17 August, 2022


UNP Committing Collective Hara-Kiri; Populism Is No Substitute For Disciplined Democracy

By Vishwamithra

The United National Party (UNP) used to be the party of discipline. When party members, stalwarts or otherwise, went off course from the strict code of discipline which it imposed upon itself, they were punished, without exception. That was the code of conduct under which JR Jayewardene built up the party from 1973 onwards. In fact, it was R Premadasa, one of the first offenders at the time who went astray during the Dudley Senanayake era, and was disciplined by the astute and stern leadership of JR Jayewardene, the one leader who succeeded Dudley. Premadasa’s ‘Purawesi Peramuna’ (Citizens’ Front) was dissolved; Premadasa started playing a team-game again- which is party-politics- and the UNP was in power in no time, with a historic and unprecedented majority in Parliament.

If there was one lesson the JR-era taught the UNP was discipline. Yet it’s discipline that seems to have fled this Grand Old Party. And in the context of the current dilemma the UNP is stifled in, if all those who are ambitious about leading the Party, they must show some decorum and patience and discipline. JR Jayewardene played second fiddle from 1951 all the way up to 1973, until the physical demise of its leader, to reach the helm as the undisputed leader of the UNP. J R, by doing what he did, also showed a remarkable sense of patience which today’s youngsters in Parliament don’t seem to possess. In fact, it was R Premadasa as President and leader of the UNP who showed the door to Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali, the two stalwarts in the Party who helped Premadasa to a very large extent in the ’88 Presidential Election campaign so that he could climb to the top of the greasy pole in politics.

This is exactly where Ranil Wickremesinghe, firstly as the current leader of the UNP and secondly as Prime Minister, failed so miserably. Presidential Elections may be approaching fast; nominating a candidate might be of paramount significance, yet neither can he select a suitable candidate nor can he conduct a successful election campaign if he fails to establish discipline among his Cabinet members simply because some undisciplined members are making a mockery of the succession process within the Party. 

Politics is a dangerous livelihood; its fruits and bearings are irresistibly tempting but the one element which is manifestly present in politics is its unpredictability and denial of any ‘trophy’ for the second place. President Richard Nixon of the USA wrote on the Maggie board in his campaign headquarters in Yoba Linda thus: “in politics, winning is not everything, winning is the only thing’’. No ‘trophy’ for the loser and that element of politics bothers so many newcomers to politics and those who are elected representatives of the People have no right nor any justification for rushing to the winning post trampling all those who have put in years of work and sweat into the people’s service.

Yet, Nixon’s motto is universally accepted as the ultimate test of a politician. JR Jayewardene, R Premadasa, Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali were all practitioners of the trade. Except JR, all others rushed to the winning post and ultimately ended up literally dead on the street. Politics has such cruel ways of displaying its equalizing capability!

The UNP has an issue today. Everyone realizes that Ranil Wickremesinghe, its leader, cannot win. Two names are in the open. Both Karu Jayasuriya and Sajith Premadasa are in the race, so to speak. But they must realize that it is not the UNP as a solitary party that has a chance to win the next Presidential Election. It is a coalition of diverse political entities that brought an insignificant politician like Maithripala Sirisena to power. It is that coalition, if at all, has a fighting chance, not the UNP by itself, at the next Presidential Elections. Within that coalition, the UNP may be the key group; the UNP may have a commanding majority within that group, but given the current political dynamic, both the United National Party and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) have lost their base considerably.

The erosion of their respective voter-base is not mainly due to their own weaknesses- notwithstanding the fact that both have lost the elementary trust an independent voter might have had in them. Also, the natural evolution of socio-political-economic conditions have produced a culture of public-mistrust in politicians in general. The fatigue that has set in caused by the passage of time is also a main cause for the people’s loss in faith and confidence in the existing structures of both parties, UNP and SLFP. As a direct result of this fatigue factor, people have chosen to rally around coalitions of parties. The expansion of ‘independents’ as against card carrying party members has triggered the birth of a manifestly robust group of voters whose prime motive and condition is to work and vote for those who are allegedly committed to ‘service of man’ as against ‘service of self’. That Independent group has caused the formation of a voter-bloc who is uncommitted and unaffiliated to one particular political entity or the other. 

Against such an unpredictable political climate, the formal party base has suffered a setback in that the traditionalists in both wings have given way to a floating voter-bloc whose primary mentors are civil societies which are usually headed by educated men and women in the country. Loss of faith in the traditional politicians has been substituted by a trust and confidence in educated men and women who do not seek public office. This absence of a vested interest has immensely contributed to that faith for want of anything else. 

Sajith Premadasa and his supporters in the UNP second tier must realize this fundamental fact. Resorting to intimidation and political bullying will only drive that independent group away from the coalition and settle for another candidate or party. If Sajith cannot retain the coalition that brought Maithripala Sirisena to power, then it’s ‘game, set and match’ for the Pohottuwa candidate. It is not only Sajith Premadasa who should realize this, his UNP supporters who claim to be in Parliament and the party hierarchy too must come to the same unpalatable conclusion. Please member, if Sajith loses the election, it’s over for the UNP and Sajith too.

It is not too late for the UNP, Sajith Premadasa, Karu Jayasuriya and Ranil Wickremesinghe to sit down together and sort this out. In the event one party does not get the said nomination it should not be interpreted as a huge deal, for, of the two or three prospects who will not get the nomination, none of them, Sajith, Karu and Ranil, can join the Pohottuwa group. Period. Each one has to call the other’s bluff!

Stern headship does not consist in being rigid and uncompromising; stern leadership is not clinging on to inflexible position and not letting room at the top. Those leaders who had been successful in history have always tended to accommodate the other. Complex situations had arisen in history’s long journey and while those who did not have creativity and boldness submitted to the angry mobs of marauding forces of history itself, those who dared and defied always managed to master the flow and overcome it with a great amount of patience and discipline. 

Unlike in the olden days when broadcasting of information depended on, in what today’s context could be described as ‘ancient’, methods and means. Today such systems and procedures are discarded and trashed without a chance of being revisited. Political power is not, they say, given unto you; you got to pursue it and get it. But that pursuit, more than the real goal, needs to be unreservedly honorable. People on the sideline will judge the pursuit more than the results; the pursuit in other words is the context within which one follows his or her instincts and goals. One can get totally entrenched in dirt and muck in the pursuit and those who would ultimately be declared winners might end up being dishonorable and dishonored. And those who are declared losers might never forget the process which was used and abused by the winner. That is quite a bad image and baggage to carry in the aftermath of the battle.

That is exactly why Sajith Premadasa must be careful. He must learn one fundamental element in warfare. One must never challenge the leader unless he thinks that he could be the ultimate winner. In order to challenge the one on top of you, you must totally destroy him. You must not ‘take any prisoners’, as the cliché goes. If you challenge the leadership and if the leadership prevails, consequences of defeat for the challenger could be conclusive and fatal. In other plain and simple words, one must have a plan, a goal, a set of supporters who will execute the plan and one must be always, without exception, on top of everything, everything from beginning to end. If Sajith is ready for this ‘challenge’, he could go ahead, otherwise it’s not too late to withdraw your forces and let the chips fall where they may.

The writer can be contacted at vishwamithra1984@gmail.com 

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Latest comments

  • 4

    Every time, Sri lanka’s most important issue. Politics and who controls the fortune he gets. I expected every one would vote RAjjitha Senarathne to be the UNP LEADER as he showed he had money because Arab Money donors were there. I think Arab money is the way Handlers buy politicians.

  • 3

    What a load of BS! The populist-nationalists challenged the leadership of the main center-left party, a leadership that wielded executive and not merely legislative power, broke away, became the predominant Opposition force and are way ahead in the race, knocking at the door of power. It achieved this precisely because it took the gamble of rebellion. It did NOT try to destroy the leadership of the existing party. It did not fight to the death. It seceded, taking the bulk of its traditional vote base with it. Who is to say that in this period of world history, with Populists popping out all over, this method will not prevail in– and prevail over-the main center-right formation too?

    • 5

      What `populist nationalist’ (do you mean ethno nationalist?) takeover are you talking about?

      Gota didn’t challenge anything but was handed the nomination on a platter by his brother.

      PS – Is centre-left a euphemism for nepotistic, homicidal and corrupt?

  • 6

    “Keselwatta Kid’s Second Tier UNP.” ..I like love it Vishy….-

    Now I know who” dispatched” Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayaka.
    Wonder who organized the pay back?.

    It is pretty lame to put it on that Keselwatta Senior’s Tamil Butler who came on a Bicycle to watch the Boss on parade with the Mighty Second Tier UNPers….
    Besides Keslwatta Preme was the best Buddy of Mr Pirahaparan next to Dr Ranil..

    The Elite , Anglican Vellala Faction of the UNP seems to be struggling after Keselwatta Kid hijacked the Candidacy with his second tier UNP in Mgamapura, with the help of many guilt conscious Catholic MPs and even Ministers of Dr Ranil’s Alliance.

    And the Kid seems to be gaining ground even among the Second Tier UNP Tamils in Badulla,
    Despite the the First Tier UNP Galleon Ravi’s not so first tier attack on poor Keselwatta Kids and his Dad Senior’s Social and Educational qualifications .
    And Dr Ranil’s friend Field Marshall Ponseka’s Heavy Motor Attack on the second UNP President Keselwatta Senior, blaming him for Free Issue of our Military Heavy Artillery to the LTTE which Pira and Pottu used to kill tens of thoudsands of of our Sinhala Buddhist and Malay Soldiers.

    Wonder whom this this punter Vishwamithra will put his money?.
    Is it Uncle Karu? Or Is it Dr Ranil?..
    My understanding is ,the Top end Of the Town Punters in Colombo are struggling to get even SD 1.10 on Nandasena from Bombay Bookies..

  • 8

    The main burden for the UNP is Ranil, not only a man who cannot win but also not popular , deeply cunning and even dishonest has been able to retain leadership of the party exploiting the self-deceiving culture prevailing in the UNP.

    For there to be discipline , there must be justification, that the party is being led well, by respected leaders, on visible principles, going towards winning.

    Despite repeated rejections by the people Ranil remains leader.

    Today the UNP is mere job opportunity for a loser and his gay old Royalists.The UNP leadership is all old Royalists with a few Godaya followers like shameless Akila !

    Look at its top leadership-ranil, ravi( cant remember …) malik, sagala ,ajit, sujeeva, harsha-winners ? Remember how these chaps behaved during the Bond scam ? Fit to run a country ? Ranil made all of them accomplices to a crime committed by him and mahendran

    • 1

      Easiest way to Chase Ranil out from leadership is Sajith to btain priministership which will automatically get UNP leadership. Then go for presidential election with Maithree as pri minister candidate,. Then can beat gota easily.

  • 4

    UNP might commit ‘Hara Kiri’ but Ranil cannot because his skin is so thick that the dagger will not pierce his skin.

  • 5

    Sajith Premedasa like all other politicians are guided by the stars! They do things dictated by astrologers who claim to know how to read their future!

    The fact in this age of science and computers, that an entire governing class tend to believe in the occult and the supernatural when it comes to mundane matters is something that must be look on with disdain and sympathy.

    • 6

      We are in one big mess after voting for a man like Sirisena who does not have the ethical, educational, the mental stamina or a visionary outlook to lead a country and yet again, we are looking at a guy like Sajith as a Presidential candidate? He will complete the destruction of the morale and backbone of the country initiated by this president. The egoism and self assertion displayed by Sajith, even before his nomination should be a tell tale story of what is to come if he is given nomination. ? When will we ever learn?

    • 0

      Spot on mate. Else, why would Sajith wait this long to challenge RW? He had plenty of opportunities before. His astro would have told him 10 months ago during the hostile takeover attempt to lie low because the planets were not favorable. Now that his planets have aligned, he is going hell for leather. I wonder if the crew of Apollo 11 also consulted astros before blasting off to the Moon in 1969.

  • 3

    if ranil loses the election as he is bound to do it means the end of the unp though ranil will survive with gotas help
    sajith was forced to take the bull by its horns as ranil thinks he owns the party

  • 4

    i see that doctor dayan has woken up from his slumber
    hoping for a gota victory so he can continue with his job
    he might also be lucky with sajith as he was papas spokesman at the time

  • 1

    Sajith is a illeterate guy when ranil told him to leave hambantota and join national politics he ignored. This guy knows nothing about international. Relations not fit to be a. Leader like his father do sent like educated people. Heena. Maanaya

  • 0

    Vishwamithra, please note that it is too late to be choosy.
    Tryout the untried: Choose RW.
    After all Lankans are being forced unto trying out Mahinda/Gota in spite of their previous performances as self styled ‘Terminators’.

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