wide elections and also probably responsible for the party losing thousands of exasperated party faithful. He is still HELL- BENT on remaining as UNP leader. It is a no-brainer that Wickremesinghe who was COMPELLED albeit reluctantly at the last minute to propose Deputy UNP Leader Sajith Premadasa as presidential candidate must bear significant responsibility for Premadasa’s defeat. For several reasons it is widely perceived that Wickremesinghe’s ‘stock’ in the country and among a vast majority of the UNP faithful is at an all time low.
i) Reneging on the promise of good governance for which PM Wickremesinghe is widely perceived to be mainly responsible. The egregious Treasury Bond Scam epitomizes the worst excesses of the yahapalana government’s alleged corruption and abuse of power.
(ii) Not holding those concerned under the Rajapaksa presidency accountable after alleging in the run-up to the 2015 national elections of terrible corruption, violence and abuse of power.
(iii) Perception that the Yahapalana government ALLOWED the Easter Sunday carnage to take place by ignoring several intelligence warnings due to gross incompetence.
(iv) Perception that Wickremesinghe would be more comfortable under a Gotabaya Rajapaksa presidency rather than one of Sajith Premadasa. This perception is supported by media reports (not denied) that Wickremesinghe who does not have even a ‘snowball’s chance in hell’ to defeat Rajapaksa was seriously considering being the UNP’s Presidential candidate.
(v) Hanging on as UNP leader for the better part of 25 years virtually by force by the brute power given to the leader by the UNP constitution.
(vi) Losing a record number of nation-wide elections and also probably losing thousands of exasperated party faithful.
It must nevertheless be stated that Premadasa himself – UNP deputy leader and senior minister was virtually a silent spectator in the face of yahapalana shenanigans these past four and a half years.
The MINDSET of PM Wickremesinghe, who is REFUSING to resign from being UNP leader whilst professing respect for democratic principles and the practice followed in mature democracies, could be gauged from the following:
1) While neither he nor UNP General-Secretary Akila Viraj Kariyawasam were present at the Elections Secretariat when the results were being officially announced, he thought it fit to be present at the swearing in of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in Anuradhapura. While it is conceded that his presence in Anuradhapura was courteous and appropriate, should it not be viewed in the WIDER CONTEXT of his absence at the Elections Secretariat in his capacity as UNP leader? It was indeed sad to see on TV Sajith Premadasa being IGNORED by his party leader and party General-Secretary.
2) While several persons in the UNP such as Kabir Hashim and Mangala Samaraweera have promptly resigned from Cabinet portfolios with immediate effect, Wickremesinghe continues to STAY PUT as UNP leader and PM. Kabir Hashim has also resigned with immediate effect as UNP Chairman.
Democracy and good governance DEMANDS that the UNP should present itself as a STRONG party to face the imminent General Elections under the leadership of Sajith Premadasa. If the UNP goes as a divided party with Wickremesinghe as leader, it will be a TRAGEDY for the country. Forming a new party similar to the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) or the Democratic United National Front (DUNF) of Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake may not be viable in the context of the imminent General Elections.