By Rasika Jayakody –
Many believe that Karu Jayasuriya is an umbrella under which many factions of the United National Party can work together with the aim of forming a government within the next two years. It is true that Jayasuriya is appealing to the Sinhala-Buddhist elements which have become the decisive factor as far as election results are concerned, especially in the post-2005 Sri Lanka.
He is a man of a clean track record, whose name remains unstained with bribery and corruption allegations, or any other charge that are often wedded to the names of politicians in this day and age. It is clear that he is a politician who has a sound knowledge of every aspect of his business and someone who possesses a pluralistic mindset towards media and other establishments that are essential to maintain a healthy democracy in a country.
Moreover, he is a fatherly figure who is capable of being a guiding star to many of the rising leaders of the party who will have to take over the baton in the future. All these are plus points that stand in favor of Karu Jayasuriya who has now been propelled into the supreme council of the party in the aftermath of a shameful election defeat.
It is equally important to weigh his negative points against the pluses in a manner that would allow a fair analysis of the Karu factor. The biggest negative point that looms large over Karu is his fallibility that plunged him into various troubles throughout his political career. It is no secret that Karu was outfoxed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the former’s cross over to the government in 2007. The time Karu spent under the UPFA umbrella was a very unhappy one and he was never given a chance to rise to prominence as a senior member of the government. Finally, he managed to cross the aisle of Parliament again following an unpleasant verbal exchange with the President over some appointments he made as the Minister of Public Administration. Although he was reinstated as the Deputy Leader of the party, the crossover was a major setback for him, particularly in the eyes of traditional UNPers.
Jayasuriya was hoodwinked again by Sajith Premadasa and his allies in 2011, when the so called reformists of the party fielded the former as the leadership candidate against Ranil Wickremesinghe at the UNP internal election. It was, from the very outset, a conspiracy against Jayasuriya by Sajith and his loyalists, but the septuagenarian happily jumped into the trap, without giving way to any second thought. Premadasa’s intention, at that point, was to get rid of Jayasuriya who stood in his way to the party leadership.
Following a landslide defeat at the leadership election, Jayasuriya was disowned by Premadasa and his associates, and the only option left for him was to become a mere backbencher of the parliamentary group of the United National Party. He was never invited for any of the crucial meetings of the party and was never given a chance to address journalists as a party representative. All in all, it is axiomatic that Machiavellian politics is not Karu Jayasuriya’s cup of tea!
One cannot come to the conclusion that inability to thrive on Machiavellian politics will disqualify Jayasuriya from rising to power. It is true that he is someone who is capable of forming a broad opposition alliance that is capable of posing a strong challenge to the Rajapaksa regime. But, it also important to look into the fact that whether Jayasuriya can manage various elements that will come under the umbrella of his political coalition.
For instance, in 1956, S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike ascended to power with the support of broad political coalition that included leftists, rightists, moderates and populists. But, three years later, his government ran into a serious crisis due to Bandaranaike’s inability to effectively manage various elements within his rampart. If the UNP is to form an opposition coalition with Jayasuriya at the helm, the aforesaid factor should be taken into serious consideration. What he has to understand is that it doesn’t matter how deep the ocean is; but it is the motion of the ocean that can always make the difference.
Whenever the UNP is in serious trouble, Karu Jayasuriya’s name comes into the limelight as the person who can cure the malady. But so far, he has not got a real chance to treat the patient from close quarters. Although he has a strong support from various sections due to his clean reputation and unmarred track record, his leadership abilities have not been tested at the national level. But his vast experience in various aspects of national level politics stands in favor of him as far as the leadership of the party is concerned.
Karu Jayasuriya, as explained by some, does not have a magic wand with which he can bring the party back to power in an overnight operation. He has to work hard with a strong team and walk a very tight rope between both Ranil Wickremesinghe and Sajith Premadasa who are waiting eagerly to edge him out at the very first opportunity. Nevertheless, of the top trio of the UNP, Jayasuriya, in my view, is the last person the Rajapaksas want to see at the helm of the main opposition party.
*Rasika Jayakody is a Sri Lankan journalist who may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org