By Dayan Jayatilleka –
It is Sri Lanka’s good fortune, one supposes, that it is blessed with an alternative government – an Opposition—that is as blind to national realities as the regime is to international (and inter-mestic) ones. Or to amend it slightly, we have a regime that is myopic in relation to the international dimension of reality and an Opposition that is blind to its national dimension.
Consider the essay by the UNP’s communications chief, Mangala Samaraweera, compelling entitled ‘Yes Ranil Can: Why I Support him’ Mr Samaraweera for one cannot be accused of not practising what he preaches. The Sunday Times chose to highlight his call that “It is also imperative that the UNP be reorganised as a non-violent ‘resistance movement’…”TV viewers nationwide saw exactly what he meant when he spearheaded just such a non-violent resistance movement in the South last weekend. If anything is likely to repel voters from the UNP and render less ridiculous the incessant claim of the regime’s security managers that the Opposition is being geared for regime change through destabilisation and street fighting, that display was it!
The essay would have been curious even had it been published a week before the violence. It had not a single reference to the most important feature that has shaped voter consciousness and frames our political reality, however negatively one might perceive that to be, namely the military victory over the LTTE. In fact the Tigers and/or Prabhakaran make no appearance whatsoever in the article. A Martian reading the piece might not know that there was a suicide bombing militia, described by the Foreign editor of The Australian, Greg Sheridan as perhaps the most ruthless and successful in the post World War II era, terrorising Sri Lanka for decades, nor would it know that this movement was defeated in a war waged on Mahinda Rajapaksa’s watch. Analytically this is as intelligent as trying to understand De Gaulle’s or Maggie Thatcher’s political grip with no reference to Hitler and the French resistance or the Falklands war.
Also curious, and shall we say less than factual, is Mr Samaraweera’s claim that “…in 2013, he [Ranil] still remains, in my view the only formidable liberal democratic alternative…” Ok, let’s forget the adjective ‘formidable’ for the moment, because if Ranil is a formidable alternative I’d hate to see what a weak one looks like. More pertinent is the fact that Mr Wickremesinghe does not and cannot constitute a ‘liberal democratic alternative’ because he is expressly not a liberal democrat, having deviated from a half-century long policy of non-affiliation with international ideological blocs and made the UNP a member of precisely a Conservative and Rightwing international constellation, the International Democratic Union (IDU) co-chaired by the US Republicans and the UK Conservatives! The closest one comes to a liberal democratic alternative in the UNP and Sri Lankan politics today is Karu Jayasuriya.
Thus it is that we come to Mr Samaraweera’s real revelation; a peek into the strategy of the UNP, electoral and otherwise. It boils down to two interconnected factors: external and ethnic. He says that Ranil is “a leader who can rally the international community”, and goes on to say that:
“…The next Presidential candidate must also be able to win the trust and confidence of the Tamil and Muslim communities …The minority vote base will be a key deciding factor at the national level …We must reposition the UNP…I believe that Ranil Wickremesinghe will be much more acceptable to the minority communities than many of the other Presidential aspirants both within and outside the party.”
So there we have it. A strategy that is identical to the failed one that kept the UNP out of office for 19 years barring the mercifully short interregnum of Mr Wickremesinghe’s Prime Ministership. What is politically dishonest is that this external/ethnic minoritarian profile of Mr Wickremsinghe is precisely the one that Mr Samaraweera targeted as the SLFP’s propaganda chief. He should know just how disastrously vulnerable such a profile is.
It is bitterly ironic and most unfortunate that this ‘external/ethnic minoritarian’ template is precisely what gave the UNP of Sir John Kotelawela an ‘anti-national/comprador/ rootless cosmopolitan’ (‘thuppahi’) target profile that made it so utterly vulnerable to the self -proclaimed ‘Silent Revolutions of ’56 and ’70’ of which President Rajapaksa’s and Mangala Samaraweera’s fathers DA Rajapaksa and Mahanama Samaraweera were the Southern stalwarts. That ‘anti-national’ factor was always the UNP’s Achilles Heel and the SLFP’s advantage. It took JR Jayewardene and most especially Ranasinghe Premadasa to radically re-position the UNP, liberating it from that ball–and-chain which Mangala Samaraweera now celebrates and recommends as a splendid adornment.