“I shall argue that strong men, conversely, know when to compromise and that all principles can be compromised to serve a greater principle.”
This missive is addressed to Ranil Wickremesinghe and Champika Ranawaka, the Leaders of the United National Party (UNP) and the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) respectively. But it is not a “for your eyes only’ memorandum.
Whoever wishes to read it could read the letter and draw his or her own conclusions and make their own assertions. The country is evidently heading for a crucial election. The Presidential Election which everyone is talking about and getting ready for, is no election to elect Provincial Councillors or Pradesheeya Sabha members whose scope of work and horizon of vision are limited and perennially lacking in the national context. All Provincial Council administrations, except perhaps in the Northern Province, are blindly subservient to the ‘Centre’, treating the terrain as a breeding ground for corrupt and nepotistic practices rather than for future parliamentarians. Those who are already warming the governing seats in these councils are running amok, as was seen in the last five years and paying ‘puja’ to, as Dr. Dayan Jayatilleke quite rightly called, the “family politburo’ in order to receive more favourable grants and wishes for their own unsophisticated advancement.
"But when J R took over the Party the picture changed and a new dynamic set in. I dare say that, if not for J R’s vision, R Premadasa would never have got where he was under any other leader of the UNP of the past"
It is in that context that the leaders of the UNP and JHU should look at the forthcoming Presidential Election. It is incumbent upon them, if they are really serious about displacing the current President from office, to explore all possibilities, not just one or two, to secure an electoral victory at the Presidential Election.
What does Ranil have to do and what does Champika have to accomplish to come to a common understanding and launch a combined effort to achieve victory? If Ranil Wickremesinghe and Champika Ranawaka are serious about their common goal, then there is a way. To show that way is the primary objective of this communique. Before going any further, there is one other significant question that the writer needs to clarify. Why did I select these two parties and their leaders; Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP; Champika Ranawaka and the JHU
Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP
The UNP is the strongest Party in the Opposition. No meaningful opposition can be launched without the active support of the UNP and it is still so. In the personal view of the writer, it is the only mainstream political party which reasonable people would associate themselves with. The people’s faith in the UNP’s versatility in the management of the country’s economy and its open-economic principles that have propelled the country from the stranglehold of archaic socialist economic policies of the left-wing in general and the Bandaranaike principles built around the ‘dependency-on-State’ mindset in the 1970s in particular, has not waned. Furthermore, nepotism which seems to be an integral component of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and its other ‘right-wing’ allies, does not hold any validity with the UNP. The only instance where nepotism played a role in the UNP was way back in 1952, at the very inception of Independent Ceylon when D S Senanayake expressed his wish that Dudley should succeed him after his demise. (Source: J R Jayewardene of Sri Lanka, Volume 1 –A biography by Professor K M de Silva).
But when J R took over the Party the picture changed and a new dynamic set in. I dare say that, if not for J R’s vision, R Premadasa would never have got where he was under any other leader of the UNP of the past. Sajith Premadasa and the two Dissanayake brothers, Navin and Mayantha launched themselves into politics after the demise of their respective fathers and not while their fathers were in power or for that matter, alive and they were elected to office due to their own individual strengths. The‘Accident of birth’ syndrome did not work in these cases as it is doing in the Rajapaksa clan. So, there is no dispute that the ‘nepotism’ badge cannot be attached to the UNP. One fine example that nepotism is not the yardstick by which positions in the Party are carved out is when Ruwan Wijeyawardene, the grandson of D.R. Wijeyawardene, volunteered to hand over the mantle of the UNP Youth League to Harin Fernando recently (However, Harin has been appointed Deputy National Organiser and Ruwan retains his post).UNP needs to head the Opposition coalition, if there were one. Its voter-base, although it has dwindled to a very large extent due to various issues, is a must for any opposition coalition.
Yet, it is reported, that Ranil Wickremesinghe does not want to carry any IOUs to form a future UNP-led government. Ranil needs to shed that fear and inhibition if he ever wants to scale the ‘greasy pole of power’ in Sri Lanka. Politics, as Otto von Bismarck said, is the art of the possible. Compromise is the father of many apolitical deal that has benefited not just one party but many. IOUs are inherently part of that ‘art’. If Ranil does not want to call it a compromise if such a term is hurting his ‘manhood’, then call it something else. Call it middle-ground, or halfway-point or whatever but make it happen.
Champika Ranawaka and the JHU
Champika Ranawaka’s case might be a little more difficult, yet he must realize that he is negotiating from a position of weakness, although it may be portrayed as one of strength. Champika Ranawaka has not tested his voter-base at any given time as he has not contested on his own as yet. Securing a mere 25% of the votes cast for the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) is no great achievement when Wimal Weerawansa and Duminda Silva, both of dubious political stature, secured 58% and 30% respectively and it is no major negotiating position either. But Champika’s strength grew over the last two years, not because he or his party has accomplished a great deal in the Ministries they held but the socio-cultural line that the JHU in general and Champika in particular have been pursuing has been attractive to the greater majority of Sinhala Buddhists in the country.
Champika and his fellow JHU politicians have not been tarnished with corruption and nepotism; their cry for Sinhalese-Buddhist domination of the nation’s character has gained traction and if the natural magnetism towards that cause could be diverted against the Rajapaksas and the current regime and identified with a UNP-led Opposition, the potential of such a political force could be enormous. But he needs to soften his stance on the 13th Amendment. The 13th Amendment is the law of the land and is part of our Constitution.
Champika and the JHU have to acknowledge that reality. Instead of portraying themselves as enemies of the Tamils, they need to represent themselves as peacemakers. They must remember that history was always changed by peacemakers when the war-mongers turned it into dust and ashes.
Agreeing on a common programme, a common platform and a common goal and without resorting to disbursement of positions under a common candidate and Prime Ministerial positions, etc., they must meet on the same grounds that unites them and not what sets them apart. If that happens, Sri Lanka might have another chance of breathing free air again.
If not, what follows might be too gruesome to pen. If, on the other hand, Champika Ranawaka resolves to stay on with the Rajapaksas and defend that corrupt regime at the next Presidential Polls, he and his Party would be tarred with the same ugly black brush.
Stranger political deals have been made. Coming together of Ranil Wickremesinghe and Champika Ranawaka is not an impossibility.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org