“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory, tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” ~Sun Tsu, Ancient Chinese Military strategist
Within the narrow confines of winning and losing, the No-Confidence Motion NCM) that was defeated in Parliament yesterday produced, among others, a variety of winners and losers. The euphoria was created by a vocal few, amongst whom were Susil Premjayanth, S B Dissanayake, W J Seneviratne, Chandima Weerakkody, Udaya Gammanpila, Wimal Weerawansa, Dinesh Gunawardene, Lakshman Yapa Abeywardana and others. It died at the stroke of the hour close to 10 o’clock in the night of February 4. The ‘Pohottuwa’ (the Bud) met its untimely withering before it could even fully bloom. The unsophisticated and soulless Susil Premjayanth’s vociferous contribution in Parliament was met, word to word, by the one who followed him, Kabir Hashim, General Secretary of the United National Party (UNP) and Minister of Highways and Higher Education. Hashim exposed the venality and utter hypocrisy of Premjayanth and his alleged corrupt practices when he was Minister in charge of the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation during the Rajapaksa era.
In the wake of the failure of the Joint Opposition to unseat Ranil Wickremesinghe from the position of Prime Minster, the UNP stalwarts might be indulging in another kind of spectacle of Champagne and Caviar. But that too would be short-lived. They did not win anything substantial; they were merely granted another lap for their murky and turbulent voyage of indecision and misgovernance.
The ‘13% gang’ was left naked and fully unclothed. The undressing of those Ministers who represented the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) was consummated with clinical precision by speaker after speaker of the UNP. As political institutions both UPFA and SLFP are fast-approaching endangered species level. The common man’s Party, whose genesis is sourced to S W R D Bandaranaike and his nationalist clique, is being put to shame before our eyes. It is a tragedy of enormous proportions for which there will be no more public simpathy. The hijack is complete. It was being effectuated by the Rajapaksa family. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party is now in three identifiable cliques. Sri Lanka Podu-Jana Peramuna (SLPP), those members of the SLFP who voted with the NCM and those who abstained by being absent from the well of the House of Parliament constitute the other two groupings. S W R D must be turning in his grave!
The SLFP, SLPP as political parties and Dinesh Gunawardene, Udaya Gammanpila and Wimal Weerawansa and the SLFP ministers and MPs, who voted for the NCM are the obvious losers. However, the reader must beware that in this column, I define winning and losing only in terms of failing to achieve the desired goal in the No-Confidence Motion, not necessarily a defeat of the Motion in Parliament as having received a lesser number of votes than its antagonists led by Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP. In other words, winning and losing have to be defined in terms of the strategic interests of those who introduced the Motion.
All politics is context. The participation or non-participation of the chief beneficiary of the NCM was former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Ouster of Ranil Wickremesinghe would mean, in the strategic interest of the Joint Opposition (JO), the coup de grâce which would entail the installation of Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister in a SLFP/SLFP-led government. These guys were in power from 1994, for more than two long and corrupting decades and they still want to continue. The levels of avarice and corruption have completely consumed them; the incomes that came through illegal and immoral means had been sustaining their high, ego-pushed lives; wining and dining in 5-star hotels and furloughs abroad have corrupted their daily life-styles and access to money and fairer sex have debased their minds. Buried in such mountains of corruption, these political coolies have mastered the art of lingo to an extent which could mesmerize the gullible voter. One such example is how Susil Premjayanth made his infamous contribution in Parliament at the debate on the NCM. He spoke as if the voter population is Sri Lanka have been born only after 2015.
The two decades of utter disrepute and corrupt practices indulged in by these very politicians and powerful Ministers, an era in which the culture of corruption was taken to new heights in Sri Lankan society was completely forgotten as if that era never was a reality. People’s memories are fragile; they could be a faint shade of remembrance in a week or two. Demands on day-to-day needs are such, in fast-evolving socio-political dynamic, a memory’s life of a no-confidence-motion might meet its death rapidly. Yet considering the circus of sheer insanity and political treachery that was exhibited in Parliament on April 4, 2018 would go down in our history as, in the words of American President Franklin Roosevelt, a ‘day of infamy’.
Both Prime Minister and President may appear as winners, but in a real sense and in the medium and long-run, they will be branded as losers.
In the wake of the failure of the Joint Opposition to unseat Ranil Wickremesinghe from the position of Prime Minster, the UNP stalwarts might be indulging in another kind of spectacle of Champagne and Caviar. But that too would be short-lived. They did not win anything substantial; they were merely granted another lap for their murky and turbulent voyage of indecision and misgovernance. Without a fundamental change in that Party, it is unthinkable how the United National Party could win at any national elections. Euphoria should have ended with the last vote cast in Parliament on April 4. A complete overhaul, from Chairman to Secretary to the last decision making bigwig in the Party which might include even the leader, has to be undertaken. Let the Parliamentarians and the Working Committee together as one collective body decide who should occupy
But this noise-making should not end up as another circus of boot-licking and paying pooja to whomever concerned. A political party of repute and grace should not be reduced to an exclusive club of friends and bedfellows. If the focus should be the aim of replacing the leader without the offer of a quid pro quo, it will fail. If the Party decides that Ranil Wickremesinghe should abdicate, it must be done with class and decorum. He must be offered an ‘exit with honour’.
The most classy and honourable sacrifice of position in the country’s politics occurred in 1993. Democratic United National Front (DUNF), the group that broke away from the UNP after the aborted impeachment motion against the then President R Premadasa, had a tremendous problem in their hands. Both Gamini and Lalith were extremely ambitious men. But they were well accomplished politicians too. Two of the brightest stars of the UNP at the time, Gamini and Lalith, although were bonded together in their opposition to R Premadasa for supplying arms to the Liberations Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE), they were clearly at loggerheads with each other as to who should be the leader of their new party, DUNF. In order to settle this tussle, the Chairman of the party A C Goonaratne QC in his clever legal mind concocted a formula making one of them to lead the first two years and then hand the leadership to the other at the end of the first two years. Both Gamini and Lalith, as co-leaders up to that time started canvassing the working committee and it became unbearable for the members of the Working Committee members of the party. Gamini took a decision and it was a decision only a gentleman would make. He asked Lalith to be the leader in the first two years and withdrew his name from the contest. Such gentleman-politics has seen its last days in the mid-1990s. Gamini’s decision had a load of logic and foresight. He said that if Lalith lost the battle, he, Lalith, would leave the DUNF. Gamini said that if either of them left the DUNF, this Party which was built up by Gamini and Lalith would be dead forever.
Today’s leaders, from either side of the aisle, have neither such class of conduct nor the foresight of an astute statesman. The ‘13% Gang’ did not understand the culture of that UNP. They did not realize that an ouster of Ranil Wickremesinghe from Premiership has to follow not precede the ouster of Ranil Wickremesinghe as the leader of the UNP. They tried to reverse the process. And they were caught up in a web of unending deal-making and consequently the JO controlled the dynamic process of this NCM saga. The UNP members banded themselves because they did not want anyone else to tell them who should be the leader of their Party.
Winning and losing have to be defined in terms of the strategic interests of those who introduced the Motion
The UNP as a whole came out of this NCM story as winners while the JO and the SLFP as political institutions suffered a very serious, sometimes an irrevocable, defeat and setback. Amateurs led a political struggle without knowing the ABC of political strategy and its substantive inner workings. Both Prime Minister and President may appear as winners, but in a real sense and in the medium and long-run, they will be branded as losers. But there are some clear winners in this whole mess. A majority group that is demanding drastic changes in the UNP are winners. The pressure they put on their leadership cannot go ignored. Changes are essential and they will certainly come in a very fundamental sense.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org