By Vishwamithra –
“I could never hurt him enough to make his betrayal stop hurting. And it hurts, in every part of my body.” ~ Veronica Roth, Insurgent
There are no unbreathing, dead bodies in graves under six feet to be rolling over. From DS Senanayake to Dudley to Sir John to JRJ to Premadasa, well respected leaders of the Grand Old Party, the United National Party (UNP), were Buddhists and consequently, when they passed away, were all cremated. Only the ashes remained and we don’t know what and how the respective families chose to do with the ashes. The leadership of the UNP is now in the hands of Ranil Wickremesinghe, the President of the country today. Amongst his many achievements (or non-achievements) are the cataclysmic fashion in which the UNP was defeated in successive elections, Presidential, General or Local Government. It’s certainly more than twenty five, and now without a single elected member in Parliament. Ranil Wickremesinghe has cremated that Party before he himself has breathed his last!
Nevertheless, victory or defeat at the elections is entirely in the unkind hands of the electorate; in that context, the variables are not controllable by the Party leader. Except DS Senanayake, all other UNP leaders have suffered defeat in elections. But weaving the Party into a fabric of a coalition, especially with the Rajapaksas, firstly as the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and later as Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), which is credited with such an ignominious record in corruption, nepotism, dishonesty and incompetence over the last four decades is an unpardonable sin, a sin beyond redemption.
How did this come about? What sins and what turpitudes the average UNP supporter commit to be deprived of a decent and honorable existence as supporters and diehards of a political school of thought of national proportions which the UNP had been? They must be dying a hundred deaths before they themselves depart from this material world.
Power, especially political power, is so magical and its enticement is irresistible and in-divorceable from its holder once he gets used to wielding it. The current hierarchy and the leader of the UNP have been thoroughly fatigued of being in the opposition. The short honeymoon that they enjoyed during 2015 to 2019 period did not satisfy them. In fact, the Maithripala-UNP marriage was not even a marriage of convenience. It was an illusion. The Rajapaksa-led corrupt cabal was just replaced by an equally corrupt clique that did not realize that all power is temporary and fizzling out before one can say Jack Robinson.
After assuming the highest office of the land, it must have dawned on Ranil Wickremesinghe that he could show his mastery on political survival by closely aligning himself and the UNP to the Rajapaksas. It is beyond the pale that the man who was brought as a replacement for the disgraced Gotabaya Rajapaksa now has gone much further and beyond by declaring that a coalition consisting of the UNP and the SLPP/Pohottuwa would be contesting the forthcoming local government elections.
No more infertile and impotent and no more unclothed has become the GOP of Sri Lanka. The grand decency, the grand steadfastness and honor that the UNP was associated with in the past has been stripped. The Sinhala-speaking pariahs have joined hands with the English-speaking pariahs. Political dregs of Sri Lanka at last have come into the same common basket, a basket whose stench will rise sky-high and the potpourri that would come out as a product of this strangest of strange political affiliation will meet certain disaster when the election is done and the votes are counted.
The game of political power is no easy game to play. Its nuanced elements and unpredictable behavior will devour the players and with it those who are getting ready to vote for them too. If Ranil Wickremesinghe has made this decision anticipating an easy ride for his local government level boys and girls, he could not have made a stupider decision. His read of the electorate is far more unsophisticated and unwise than the writer ever estimated. This is a crystal clear indication that Ranil Wickremesinghe and his henchmen and women in the UNP had not suffered the hardships and scarcities that the last few months brought on the general public in the country. Such blindness and ignorance cannot and should not be exempted.
There are some genuine UNP-oriented up-and-comers with great expectations in the villages; for them a seat in the local government tier in the grand ladder of national politics is the first step. By allowing himself and the UNP to be housed in the same shelter with the dishonorable Pohottuwa cabal, Ranil has dashed those expectations.
The Local Government process in Sri Lanka has a storied history. Parliament passed the Pradeshiya Sabha Act No. 15 of 1987 on 15 April 1987. The Divisional Councils were generally commensurate with their namesake Divisional Secretariats (Assistant Government Agent). The Local Authorities (Amendment) Act Nos. 20 and 24 of 1987 also changed the method of electing all local authority members from the first past the post using wards to proportional representation using open lists. 257 Divisional Councils started functioning on 1 January 1988. On 29 July 1987, Indo-Sri Lanka Accord was signed between Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan President JR Jayewardene which stated the devolution of powers to the provinces. Hence on 14 November 1987 the Sri Lankan Parliament passed the 13th Amendment to the 1978 Constitution of Sri Lanka and the Provincial Councils Act No 42 of 1987 to establish provincial councils. The amendment aimed at creating provincial councils in Sri Lanka and enable Sinhala and Tamil as national languages while preserving English as the link language.
However, the fundamental difference between the Sinhalese and Tamil leaders remained the ‘size’ or ‘area’ of the local authority to which the powers of the Central Government had ben devolved. While the Tamil leaders wished that it’s as large as feasible when the Sinhalese leaders wanted it to be as small as possible. The arguments for and against the very size/area of the package are obvious. The Central Government, all Sinhalese assumed, would be in the hands of fundamentally majoritarian rule consisting of a Sinhalese majority who never wished to hand more than necessary powers to the Tamil minority, especially in the Northern and the Eastern provinces. The paranoia’s grip on the majority Sinhalese was total and ever-consuming making the majority exist with a severe minority complex. This complex has been dictating the national policies on ethnic reconciliation, ethnic equality and fundamental rights of the minorities.
On the one hand, the Entitlement Syndrome consumed the economic paradigm while on the other, this minority complex amongst the Sinhalese majority closed their minds and hearts leading the entire body-politic to a barren landscape upon which no fruitful seeds could be planted.
It was to this mindset that the 13th Amendment to the Constitution transferred the control and supervision of local government from Central Government to the newly created Provincial Councils. However, powers relating to the form, structure and national policy on local government remained with the Central Government. This meant that only the Central Government could create new local authorities, promote them, dissolve them and call an election.
Dissatisfaction among the Northern and Eastern Tamils and Muslims assumed a totally different complexion with the enactment of the provisions of the 13th Amendment. What was promised by the 13th Amendment was not delivered and the shades and variations of the Tamil Question went beneath the ashes. The promised stepping stone, local authorities- all the way from Pradeshiya Sabha, Unban Councils, Municipal Councils and Provincial Councils- for budding politicians became muddy ponds of corruption with stagnating dreams and aspirations.
What Ranil Wickremasinghe is asking his UNP first timers is to step into this cesspool of local politics with their eyes open and character distorted because they would be judged by the same yardstick that the Pohottuwa goons would be measured. One would dread to think about their electoral fate not on the day of the elections. On the day after, they would be very harshly and unkindly thrown into the also-ran grouping. To be such ‘less-than-a-footnote’ in local government mechanism is a very harsh punishment which the contestants would suffer because their leader committed at an unpardonable betrayal by arriving at such a stupid decision at the very outset by forming a coalition between the Elephant and the Pohottuwa.
They say that politics is the art of the possible. In crafting this art, one might enter into most unanticipated alignments and fragile coalitions. Yet, in all these alignments and coalitions there should run a thread of decency and fundamental cohesiveness. A coalition between the UNP and SLPP does not emanate such decency nor does it seem to be embedded with any cohesiveness.
*The writer can be contacted at email@example.com