4 December, 2020

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Ranil, Sajith And The Authoritarian And Dictatorial Rajapaksa Regime

By Harim Peiris

Harim Peiris

As the Rajapaksa Presidency pushes ahead with its the impeachment of the Chief Justice, UNP and Opposition leader Ranil Wickramasinghe pulled off his own coup within the UNP. He convened a party convention which met on December 1st, amended its constitution to ensure that the UNP elects its leader only once in six years and not annually as at present. He also succeeded in according to himself the right to appoint the all the office bearers in the Party, with some minimal concurrence of the UNP’s Working Committee. Essentially Ranil is now entrenched as UNP leader till 2018, till much after the next presidential and parliamentary elections are due. Right after his Party election, Ranil gave a speech to the party faithful at the convention, that now secure as Party Leader he wants to take on the Rajapakse regime. He vowed to ensure a UNP administration by 2014.

The pledge of a UNP government by 2014 is driven by the considerable speculation in political circles that the next round of national elections or at least the presidential election due in 2016 would be under the 18th amendment and related Supreme Court decisions will be brought forward to 2014, to the advantage of the government. The rationale for this is that the UPFA administration is seeing a slow but steady erosion of its support and popularity. The recent provincial council elections demonstrated that despite the decks stacked in favor of the government and a lacklustre underfunded UNP campaign with no prospect of a regime change, the UPFA percentage vote declined from the general elections of 2010 to the gain of the UNP. The UPFA demonstrates no interest, desire or capability to effect the governance and policy corrections which will change this trend and so essentially bringing forward the election is to go for elections at the constitutionally earliest possible moment to get another presidential term.

So with Ranil consolidated as UNP leader till 2018 and giving voice to the natural desire of the UNP faithful to see a UNP administration in office once again, here are some lessons and parallels from President Barrack Obama’s US experience, which might profit the UNP and its leader.

1. People vote for a candidate not against an incumbent

It is a fact of political life that the uncommitted swing voter, defined as those with no fixed party loyalty and who hence decide national elections, tend largely to vote for a candidate rather than merely against someone. The Republican Bush administration in 2008 was at historically low approval ratings and the presidential election of that year was the Democrats to lose, but it was still necessary for the first African American candidate on a presidential ticket to define himself as a credible leader to the electorate. It is important for the swing voter, thinking about the future to understand what vision and direction is being proposed for the country and society as a whole. This is especially so in a country like Sri Lanka, when taking on a regime in power for close upon a decade and that represents some deeply  entrenched interests.

2. Complement the leader’s weaknesses

Candidate Obama recognising his need to reach out to older white males, an electorate with whom he did very badly in his recent reelection effort this year, accordingly choose then Senator Joe Biden as his vice presidential nominee and running mate. Thereby picking  a person, who by his political persona and background could appeal too and reach out to this crucial electorate. Similarly ensure that the UNP leadership and team are not merely seen as an Urban Colombo preserve but include those that resonate with rural voters. It is for very valid political reasons and not due to personal chemistry or friendship that former President Jayewardene teamed up with Ranasinghe Premadasa as a two man act, to bring the UNP to power in 1977.

3. Once the election is won, be inclusive.

President Obama after winning the US presidency in 2008, immediately tapped his primary election challenger and bitter critic Hilary Clinton to serve as Secretary of State. This not only served to unify the Democratic Party but also immediately consolidated his support with key democratic constituencies that had favored the former first lady and New York Senator. Similarly, Ranil should ensure sufficient political accommodation of UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa as a key part of the UNP challenge to the Rajapakse regime.  Not merely Sajith, but some of the key reformers are stalwarts in their own right.Rosy Senanayake , Ranjith Maddumabandara, Sujeeawa Senasinghe besides their own electorate would be important in attracting women, rural support and the youth vote.

4. Do a major reform; commit to reintroduce the 17th amendment President Obama after winning the 2008 election moved into the difficult but necessary task of health care reform in the USA. Targeting health care to the more than thirty five million Americans who were vulnerable and without adequate health care coverage. Today we have Obama care, which while not quite a great society initiative, certainly is a major and signature policy achievement  The Rajapakse regime is seeing a slow but steady slippage and facing considerable challenges in governance. From farmers and fishermen to teachers and university dons, there is dissatisfaction on governance issues. The Regime is paying a significant political price for its efforts to impeach the Chief Justice and while they will succeed, after all it just requires 113 MP’s voting according to the UPFA party whip, it will be at some political cost in legitimacy in the eyes of the electorate. A major commitment on governance would attract broad support on a governance front and a UNP commitment to reintroduce the 17th amendment to the constitution and abolish the 18th amendment would be a good basis for a  core political message on governance and democracy.

Sri Lanka needs a strong two party system and an opposition that is a viable alternative government and an effective check and balance against excesses and abuses of power by the government of the day. If the Rajapakse regime is both authoritarian and dictatorial as both Ranil Wickramasinghe and Sajith Premadasa clearly stated at their recent Party convention, then perhaps they should give serious thought to what the UNP as the main Opposition party should do about it.

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Latest comments

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    Dear Mr.Peiris,
    The thinking capacity of the American voters is far superior to that of Sri Lankan voters. If Obama or any other president tried to bring in an amendment to the US constitution that did away with the 8 year term limit of the US presidency…all 311 million US citizens would have got on to the streets to protest. In Sri Lanka, they eat kiribath, light crackers and sing “Apita kanna denna wa nam…apita bonna denna wa nam…koi kengediya da thawa onay karran nay?” (that’s a line from a Sinhala stage drama which says, “If you give us to eat and you give us to drink…what else do we need?” Typical 3rd world uneducated way of thinking.

    ps. If those silly UNP parliamentarians like Sajith and his band of 5th columnists stopped dancing to the tune of MR and stood united with Ranil, the voters too would have confidence to vote for the UNP. What happens today is that the voters vote them into parliament and they jump into the government side, or stay in the opposition and try to destabilize the UNP and Ranil from within. For God’s sakes act like a responsible opposition and get this country out of the clutches of the Rajapaksas. The longer the Rajapaksas’ stay, the more difficult it will be to get rid of them. See what happened in Libya. If not for Libya’s oil money that Gaddafi spread around amongst the people, he too would have been kicked out much earlier. Thank God Sri Lanka has no oil. :)

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      MR Govt. providing things for Kanna, Bonna and making Lanka a Sinhala Theeravaada Buddhist country has produced satisfaction among the majority of the Sinhala nation. With the legalization of prostitution,Sinhala nation will be fully satisfied! Thus, no power on the earth could dislodge the democratically elected MR Regime!!!

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    Mr.Peiris,
    I do agree with what you say about President Jayewardene teaming up with Ranasinghe Premadasa as a two man act, to bring the UNP to power in 1977. If the UNP is united, Ranil can tell the people that when he becomes president, he will make Sajith the prime minister who will eventually be in line to become presidential candidate when Ranil gives up the presidencey. United you stand and divided you fall.

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      Sajith is already in MR’s gravy train and if Ranil permits him to become PM then you can be certain devolution will be used by Sajith and MR to destroy Ranil like his dad did. Say what you like the breed counts.

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      Thinking aloud it could be a Ranil and Rosy combination as she can woe the women and minor religions.

      It would be like a Porsche RR… all the way.

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      As the platform will have to be abolishing Executive Presidency with
      100 days of Election, the plan should be Ranil as PM and Sajith as
      Deputy PM to start with I think?

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    80 % of the inhabitant population are rural people who have been given a new sense of belonging and self assuarance and some hope of a better life by the President.

    Village based Economic development revolving around mega infrasture projects in main rural centres are lifting the living standards of the rural sector.

    Even the village Mudalalis , who are the UNP in the village are joing the Rajapaksa party,fot they too are benifiting from the Economic Boom..

    This is real time Economic development unlike the Premdasa free housing and free Jothipala concerts to show that he was the President of the rural poor, whilst being a captive of the Elitist hierarchy of the UNP.

    If the UNP need to project themselves as the party which can deliver a better nation, focussing on bringing the long neglected and marginalized rural poor to be on par with their city counterparts, the Leadership must show tangible policies detached from their current main game of pleasing the NGOs ,Western Govts and their allies among the inhabitants.

    Until such time the UNP under Ranil or Sajith will be in the political wilderness for a long time to come.

    As for Ranil rolling Rajapaksa in a 2014, election. the odds will be double dijit.

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      Are you really talking about economic development of Sri lanka? What a joke? What about lossess from Mihin Lanka, CPC and high cost of living..Prices of essential food items are increased 3 or 4 times within a year..

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    80 % of the inhabitant population are rural people who have been given a new sense of belonging and self assuarance and some hope of a better life by the President.

    Village based Economic development revolving around mega infrasture projects in main rural centres are lifting the living standards of the rural sector.

    Even the village Mudalalis , who are the UNP in the village are joing the Rajapaksa party,for they too are benifiting from the Economic Boom..

    This is real time Economic development unlike the Premdasa free housing and free Jothipala concerts to show that he was the President of the rural poor, whilst being a captive of the Elitist hierarchy of the UNP.

    If the UNP need to project themselves as the party which can deliver a better nation, focussing on bringing the long neglected and marginalized rural poor to be on par with their city counterparts, the Leadership must show tangible policies detached from their current main game of pleasing the NGOs ,Western Govts and their allies among the inhabitants.

    Until such time the UNP under Ranil or Sajith will be in the political wilderness for a long time to come.

    As for Ranil rolling Rajapaksa in a 2014, election. the odds will be in double digit.

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      Or in triple digits?

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      As much I disagree with the Rajapaksa clan, there is a lot of truth in this comment.

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    Very interesting analysis. However, Mr. Peiris begs the primary question: what is the difference between the current UPFA and the UNP. The answer, unfortunately, is NONE.
    They are both organizations that represent the most rotten elements of the “haves” (Is there any other kind?)They are, very obviously, dancing to the tune of the IMF, World Bank etc. and, in confirmation of that footwork they’ve brought Sarath Amunugama, the quintessential opportunist, into a position of authority as far as the finances of this country are concerned.
    Irrespective of whether it is MR or RW, the hope for this country lies elsewhere. Where that is God only knows and he, right now, is not telling us!

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      Anti-Boru you reject MR and RW both and state that the hope for this country lies elsewhere and like MR claims only God knows as in the case of Prageeth. Believe me the best Genuine Socialist Politician the country will see will be in RW, the day he assumes power. Although I personally think Socialism is not practicable as it has failed in all Countries. But I do believe the Poor in a society should be looked after by the State providing opportunity for them to work for it, but not to encourage things for gratis.

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