By Shyamon Jayasinghe –
‘Political chemistry does not necessarily follow the logic of election statistics. Had the United National Party kept together and fought together, the whole result may have been different and Sri Lanka would have had a strong UNP Opposition- to say the least. The 20th amendment would never have seen the light of day.”
Sound of Echoes in Empty Space
We have had enough time to reflect with some reasonable detachment the political outcome of the break -away behaviour of Sajith Premadasa’s faction, which eventually led to the ‘Samagi Jana Balawegaya’ (SJB) – now the little Opposition Group in parliament.
Echoes are heard sharply in empty spaces; but the space is empty. Every-time Sajith Premadasa and his men yell at the government even over serious misdemeanours, the volume one hears is similar to that emanating from an empty space. Sans Ranil Wickremesinghe and the United National Party there is something hollow in the current opposition ranks of parliament.
Ranil always used to command attention because MPs on all sides anticipated something substantial, something considered and knowledge-based from his mind. Government ranks would disagree with Ranil but they showed a liking to listen. When Ranil stood up to talk here was somebody who exuded immense political vision, maturity and a wide – ranged knowledge of public policy and parliamentary procedure. With nothing of that baggage in any of the SJB MPs in parliament, our parliamentary system fails and thereby governance fails.
Sarath Fonseka seems a growing exception. One witnesses a burgeoning maturity, political understanding, balance, preciseness and focus from this former army General. On the other hand, Sarath Fonseka needs a party and SJB is just not that.
The implication of the tenor of my argumentation is that the SJB is a political error. Such a conclusion will be counter intuitive to many who tend to look at election results in the conventional way.
Election statistics are not about unchanging entities. They rarely reveal the complexities of human voter behaviour. In this particular instance, the results didn’t mean that had the SJB not left the the UNP matters would have gotten worse from the point of view of broad UNP opinion or that the Sri Lanka parliament would have had a much weaker Opposition. Political chemistry does not necessarily follow the logic of election statistics. Had the party kept together and fought together the whole result may have been different and Sri Lanka would have had a strong Opposition- to say the least. The 20th amendment would never have seen the light of day.
On the other hand, the spectacle before the people had been a fetid and stinking infighting scenario engaged in just the time it should have closed ranks. It is easy to speculate that the the large base of party loyals had been disgusted by this awkward and atrocious display. The timing of this brinkmanship had been unfortunate and unpractical. It was just election time. What kind of Machiavelli could say that that was the moment to raise divisive issues within the party and arrive at a resolution? It surprises me that persons like Dr Harsha De Silva and Eran Wickramaratne thought of becoming part of the faction. Mangala Samaraweera, the savvy politician that he is, instantly withdrew.
Ranil’s Managerial Style
It could well be that the Ranil Wickremesinghe had managerial problems over the impatience that grew within the party ranks. It maybe that he had an arrogant and unbending nature that drew hostility and certainly not personal loyalty. A lot of speculation is possible that points to the fact that it was not a compliment to Ranil Wickremesinghe that a sizeable block like this had been disenchanted. That’s a different issue.Having acknowledged that, the faction may be perceived as not been realistic when expecting perfection from a most imperfect political ambience. That faction had possibly overestimated their own rating in the electorate. Sajith and his men would have hallucinated that the rank and file UNPers throughout the country would have abandoned their party leader and come over to them. Once again, a complexity had been simplified.
Ranil’s Role in the Presidential Elections and Sajith’s Intemperate Behaviour
Despite all the acrimony shown toward Ranil Wickremesinghe the latter as Party leader supported Sajith at the Presidential hustings. That gesture went unacknowledged by Sajith. Furthermore, if Wickremesinghe did not canvass in the Northern and Eastern electorates for Sajith at the Presidential elections Sajith would not have earned more than15 per cent of total votes. What a foolish and ill-mannered thing Sajith did by asking Wickremesinghe not to attend any of his meetings in Sinhala electorates! Did he not understand that his leader had a better grip over the Sinhala voting public and Maha Sanga than he had?
Humbly, Ranil Wickremesinghe obeyed the wishes of his party candidate and restricted his visits to non-Sinhala areas.
To make matters worse, Sajith announced that he would, as he became President, remove his Prime Minister. Did he not see that the broad UNP supporters in the country would have been shaken by such an arrogant and abhorrent threat? Besides, under the operative 19th Amendment it was not possible to eject a Prime Minister.
Did Sajith not sense the moral violence of such a menace? Here is his leader and the Prime Minister and here he tries to stab him in public?
Sajith’s Misguided Populism
The fact is that Sajith Premadasa never got close to his leader in good faith. Ranil with his astuteness could have spotted that. Sajith had a hunch that Ranil was no model for him and that he had an inborn legacy coming down from his father, Ranasinghe Premadasa which was enough. A realistic humility at that stage could have given Sajith the crown and the skill to find his way up.
Sajith got cosy in his enclave in Hamabatota that did him no good ever. Furthermore, he focused on housing – a subject that had little voter impact value. Housing is costly and cannot stretch to any length that could have made Sajith a political hero. As a matter of fact, providing housing for people at large, no government does. Providing housing for weaker sections like the disabled and aged is all that should be done by state. Like other living priorities housing facilities should be self-generated in a prosperous economy. Sajith had no clue about the overall national economics involved.
It was a misguided populism.
Overture to the New President
After Sajith had been flattened in the Presidential elections he got desperate.The General Elections to follow could now not be won by Sajith’s party.
It was, therefore, a desperate bid when Sajith Premadasa went up to president Gotabaya and tried to woo him to support SJB as a better base of parliamentary support. Here again, he under-assessed the cliched old adage that blood is thicker than water. The politcal chemistry of Lankan politics is such that even ‘proven’ criminals can get to power. What the new President needed was unclenching support from his parliamentarians. Besides, the power of Mahinda Rajapakse was there to ensure a Pohottuwa victory.
Instead of making silly appeals for deals with Gota the SJB should have focused on specific electorates to ensure more wins in parliament. Skilled micro politics was the need of the hour for Sajith.
Into the Seat of the Leader of the Opposition
Sajith Premadasa started off his position as Leader of the Opposition by another wrong statement. He was reported as saying that “the new Leader of the Opposition will be a no-deal Leader of the Opposition.” That had been an undiluted offensive on a man noted for his integrity.
The amazing thing is that Wickremesinghe had all along never got provoked into counter statements. Like the elephant in the Dhammapada Ranil Wickremesinghe did not feel these slurs.
Readers can thus recount how Sajith Premadasa made one wrong move after the other that would disqualify him from a leadership contest.
There is a problem at the bottom: a person with no sustaining political policy inspiration has lost compass and often fails in determining as to what should and should not be done when it comes to individual action. A political leader must have a driving political philosophy;Sajith doesn’t have that and so his entire party hasn’t that. Thus, when confronting crises in the country these kinds of individuals go into action like the fire brigade. Misguided though, SWRD Bandaranaike who first broke away from the UNP in 1954, had been able to concoct a Sinhala Buddhist nationalistic philosophy that drew crowds for his meetings. That central world view united many leaders around SWRD.
On the other hand, the Samagi Jathika Balavegaya has none. Sajith and his party men are mere attack dogs and even in that task Anura Kumar Dissanayake and his men can outdo them.