- Democracy needs an active and well -endowed opposition party. That will be missing in the next Parliament
- The UNP had a track record as competent economic managers, though that is more of a propped up perception than reality
- a unified UNP still had the opportunity to mobilize a large swathe of voters on the simple premise to deprive the SLPP getting a two-third majority in Parliament
The Grand Old Party, the UNP is in deep trouble. The multi-party democracy in Sri Lanka is too. People are right to scorn the UNP for its self-inflicted calamity. But it is foolhardy to brush off the looming prospect of something of a near resemblance of a one-party state.
Democracy needs an active and well -endowed opposition party. That will be missing in the next Parliament.
We ended up here courtesy of a tragicomedy of egotism, lethargy and blissful ignorance. And there is a bit of bad luck too. The UNP could not recover from the decimation of its leadership by the Tiger suicide bombers and the still unresolved assassination of Lalith Athulathmudali. But, all that happened more than a quarter-century ago. Even Post-Apartheid South Africa is younger than that.
The UNP is on a downward spiral since then. The leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe has been more content with securing party leadership than winning elections. Instead of contesting, he fielded three candidates, and a fourth grudgingly, for four out of six presidential elections. The luck was not on his side too. On both occasions when he had a decent shot at the top post, the Tigers stole it; in 1999, terrorists bombed the election rallies of both parties, but the then incumbent Chandrika Kumaratunga won the sympathy vote. Then, in 2005, the LTTE stopped war weary Tamils from voting, Wickremesinghe lost to Mahinda Rajapaksa by 180,000 votes.
The UNP had a track record as competent economic managers, though that is more of a propped up perception than reality. If anything, the UNP’s managerialism is gauged against the economic mismanagement of the United Front government of 1970-77. In truth, the UNP’s economic handling during the next 17 years is low-grade crony capitalism. Unlike his Chinese, Malaysian or Singaporean contemporaries, who elevated their states to the next level of development, J.R Jayawardene let his aggrandizement get the best of him and left two insurgencies for his successor to fight.
After five years of economic inertia of Yahapalanaya, even the green-blooded UNPers confide that defending the UNP had become indefensible. And that Mr. Wickremesinghe continues to secure the party leadership after consecutive defeats, and worse still, he has thrown to the wind every hard-won UNP government, making it harder to defend.
However, someone should suffer from a clinically detectable level of delusion and also a strong sense of victim-hood to think that the break up of the Grand Old Party is the remedy. More so after the ignominious trouncing at the recent presidential election, Sajith Premadasa suffers from both. He is right to feel aggrieved by Mr. Wickremesinghe’s feudal sense of entitlement to the party leadership.
During the next five years, Sri Lanka would drift further into power absolutism. There will be predictable government machinations
But, any commonsensical party member would have reasoned out to him that when the party is split up, both sides lose. Only the Pohottuwa will gain.
The two quarrelling UNP factions, the UNP and Samagi Balawegaya, are not reaching out to the floating vote. They are competing for the ever depleting UNP bloc vote, which is less than 30 per cent of the total vote.
Their fratricidal bickering makes two parties that are even less appealing to independent voters.
Granted that it lost the presidential election by a bigger than expected margin. But a unified UNP still had the opportunity to mobilize a large swathe of voters on the simple premise to deprive the SLPP getting a two-third majority in Parliament. It could have saved the day for the UNP while also providing a degree of moderation to the impending absolutism. That opportunity was lost.
The result of the forthcoming Parliamentary election is a foregone conclusion. The SLPP would not win a two-thirds majority. But, it could buy over the disgruntled UNP and Samagi Balawegaya MPs.
During the next five years, Sri Lanka would drift further into power absolutism. There will be predictable government machinations. Separation of power would be discarded as a nuisance. Independent institutions will be co-opted or cut down to size.
There will also be repercussions, both domestic and foreign. But, the UNP and the Samagi Balawegaya are not in the mood to mobilize.
After all, that we had to rely on them to defend democracy tells a lot about the poverty in Sri Lankan politics.
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