By Kumar David –
Ranil is a corpse refusing to attend his own funeral. Eventually UNP members will have to rent a hearse and drag the cortege to Kanatha. Next question: “Is presumptive leader Ruwan Wijewardene (RW new style) the chap who can recoup lost ground?” Apart from the question whether it can be done at all, the way he is setting about it seems deficient, and more seriously he does not seem to have the personality for the job. Let me make it clear that I am not a UNP or SJB person; my interest is dispassionate political analysis.
RW (new style; I won’t repeat this qualifier again) has laid out his plan as travelling to all corners to reorganise and revitalise the party. In the forefront of his mind, obviously are the indefatigable efforts of JR and Premadasa in rebuilding the UNP after the 1970 debacle. But yesterday’s cock won’t fight today’s battles. The problem now is not poor or defunct organisation. There is little for RW to rebuild; the UNP (the UNP-SJB totality) is not in organisational shambles. The new-style UNP called SJB, together with allies held on to a fair bit of the traditional vote bank (about 2.7 million) and collected about 55 parliamentary seats. Holding branch meetings, electing new office bearers, lecturing them on organisation & method, forming new district committees, that is to say all the paraphernalia called reorganisation, the kind of rebuilding that JR and Preme did, is barking up the wrong tree, it won’t yield the same results today. To do today what worked yesterday is anachronistic.
My greater criticism is that it is the wrong politics. To repeat, intrinsically, I don’t care for the UNP or SJB per se, except that any strengthening of the opposition is desirable. The stronger personality and campaigner, the one who launches vigorous activities against economic setbacks, rising costs, against 20A and authoritarianism and the betrayal of Sri Lankan workers stranded in the Middle East will make better progress. Not to go all out on a militant anti-Rajapaksa and anti-SLPP political mission and do “reorganisation” on the home front is like taking cookery classes at home when the house is on fire. It is putting the cart before the horse. RW’s labours will not be productive; he will flop if he does not change strategy.
Conversely Anura Kumara and the JVP are firing on all barrels. The SJB made a splash and made propaganda gains by noise against bringing murders into parliament. Viggy has his eye on capturing the leadership of the Tamils by stoking militancy when the regime turns its jaundiced eye from Muslims to Tamils. What issues, what national, economic and political issues is the UNP is going to put centre stage under RW’s leadership?
And this may be a personability issue as well. Apparently RW is polite, decent, well-spoken, not prone to hurling obscenities or chilli powder and not a nasty cockroach – a rarity in the vicinity of Diawanna Oya. That’s good; but there is no reason why one cannot be decent and at the same time an indefatigable fighter on issues – NM, Pieter, Chelva, Mrs B and Anura Kumara are among those who fit this bill. Dudley was a decent fellow but a damp squib on issues. When RW’s election as deputy leader was announced, instead of coming out fire and fury on the political issues of our time, he tamely announced that he would be retiring to the reorganisation corner. That’s his personality; can he surmount it? What’s his position on 20A? Does he have views on an economic programme? What’s his preferred system of state and executive presidency? Has he ever taken a stand on minority concerns and devolution? One would expect a new leader to come out firing on all barrels on these issues. Does he have a stand at all? Seems not; seems he wants to give Sajith a walkover.
Let me sign off by repeating that as an outsider I have no skin in UNP or SJB games and no interest in rooting for any leadership contender. Of course, at this time of writing I would in general like to see a strong opposition – JVP, minority representatives, Sajith, the UNP, professionals and monks who reject 20A, and trade unions and civil society.