22 April, 2021

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The SJB Convention & The Presidential Candidacy 

By Dayan Jayatilleka – 

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

The challenging task that the SJB faces now is how to revive the democratic alternative, the successor party to the near-defunct UNP.    

The challenging task that the SJB will face if elected into office is how to revive economic growth and foreign direct investment inflows while simultaneously reviving the living standards of the people which have plummeted due to the government’s ruinous economic policies in the context of the Covid-19 downturn.

In both undertakings, the worst possible influence would be that of Ranil Wickremesinghe while the best possible guiding influence would be that of Ranasinghe Premadasa.

Why the latter?

When Premadasa took over the UNP leadership and ran as UNP candidate, the party had mismanaged the country’s affairs so badly, it was on the verge of physical extinction. Murdered UNP organizers could not have conventional funeral rites. The party hardly functioned. And yet, with Ranasinghe Premadasa at the helm, the party won the election beating that most formidable of political opponents at a time of heightened nationalism, namely Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Premadasa obtained that victory while—and by—dropping almost all UNP symbolism, and campaigning as himself, standing on his own distinctive program.

Premadasa not only snatched victory from the jaws of defeat for the UNP, once he died and his programs were abandoned, the UNP never won a presidential election and led the country again.

Thus, there was the near-extinction from which Premadasa saved the UNP, and the black hole of electoral failure after his death. Before Premadasa (1988) and after Premadasa (1993), there was no viable path for the UNP. Only the Premadasa path succeeded and could succeed.

Why?

Because it was only Premadasa who solved the three equations that neither the non-Premadasa UNP (most notably but not only Ranil Wickremesinghe) nor the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administrations could solve:

1. Restoring and defending the country’s sovereignty and independence while winning the human rights battles in Geneva and elsewhere. When Opposition MPs Mahinda Rajapaksa and Vasudeva Nanayakkara petitioned the UN Human Rights Commission (the Council’s predecessor) in Geneva, and with the figures of the largest number of recorded disappearances on the UN’s books (after the crackdown on the Southern insurrection), the Premadasa administration neither appeased and capitulated in Geneva as in 1987 and 2015 nor lost the battle as the Rajapaksas did in their second term 2012-2014. The Premadasa administration was defended at the Geneva session and also at the Peace Research Institute conference (PRIO) in Oslo, by two of Sri Lanka’s top minds (and iconic products of the old Civil Service), Neville Jayaweera and Godfrey Gunatilleke.

2. Defending the idea and identity of a Sri Lankan nation while recognizing and celebrating its diversity. Premadasa’s pluralist policy always recognized and inscribed in public policy texts and practices, the multi-ethnic, multireligious, multicultural, and multilingual character of Sri Lanka. Indeed, “Towards a Multiethnic Democracy” was the title and theme of a long interview he gave Neville Jayaweera.

3. President Premadasa did the impossible, reviving economic growth, foreign investment and stock market activity while simultaneously reducing absolute poverty and inequality (relative poverty) and evening out the unevenness of growth patterns as between town and country.           

No paradigm or practice before or after Premadasa was able to achieve this, which is why the UNP was in deep crisis before he took over the leadership and after he was assassinated.

It is precisely these three achievements that the democratic alternative will have to convene voters of its ability to fulfil if it wishes to win a Presidential election and lead the country.

It is also these three achievements that a winning party will have to replicate if it wishes to enjoy social stability and keep the Sinhala Buddhist masses from opting for a Myanmar outcome or its electoral Egyptian variant.

The closest, most credible legatee of the Premadasa paradigm is Sajith Premadasa. That is the primary reason that he is the automatic choice as the Presidential candidate in 2024. 

He is also the only political figure who has fought the Rajapaksas at the local-parliamentary and national-presidential levels, at their most formidable, at times and on terrain that was most favorable to them. He lost more times than he won, but as Che Guevara said, what is important are “battle won or lost– but fought—against the enemy…”

Sajith Premadasa started losing in the patriotic Deep South only after the UNP leader and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe signed the Chamberlainesque Ceasefire Agreement of appeasement with Prabhakaran.

The reason that President Sirisena reached out repeatedly to Sajith Premadasa during the 52 days is because Premadasa was the most prominent UNP personality who was not an enthusiast in the Cabinet, of the dreadful policies that lost the UNP and the SLFP its vote-base at the February 2018 Local Government election. He was the only chance of electorally sustainably bipartisanship. Sajith Premadasa didn’t accept because he was not an opportunist and also because he was instinctively intending to follow in his father’s footsteps.

It is ridiculous for commentators to speculate that any other personality, remembered by the minorities as an originator of every movement and campaign against them –from the from the aftermath of Ven Soma’s death, through the anti-Conversion Bill to the anti-Halal campaign and the opening BBS rally– could be a credible alternative as Presidential candidate to someone who has the Premadasa legacy; has been personally influenced and mentored by Ranasinghe Premadasa, while also having enjoyed the benefit of a first-rate overseas education and experience of work on Capitol hill.    

The Premadasa heritage is not a family heirloom, it is a paradigmatic heritage. The Premadasa legacy is a policy legacy. It is impossible to believe that any political personality who was a vicious enemy of President Premadasa when he was implementing his breakthrough pro-people policies, could be the candidate of the SJB, whose best-selling point and irreplaceable advantage is founder-leader Sajith Premadasa.   

President Premadasa’s only real weakness was that after he saved democracy from Southern Pol Pot-ism and retrieved national sovereignty by sending off a foreign armed force whose protracted peace-keeping effort was feeding the Southern violence, he baulked from personally leaning-in to the war effort to defeat the LTTE. This historic task was completed by three personalities: President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Army Commander Sarath Fonseka and Secretary/Defense Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Logically therefore the ‘slate’ led by Sajith Premadasa should be completed and balanced by Sarath Fonseka.   

There is only one political personality in Sri Lanka who combines a Populist heritage and political practice with a cosmopolitan-internationalist exposure and education, and that is the present leader of the SJB and the Leader of the Opposition. That is what makes him far and away the most logical candidate for the Presidency in 2024—which will be the Birth Centenary Year of Ranasinghe Premadasa.    

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Latest comments

  • 10
    10

    DJ,
    .
    You really are loosing it.

    • 5
      3

      Well said, DJ.

      Gobbasena has to go (hopefully he may not last till the end of this year) and Sajith Premadasa is the best alternative.
      *
      But I hope he gives a prominent position to Champika Ranawaka, and distances himself from the traitor Tissa Attanayake.

    • 3
      3

      “And yet, with Ranasinghe Premadasa at the helm, the party won the election beating that most formidable of political opponents at a time of heightened nationalism,”
      Yes, Dayan, but how do you explain the fact that some people lit fireworks on hearing of his death? Obviously he was nowhere near as popular as you would like us to believe.

      • 6
        3

        “Some people lit fireworks on hearing his death”. This is a gross under statement. I was living in Colombo at that time, and the fireworks sound was greater than that on a new year’s day. His popularity was low at the time of death due to his behaviour. Culture of political murders was introduced by Premadasa, which Rajapakse brothers have perfected.

      • 2
        1

        Premadasa was very hard on the JVP and allowed severe persecution of even suspected supporters.
        Some of his mistakes were results of being over-sensitive to taunts by Lalith A and Gamini D making ugly references to his caste and social background.
        Overall, he seemed more serious about a negotiated end to the national conflict than his successors.
        *
        DJ was a hanger on, still smarting from his humiliation. The JVP is understandably bitter with DJ who still defends RP’s harsh measures. DJ’s apparent transfer of loyalty from father to son does not speak too well for him.
        Had Mahinda R been in control with the same policies as under GR, would DJ have adopted the present line?

    • 3
      2

      Dayan has not lost it , he thinks the ali mantharakaya is his salvation and is promoting the fool at all costs, even his nation,

  • 10
    2

    Dr.DJ,
    It is obvious that you are very opportunistic and always praise for those who give you employment but the fact is all those who get your advise finally ended as a failure at the end. You were with Mahinda and Mahinda lost everything now. You were with Sirisena and he messed up everything now. Now you are with Sajith and what is his future is a question. Sri Lanka is now a failed state and people like you have to take a considerable responsibility for this. You thought you saved Rajapaksas (not Sri Lanka) from UNHRC in 2010 but the country is now worse than the period before 2009. Sri Lanka never had such as level of corruption, never had such a level of lawlessness and judiciary and economic failure. Why?

  • 6
    2

    Dayan, as usual is singing for his salivating supper.

    He may be the political genius of Sri Lanka.

    But, only a fool and astrologers predict the future, not even Napoleon could.

    He makes us believe the economic mess we are in, or to put it bluntly the bankruptcy we are facing is due to recent failures. It’s systemic racism since independence thereby not catering to meritocracy and good management that lead to this abyss.
    Please read about what Lee Kwan Yew said about SWRD Bandaranayake. The economic rot started long ago in 1956.

    Dunning-Kruger effect tells us that we think we know more than we really do – remember this Dayan.

    Geopolitical events can upend all your calculations!

  • 4
    4

    Insane arguments.

    If senior Premadasa was so good why did his UNP lose the 1993 provincial council elections of WPC, SPC and North Western PC just days after he was killed by Tamils? Mind you that was despite a massive sympathy seeking 24/7 live telecast of moaning! Ranil did some tricks and temporarily saved the North Western PC.

    Also if he was so good why did Tamils kill him and everyone irrespective of ethnicity celebrated his death (despite curfew)?

    Despite being a senior minister and all government backing, Sajith managed only 42% of the vote. Fielding him again is disaster. SF is worse. He got only 40%. Sajith has been very weak as Opposition Leader letting Rajapaksas run riot.

    UNP and SJB should join forces and field Ruwan Wijewardhene to have any chance of winning. Or Sujeewa Senasinghe.

    • 2
      1

      “he was killed by Tamils”
      How many?
      *
      As for your analysis, I think that you will be useful to anyone who is unsure about any matter.
      One can seek your opinion and do the exact opposite.

  • 12
    7

    Premadasa Snr. had a limited education as a statesman & had a chip on his shoulder. His vision (if he had one) was in the short term, wasted public funds on useless monuments for his ‘gam udawa’ campaign & was not incorruptible either. His short term ‘vision’ & lack of subtle diplomacy as a head of state can even be construed as treason for arming the LTTE to fight the IPKF. He is also responsible for Richard de Zoysa’s murder, just like GR’s implication of Lasantha’s murder. In fact, overall, he comes a close second to Sirisena & the current bunch in the Presidential stakes.

    Premadasa jnr is supposed to be a graduate of LSE with even an internship at the Whitehouse but despite his impressive credentials, what are his achievements as a politician in SL all these years? If I remember correctly, he had a project called the ‘Elephant Watch’ in the 90s, yet, has it made any progress considering the current human elephant conflict? As a better educated politician than his old man, shouldn’t he carve out his own image instead of riding on his father’s wave?

    • 11
      7

      Raj-UK
      .
      And Premadasa Snr is partially responsible for destroying UNP’s second tier leadership which paved the way for RW.

    • 1
      5

      He is born in a place called Keselwatta. Probably under the Kesel Tree ( Banana Tree)

      • 1
        0

        CT
        How uncivilized can comments get?

  • 5
    0

    What is the author trying to tell us? If the SJB is to succeed, then emulate Ranasinghe Premadasa. Oh! Yes! He had his ways. He acknowledged that he did not know everything, but he picked the best men for the job requiring expertise. He knew to manage people. The reputation that he caused the disappearance of some individuals is also attributed to his style of efficient management. Did anyone dared to criticize him? Then better be prepared to meet one’s maker in double quick time. The Premadasa senior had his positive virtues that brought results to the country at the same time a dark side that caused lighting of crackers upon the announcement of his assassination, which no head of state had received or yet to receive.

    • 1
      1

      GS
      Any engineer who worked for RP will agree that he was a very good and capable minister and handled departmental affairs far better than any other.
      *
      His intolerance to criticism has to be seen in the manner in which some of it was made. Highly personalized insults made him over sensitive.
      *
      His handling of the insurrection was his downfall.
      But where were his critics at the time? Many endorsed his methods.

      • 0
        0

        SJ,

        Wasn’t it during RP’s time in power that two Tamil engineering undergrads at Peradeniya from the Eastern province, who had nothing to do with the LTTE (nor the JVP, but by then the JVP had been eliminated actually), were ‘disappeared’ -murdered–by the SLA when they were visiting Kandy town to eat at Lyons or somewhere else?

        I definitely didn’t endorse his methods against the JVP. insurrection then.

  • 7
    1

    Anyone voting or even running behind Ranil who is a “spent force” in politics kicked out by the voters would be considered a weak link. Ranil has ruined the country more than the Rajapakses. I say this because people trusted Ranil and what did he do other than protecting the rogues and Rajapakses? Absolutely nothing.

    UNP candidates and voters should open their eyes and join SJB. Once there is enough people supporting SJB then Sajith can take over UNP without Ranil.

  • 2
    2

    Once I agree totally with your analysis minus the slander on any other as they all played their part too. He was a great leader/statesman/orator. The eloquence of his speech can not be matched by no one….his Sinhala speeches are all well known too….amazingly beautiful I remember to this day…am sure played a major part winning the hearts of our folks. For UNP he was the vote winner and presented the human side..peoples leader that UNP did capitalise on that very well.

    I give you the speech made by late Hon Premadasa at my home in 1981 paying tribute to my Father with his Cabinet where Late Hon Thondaman senior was also present….it was always respected by the family as this gone a long way to console my Mother who was hurt the most by what happened to my Father in his own electorate Vaddukottai.

    • 1
      2

      Hon Ministers, Members of Parliament, Mrs Thiagarajah, members of the family of late Mr Thiagarajah, Friends,

      I stand before you today with a sense of shock and sorrow, another life of great work has been cut short senselessly by the hand of terror. If the terror that appears to be overtaking the world is stalking our peaceful land of ours too. The pattern of events that ended the life of Mr Thiagarajah is so close to what has happened recently around the world that it must make us all and wonder If society so did brave today that violence and the law of the jungle must prevail. Must the final solution be the use of force and the bullet? Is terrorism and the shooting of innocent the only way out?

      • 1
        2

        I have known late Mr Thiagarajah for a considerable length of time. He was a colleague of mine in the last parliament and been elected by the people of Vaddukodai on his own merit. He was a kind, calm and collected person. He acted always according to the dictates of his conscious. He was never interested or concerned about personal benefit or position. His greatest concern was to uplift his people and provide them a leadership along the path of goodwill and brotherhood. He was a man of peace, a man who worked for the welfare of others. He had a great carrier in education and in politics.

        • 1
          1

          He was a selfless worker for the post of the poor and the down trodden. Violence was never a part of his life. He lived in peace within himself and with others true to his ideals. He resented division or discord at the cost of cheap political power. He never resorted to violence politics however much they would have helped him to gain position and popularity. He truly believed in a social order governed by the truth and non-violence. This is indeed the philosophy of our government, our party which Mr Thiagarajah exemplified in his life. The vision of our party United national Party endeavour our government not only to develop this country materially but also to raise the moral and spiritual standard of our people. Without a spiritual awakening the society will not truly prosper and progress .

          • 1
            1

            Our objective is to take this country from the rule of law to the rule of love. Mr Thiagarajah who shared this vision pursuit this path at the cost his life. He has made the supreme sacrifice for that cause. What he failed to achieve in life I hope at least in death Mr Thiagarajah has been able to fulfil namely to convey his message of unity brotherhood and harmony to those who tread the violence path of disunity discord and division. His name and service will be remembered for ever. My appeal to you today therefore if that we resist from violence and in its place practice love and …. I know there are many among us who share this hope and follow the path of love and compassion but there are a few still among us who harbour thoughts of violence and hate.

            • 1
              1

              To them particularly I say lay down your arms cast away your fear and hate ….and come forward to join us in friendship. People in every part of Sri Lanka join you in your expression of grieve and in your sense of outrage at the needless act that has been committed. The people of North have a long tradition of descent and civilised way. These bloods on your good name must cause you intense sorrow. My colleague and I have come today on behalf of his Excellency J R Jeyawardena our leader and on behalf of the united national party and the united national party government to pay our last respect to this noble son of Jaffna and to rededicate ourselves to the cause for which he laid down his life. May he attain …..

              • 1
                2

                I wish this great mans son Hon SJB all the best in serving his people too.

  • 1
    1

    More and more Buddhist Sinhalese ,now, are not just withdrawing their opposition to UNHRC Resolution 46/L1, but they are advocating the merit on that. Latest on this one that I noticed is Bimal Ratnake. He cited five points from the resolution that those are not connected to war, but what is happening in Lankawe after the war.
    1). The Media oppression, journalists murders and tortures.
    2). Militarizing the Civil Service.
    3). 20th A, a Hitler creating Act.
    4). Arbitrary prosecution and imprisonments of political enemies
    and
    5). Muslims and Christians bodies burning.

    Buddhist need to take into their attentions these right minded people’s talk. True, UNHRC is members club, still Buddhist Sinhalese too are part and parcel of this organization. They have their rights from this organization and their obligation to it. In democratic politics, everything is negotiation, contention and agreements. Buddhist Sinhalese has to approach it with open minded. They have a good political opportunity to have their political problem solved this time. They don’t want simple a regime change. They want the freedom from Kandy Radalas and Hambantota Dutugemune Maharajane’s and Hitler ruling them. They should tell in UNHRC that their Hitler too should go where Germany’s Hitler went.

  • 1
    1

    Buddhist Sinhalese shouldn’t depend on Opposition Parties to take their grievances to Geneva. The opposition parties are there only to capture the power and they become the Royal, if the Royals nap for a second. Buddhist Sinhalese want Geneva to start a program to remove the whole Lankawe political system and bring a permanent Democratic system. Buddhist Sinhalese don’t want to be in system by that Sinhala Buddhist Rulers can one more time misguide them on Anti-Tamil wars and they hold on to the power hoping that their generation to rule Lankawe. If Buddhist Sinhalese don’t achieve this it is going to be only a competition whether Medamulana Generation rule the Buddhist Sinhalese or Vaalaiththodam Generation rule or Attanagalla Generation rule. It is not going to a democratic country. They may want to think what Ehelepola did for them. He wanted to remove the King so that can rule the Kingdom. So he went to British rulers and handed over the Kingdom to Britain. Isn’t they defeated Ranil because he sold Hangbangtota to China? Can the Royal now do something different from what Ranil do? Then why do you go with opposition? Buddhist Sinhalese don’t want these oppositions struggling to take over and lose the country for ever to China. Like Tamil want their country, Buddhist Sinhalese too want their country in their hand.

  • 0
    0

    And when Premadasa died the country rose up in joyous uproar celebrated event for weeks and thanked LTTE for once.

    Soma

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