Colombo Telegraph

Sajith Is Indispensable For UNP Revival

By H. L. D. Mahindapala

H. L. D. Mahindapala

How many leaders are needed to run the UNP? Two – i.e., leader and deputy leader, which is the norm? Three – i.e., the leader, the deputy leader and the assistant leader? Four – i.e., the  leader, the deputy leader, the assistant leader and the leader of the Leadership Council? Or even more, if you add the other members in the Leadership Council, including wannabees like Mangala Samaraweera etc? What is the limit? Where is it going to end?

If this is the shape of the UNP in the Opposition how many cabinet ministers will he have in the unlikely event of his winning the polls? Is he competing with Mahinda Rajapaksa’s to beat the record of  his jumbo cabinet?

The post-Uva period is a time for strategic thinking and planning. Wickremesinghe cannot afford to dissipate his gains by sowing the seeds of future dissension. But he is doing just that: the more leaders he appoints the more divisions there would be in the party. The appointment of Ravi Karunanayake as Assistant Leader, is a suicidal move that would undermine the stability of the party. Knowing the inevitable consequences, he has appointed two rivals to No.2 position, hoping  that he could play one against the other and retain his power.

This is typical of Wickremesinghe’s short-sighted scheming. Kuththu-fying by pitting one against the  other within his own party has been his routine tactic. It only confirms that he is a weak leader who is afraid of his own party members. During his stewardship he has failed to unite the rank-and-file which has from time to time rebelled against his leadership. His divide and rule policy is aimed at keeping everyone at each other’s throat, hoping that their internecine squabbles will force the bleeding rivals to run to him for survival.

But the flip side of this is that a divided party will ruin his long-term chances of winning power.  And if he loses next time there is no guarantee that he can remain as leader any more. In short, he will be digging his own grave by appointing too many leaders who will be pursuing their leadership prospects than focusing on serving the party, which would be for the benefit of all.

Bringing in Karunanayake after appointing Sajith is nothing but a kuththu because it is aimed at reducing the power and status of Sajith. Besides, Wickremesinghe is yet to define the role and the powers of Deputy Leader. So far appointing Sajith as his deputy appears to be another cosmetic tactic which has not taken him anywhere. Quite rightly, Sajith has refused to meet him leaving Wickremesinghe up in the air. If Wickremesinghe tries to play around with Sajith this time too it will widen the gap that divides the party. At this critical time when the party is poised for a chance of winning power – even though somewhat remote – Wickremesinghe should strategize more constructively and decisively to consolidate the position of the party which will benefit the party, the nation and himself.

Though there are many contenders for the No.2 position his choice of appointing Sajith as Deputy was the right choice to unite the party and give it a new image. But this should have been followed by a job description. The role of the Deputy Leader should be defined categorically for the new appointee  to function effectively. For instance, one issue that should be defined unequivocally is : will No: 2 be appointed to deputize or succeed No.1 in his absence? In the natural order of things No. 2 is the automatic successor to No.1. The deputy shares the burdens of leadership with the leader. But Karunanayake has muscled in to elbow out Sajith. Clearly, this can be read as the first move of Wickremesinghe to divide the party immediately after the Uva victory,.

This means that Wickremesinghe has won Uva and lost the party once again – particularly those whom he need to increase his chances of winning in the coming elections. It was totally unnecessary for him to appoint Ravi Karunanayake as Assistant Leader when he has already appointed Sajith Premadasa as his deputy. Why does  he need an assistant when he has a deputy? Traditionally, UNP  has had only No.1 and No.2 – and even with that limited number there was enough trouble within the party. I can vouch for that because I was in the thick of Dudley-JR crisis. Can you imagine the future in the UNP with about six or seven leaders waiting in the wings to succeed No.1?

The appointment of Ravi Karunanayake is totally redundant. Making the top heavy is not going to make Wickremesinghe popular either in party or with the people. Besides, Karunanayake and Managala Samaraweera are good as noise-makers but not as vote-winners on a national scale. So why is Wickremesinghe packing  the top with empty vessels?

There is more to Wickremesinghe appointing Karunanayake than what meets the eye. Unlike Sajith – almost an outsider — they are ideological twins leaning more towards the West with a nominal bow to the aspirations of the national culture and politics. Wickremesinghe-Karunanayake combo will please the Western embassies and the anti-Muslim neo-cons of the West pursuing hegemonic power. One way of reading the appointment of two heads to No. 2 position seems simple: Sajith’s appointment is to please the people and the party hopefuls and the appointment of Karunanayake is to please the American and British diplomatic missions.

In fact, right now Wickremesinghe is in UK with Sagala Ratnayake – his favourite junior who warms his cockles. This junket to attend the Conservative Party convention headed by David Cameron – the anti-Sri Lankan Prime Minister – clearly reveals the priorities and politics of Wickremesinghe. How many votes is he going to collect at the Convention of the Conservative Party for  him to win the next election in Sri Lanka? What is the message he conveys to the Sri Lankan electorate by hobnobbing with David Cameron, the man who is hounding Sri Lanka in every international forum. Should  Wickremesinghe’s role now be to kow-tow to the enemies of the nation abroad or to consolidate the position of his party at home?

Wickremesinghe, it is clear, is not capable of learning from history. particularly the history of his own fatal failures. By now he should know that there are no votes for him in the West. Votes are in Sri Lanka. But the more he loses the  more he leans towards the West and the more he leans towards the West the more he loses at home. To him the position of being somebody in the Asia-Pacific Branch of the IDU is more important than serving the party or the people of Sri Lanka.

He overdid the West-leaning act too much when he was Prime Minister and where did it take Sri Lanka? He surrendered the sovereign rights of the nation to the West and to Prabhakaran and what benefits did he receive from both? He even met George Soros, one of richest investors in the West. How many investments did he get from him? It is obvious that he suffers from an incurable passion to live in a fool’s paradise. For instance, elated by his peace agreement with Prabhakaran he lifted the protective barriers in Colombo. It is the people who had to pay for his political buffoonery.

The latest events have proved that even his party has no respect or trust in him. A classic example is the UNPs reaction to him after the Uva “victory”. Everybody who was somebody got his/her share of praise for the success scored at Uva. But no one – not even the stray dogs at Siri Kotha – showed any signs of gratitude to Wickremesinghe for scoring that victory. In other words, the party was saying that they can win without the leader – or is it, the loser? His repeated losses confirms that the party can win without him. He might as well stay behind at No.10 Downing Street to polish Cameron’s boots!

Sajith Premadasa, on the contrary, earned his kudos for the constructive role he played at the grass root level. Even the hero of Uva, Harin Fernando, has come out swinging and insisting that Sajith be made the Prime Minister. In other words, Harin acknowledges the contribution of Sajith for  his victory. Harin should know about Sajith’s worth because he knows that the derelict party was re-energized and revitalized by the psychological impact of the unity forged with Sajith.

It is the Sajith-Wickremesinghe front that not only has the capacity to revive the party but convey new image – and through image a new message — to the electorate. The victory of Harin in Uva signaled that the UNP is need of a fresh look with a new icon. Harin gave that new hope with the new image to the new voters. Tired old Wickremesinghe cannot transform the image of the UNP on his own. He can raise his profile only if he teams up with  Sajith. If the UNP fails to grasp this fact then it is doomed. The failure that is written all over trhe face of Wickremesinghe can be neutralized by the hope and energy that shines in Sajith’s face. It is the most meaningful and productive combination for the UNP. If the next election is going to be one of finding a new face for new hopes (as Harin in Uva) then Sajith is the answer.

In the current context no one has better credentials than Sajith. Ravi Karunanayake’s past and future have been reduced to ashes like of the CWE records that got burnt in a mysterious fire. Karu Jayasuriya can hardly move with his broken back after too much of high jumping. Mangala Samaraweera has nowhere to go except to hang on to Wickremesinghe. In any case all these are tried, tested and failed hasbeens whose future is buried in the past.

What the UNP needs now is a Harin on the national stage. The fresh face of Harin, raising new hopes, can be replicated in a Sajith-Wickremesinghe unity front. Who else is there in the UNP other than Sajith Preamadasa to be Harin’s counterpart on the national stage? The optics, undercurrents of present disillusionment, and the rising momentum can be collectively exploited to galvanize the bulk of the new voters waiting for a new awakening. Only the  Sajith-Wickremesinghe combination an produce the necessary impetus in any future election.

Out of the wild pack in the race there is no doubt that Sajith is a guaranteed winner. Not only the UNP but even the nation stands to gain with Sajith sitting on the right hand side of Wickremesinghe. Like his father who packed off David Gladstone, the UK High Commissioner for meddling in the domestic affairs, the nation can be sure that Sajith Premadasa will not run to No. 10 Downing Street to polish the boots of the incumbent.

To the everlasting credit of President Mahinda Rajapaksa he has shown the way to stand up against the might of the West. He has  shown that the local electorate is mightier  than IDU or No. 10 Downing Street. Each time Wickremesinghe goes to the West Rajapakse gains in the East. At the heart of the UNP crisis is the  image  problem which can be remedied only by Sajith coming in to balance what Wickremesinghe lacks. Sajith can be the balancing factor not only for the east-west divide but also for the north-south divide.

Tissa Attanayake, who has turned out to be a hard-nosed realist, exposed the fallacy of having too many cooks at the top by resigning from the Leadership Council. Tissa-Harin-Sajith trio constitute the new face/force of the UNP. Above all, they provide credibility to an alternative leadership. UNP, after all, is standing as the alternative model for good governance. Tissa-Harin-Sajith is the trump card that Wickremesinghe has to play as his next move to get anywhere close to power. But will he play it or will he commit hara kiri again?

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