By Vishwamithra –
Karu Jayasuriya’s political career started in the mid-nineties. Karu Jayasuriya, born on 29 September 1940 came to limelight after he became the Mayor of Colombo from 1997 to 1999. His expertise as an able private sector executive would have played an indispensible part during his tenure as Mayor of Colombo for him to be considered amongst the best of Colombo Mayors of all time. It was during his time the city of Colombo looked like a typically clean and utterly habitable city for all-comers. The unassuming posture that he displayed when relating to the highest and lowest of society brought him a reputation that no present day politician could boast about. Yet this same unassuming conduct on his part did in fact hinder his rise to the top of his political party, United National Party (UNP). That unassertive, patient and modest approach to a profession which at all times demanded a cavalier and aggressive demeanor from those who practiced it may have halted his rise in the short run, but when considering the long-term sustainability of an astute politician, such a demeanor is a concealed advantage. The only indisputable disadvantage is that with a person who is already in his sixties trying to play the long-term game, the passage of years keeps piling up, making him look much older when the real time comes to assert himself.
Karu Jayasuriya’s most distinct disadvantage in being considered for the next Presidential Elections candidate is the length of years. By the year 2020, when the Presidential Elections are due, Karu will be 80 years old or young. JR Jayewardene climbed the proverbial greasy pole of politics when he was 71 years old. As a result, as was most aptly and illustratively penned in the his biography by Professor K M de Silva, J R, when assumed power in 1977, looked more like an old man in a rush rather than a calculating strategist for which he was reputed.
However, it is not fair by both JR and Karu Jayasuriya to be compared with each other. Times have changed and have taken a nasty toll on a rapidly deteriorating political culture which in its intrinsic core has come out as a mirror of the changes that our society has been painstakingly enduring during its meandering course. In 2018, the United National Party and its coalition government are undergoing a serious yet an inscrutable course change. The UNP, for all its pomp and boast over the last two and half years, yet cannot accurately claim that they had really won any victories at the electorate, especially in the Sinhalese Buddhist voter base.
This is exactly where Karu Jayasuriya’s claim to the highest job in the land matters. His acceptance among the Sinhalese Buddhists and specifically among the Buddhist clergy coupled with the trust and faith reposed on him by the minorities as a friendly, patient, and amiable negotiator has contributed to him being considered for the job. Given these divergent advantages, Karu J might appeal as the best candidate, provided Ranil Wickremesinghe opts to keep out of the Presidential Elections as the UNP candidate this time too. Yet one glaring and tangibly intense disadvantage that remains is his age and lack of enthusiasm and demand from the youth, at least as yet.
Nevertheless, Karu J seems to enjoy immense trust from the country’s civil organizations whose prime platform is law and order, transparency and accountability. His stringent allegiance to the process as against substance, taken in the context of sophisticated political calculation, might stand in good stead as it is the process by which a socio-political change could be attained and then administered as much as substance that very process is supposed to be executing. However, blind adherence to the process could, in the realm of politics, harm the politician who tries to empower that process. In an environment in which optics matters more than the process and substance, it is scrupulously hard to market a politician and his policies and principles to the large mob of voters.
Against such a confusing backdrop, let us examine once again the key elements that the next UNP or UNP-led Presidential Candidate needs have in his or her bag in order to run a legitimately aggressive and successful campaign:
1. Maha Sanga
2. Unstinted support of the minorities
3. Intangibles including leadership, youth and charisma
Does Karu Jayasuriya have the potential to garner the support of these key elements? Karu J certainly has the first two. And in both those categories, he enjoys the highest degree in the first. And in the second element, he is either better than or equal to Ranil Wickremesinghe. It is in the intangibles that Karu J falls behind both Sajith Premadasa and Navin Dissanayake, the other two plausible contenders. Some might argue the cases for Champika Ranawaka, Rajitha Senarathne and even Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka. While Sarath Fonseka would disqualify himself as a loser as recent as in 2009, both Champika and Rajitha would have to climb a steep hill in convincing the UNP voters as they are authentic UNP members.
So we are back to square one. If Karu Jayasuriya is not the so-called Dark Horse, then who is it? Is there any other who would wear that badge, Dark Horse? There doesn’t seem to be any. However, what is not mentioned in the above formulation is a quality of the candidate as perceived to be a winner.
While acknowledging that this is no final pitch for a UNP candidate, it must also be borne in mind that time is not in favor of the United National Party. It might be all too late for a brand new candidate to get his gear together and run an effective and winning campaign.
Who might be the opponent? There is a consistent hue and cry about one particular Rajapaksa whose country-loyalties might be belonging continents far, far away from Mother Lanka. As a matter of fact, that very element of the political formula may very well work against the grain of commonsensical politics. Those who profess patriotism and thunder from atop lofty towers need to come down at least every now and then listen to their own consciences. What seems to baffle an ordinarily educated mind does not seem to astonish these Rajapaksas who have over the last two decades and half shown unlimited capacity for avarice and hunger for power. Yet the failure on the part of the present coalition government to bring these violators of basic ethical norms and perpetrators of alleged financial crimes to justice has caused the public to lose faith in them. This failure has further engendered a notion of suspicion and distrust among the curious public; it has heightened and aroused the stigmatic aura that some members of the governing party are colluding with the Rajapaksas in order to pave way for a total exoneration of the alleged culprits.
Therefore, the options are limited and hard to discern. If the election of Maithripala Sirisena was a watershed in our politics, in the event of a comeback of the Rajapaksas, the next Presidential Elections might well be a reversal of all the hopes and aspirations of a susceptible public. Such vulnerabilities apart, any collusion or even a hint of collusion by any members of the current administration with the Rajapaksas will amount to a grotesque miscarriage of justice.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org