By Amrit Muttukumaru –
It will be politically suicidal for Sajith Premadasa to accept the outrageous “conditions” set by UNP “seniors” to obtain nomination as UNP’s official Presidential candidate. If not for the serious implications to the country, they are laughable.
The ‘conditions’ purportedly set are that Sajith must give the undertaking in” writing”:
1) Ranil Wickremesinghe will “remain the UNP Leader and the Prime Minister”
2) “commitment” to “abolish executive presidency”
3) To work on a “power devolution package” to “resolve the Tamil national question”
It is widely believed that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has held on as UNP leader for the better part of 25 years virtually by force by the brute power given to the leader by the UNP constitution. It is also believed that Ranil for the first time has served almost for the full term as Prime Minister thanks to the 19th Amendment which was controversially conceived and questionably made law under his watch.
The UNP under Ranil’s leadership has lost a record number of nation-wide elections. He is most likely the most unpopular Prime Minister this country has ever had. It is widely perceived that the UNP over his long period of ‘leadership’ has lost thousands of party faithful. His support base today is thought to be mainly confined apart from a dwindling number of dyed in the wool UNPers to his cronies in the UNP hierarchy, party hangers-on and NGOs for the most part funded by western political interests – all of them in some measure or other benefiting from the patronage he is able to dispense from the high political office he holds.
RW to “remain the UNP Leader and the Prime Minister”
Is it not hypocritical for those who screamed from the roof tops when democracy was assailed due to the ‘constitutional coup’ in October last year to now demand that Sajith give a written undertaking that Ranil will “remain the UNP Leader and the Prime Minister”? Are these not the prerogative of democratic processes of the UNP (in regard to UNP leadership) and the Sri Lanka Constitution and Parliament (in regard to who is Prime Minister)? Was it also not undemocratic and unconstitutional for Ranil to have accepted the post of PM in January 2015 when the UNP was in the minority in parliament?
“commitment” to “abolish executive presidency”
Was not a ‘commitment’ made to the people in the run-up to the January 2015 Presidential election to “abolish executive presidency”? Have not the entire Yahapalana government comprising of President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and others including Sajith Premadasa reneged with impunity for more than four and a half years this solemn undertaking? Why have the UNP “seniors” suddenly woken up to this unless there is another agenda?
The same hypocrisy largely applies to the demand made to Sajith to work on a “power devolution package” to “resolve the Tamil national question”.
There is unsavory speculation as to why Ranil Wickremesinghe and Parliament’s Speaker Karu Jayasuriya who do not have a ‘snowball’s chance in hell’ (particularly Ranil) in defeating Gotabaya Rajapaksa are toying with the idea of being the UNP’s Presidential candidate.
Sajith Premadasa is the only presidential candidate at present who could pose a real threat to the frontrunner – former Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
There is the real possibility that the greatly reduced UNP electoral base and those who have abandoned the party due to the lackluster ‘leadership’ of Ranil will get ‘fired up’ by a Sajith presidential candidature and those abandoning the party returning to the fold.
The more UNP leader Ranil behaves in a manner inimical to rational thinking to sidetrack Sajith, the more the likelihood that Sajith will get traction in the country on a ‘sympathetic’ wave even ‘outside’ the UNP fraternity.
Even if Sajith does not address minority concerns, the chances are that those who will vote from this category will support him instead of Gotabaya. The catholic vote base in the context of the Easter Sunday carnage is up for grabs. The ground reality is that of the 30% non-Sinhala Buddhist category, 7% are Christian of which 6% are Roman Catholics.
The jury is out on whether the much vaunted ‘model village’ housing schemes promoted by Sajith Premadasa are sustainable and whether they create a ‘dependency’ culture? Although the ‘sins of the fathers’ should not be ‘visited upon the sons’, controversies which include extra judicial killings such as that of Richard de Zoysa under the Ranasinghe Premadasa presidency should remind his son if elected of the immense power and responsibilities of the Executive President even in the Post-19th Amendment scenario.
Perfect foil to Gotabaya
Sajith Premadasa is the perfect foil to Gotabaya Rajapaksa. If Sajith is able to overcome the impediments of not being the UNP nominee by building on and communicating his strengths which include (i) Perception that he has a far greater pro-poor image (ii) Perception that on the yardstick of the country’s widespread political corruption and abuse of power he stands relatively tall (iii) Perception that he does not personally have a violence prone background (iv) his people friendly image devoid of arrogance in spite of being the son of a President (v) electoral ‘fatigue’ of the Rajapaksa ‘brand’ particularly since MR is ineligible to contest.
Sajith could throw it all away by docilely accepting the outrageous ‘conditions’. This is politically suicidal for him. If he does this he will play right into the hands of his opposition. It will confirm that he is a man without a backbone and character who could be manipulated in the future even by media moguls.
In the context of Ranil’s ‘stock’ in the country and among the UNP faithful currently perceived to be at an all time low, the ugly attempt to sidetrack Sajith through outrageous ‘conditions’, gives Sajith the opportunity to contest from an ‘alternate’ entity while still retaining the core of the UNP party hierarchy and voter base. If he wins, he will most likely have the ‘clout’ to get back to the UNP and give Ranil a well earned rest from politics!
The bottom line for the country is that irrespective of who becomes Executive President, unless there is a highly unlikely miracle, the prognosis for the country is dire both socially and economically. None of the candidates – Gotabaya, Sajith or other known aspirants have presented a credible plan of action which even if presented would be implemented.
For example, although it is obvious to everyone that a sine qua non for any progress is (i) all citizens being treated equally (ii) the rule of law having no exceptions, none of the aspirants will ‘bite the bullet’ even on these basic parameters. To what extent is the ‘rule of law’ being applied even to Presidential candidates?
What confidence can one have on the observance of the rule of law when high ranking law officers of the state reportedly behave in a manner that beggars belief?