By Rasika Jayakody –
Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri says political parties in Sri Lanka are obliterating. Instead, he says, there are new centres of power. The SLFP, for instance, is no longer functional. The UPFA, formed just 9 years ago, has replaced the grand old party. Mahinda Rajapaksa, leader of the UPFA, has transcended the party and the ruling coalition has been dwarfed by just one man.
What Nirmal Ranjith presents is an interesting point of view to the present political equation. He made these remarks in an interview with a Sinhala weekend newspaper last week, sharing his viewpoints on the present internecine battle of the United National Party. What he suggests is that a mere leadership change will not resolve the UNP’s internal crisis as the problem is much bigger than that. Be that as it may, the obliteration of boundaries of traditional political parties in Sri Lanka is evident in many of the day-to-day occurrences we come across in the political sphere.
Dayasiri Jayasekera, a strong critique of the government until August this year crossed over to the ruling party at the eleventh hour and contested the North Western Provincial Council election. He obtained more than 330000 preferential and topped the list with a resounding margin. Nearly two months after his cross over, he took oaths as the new Chief Minister of Northern Provincial Council, representing the party which came under his trenchant criticism when he was an opposition parliamentarian. Within 60 days, there was a 180 degree change in Dayasiri’s politics as far as the public is concerned. But still he is a conqueror. Strange!
Mangala Samaraweera, the one who baptized the opposition leader as Mr. Bean and the one who masterminded the political coalition UPFa suddenly became the messiah of the Ranil faction of the United National Party by bringing the anti-Ranil protest march in Matara to a grinding halt. Surpassing most of the bleeding-green UNPers and Mangala and his cinnamon pole brigade came forward to defend the party leadership displaying their loyalty to the man whom they once ridiculed as a comedian. It was a strange twist of destiny that Mangala found himself right in the middle of the home and home clash of the United National Party!
So where is the UNP – SLFP dichotomy? The answer is very complicated.
However it is crystal clear that elections, particularly the ones at the national level, will no longer depend on political parties. Instead they will completely depend on individuals and personalities. Those who want to succeed in national level politics will have to grow out of their traditional political parties just like Dayasiri did when he was with the United National Party. Politicians will be inclined to position themselves as individual brands and they will no longer be party men. Sacrifices you make on behalf of the party and its leader will not hold any water as far as the future of your political career is concerned. All you have to do is to be at the right place at the right time and that will automatically make you the right person, or perhaps the right choice. After 10 years from now, in my view, there will be no Berty Premalal and Athula Wijesinghe look-alikes at the top tier of national politics, who thrive on their early political sacrifices made on behalf of the party. On the contrary, the present equation will spawn more and more Daysiris and Johannes who just want to be at right places at right times.
It is important to see as to how this paradigm-shift was created in the political sphere, especially after 2005. At the initial stage of its administration, the Rajapaksa regime was on a mission to strengthen its parliamentary power and as a result of that the ruling party moved away from the coalition and became a “mix” that had no respect for the traditional UNP-SLFP dichotomy. For ruling party parliamentarians it was all about getting a foothold in this new landscape and those who failed went into oblivion.
For President Rajapaksa, this mix became the perfect recipe for success when it comes to perpetuation in office. Over the last four years he has further complicated the ‘mix’ by accomodating more and more multi coloured and multi dimensional members. As the President himself admitted at a recent television interview, “Right wing extremists are there, religious extremists are there – the Tamils, the Sinhala, the Muslims – we have all these people in the cabinet. They are all working together and I have to manage them.” Deviating from the practice of forming common political fronts and coalitions, allowing constituent parties to protect their identities, President Rajapaksa has mixed everyone together, at times one with another and at times one against another!
The present state of affairs in political parties and their scopes of operation is a byproduct of President Rajapaksa and his neo-Machiavellian politics. Thanks to this formula he adopted wittingly or otherwise, there is no one in the picture who is emerging as a strong threat to the government, especially from the opposition which has strangled itself with home and home issues.