- Can Sajith do to UNP what Rajapaksas did to SLFP?
- R. Premadasa was appointed as PM by JR after reducing the powers of the post
After much deliberations and meticulous analysis of Intelligence reports, in 1988, following a hard and painful struggle and out of absolute need for socio-political survival, JR and his coterie reluctantly handed over the leadership and nomination to R. Premadasa, who called it dekona pathhu una Vilakkuwak, meaning “a torch burning at both ends.” UNP’s Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa, the popular demand among the rank and file and the Presidential aspirant, speaking in his own inimitable style, proudly claims that he will carry forward his father’s policies and programmes: Sajith continued, “No matter who creates problems, No matter who creates obstacles, there is no challenge, Premadasage putha… is ready to face it. History Repeats Itself!
The present leadership of UNP, is molly coddling with the idea of bring in another outsider for the third successive time to contest on its behalf at Presidential election. In 1988 when R. Premadasa, was uncertain that he would get party nomination, he was fighting fit to enter the fray and contest as the leader of his new force [Purawesi Peramuna] Citizen’s Front making it a three cornered encounter. Speculation rife that after several rounds of talks with beleaguered leadership of SLFP, a secret contingency plan has been drawn for a new outfit labeled ‘Gaja Savi Samajawadi Peramuna’ [Gaja is for Elephant] in readiness to fight against both the SLPP and UNP. Can ‘Premadasage putha’ with a large majority of UNPers with him, do to UNP what Rajapaksas did to SLFP?
During the second half of 1988, at tail end of JR era, the nation was a burning inferno. LTTE and JVP ruled the roost, creating terror and mayhem while the government machinery became paralyzed.
"Premadasa as President doused the wild fire in the South with the help of Ranjan Wijeratne. They massacred the terror organization which would have swallowed up everything"
K. H. J. Wijayadasa - [CCS] Secretary to Premadasa as PM and Executive President says, in an article, “He won the UNP nomination for the Presidential Election of December 1988 against great odds and insurmountable obstacles. President Premadasa himself had his fingers crossed till the last moment as to whether President JR would bring a Constitutional amendment enabling him to seek reelection for a further term of office or whether the official UNP nomination would be made in favour of Gamini Dissanayake or Lalith Athulathmudali.
Even though JR technically had a clear 2/3 majority in Parliament to amend the Constitution he was rather hesitant to do so as the mood in the country was against such a move and the Premadasa faction was gaining in strength.”
JR with his 5/6th majority did not care two hoots about burning problems of the youth. Premadasa the visionary leader foresaw it after the 1971 youth uprising. “Those young hands applauding us now may manufacture the bombs that will kill us if we, too do not change our ways of living and leadership” -- R Premadasa [Victory speech in 1977]. Proving Premadasa correct a JVP activists hurled two grenades at UNP group meeting exactly ten years later on August 18, 1987. [The grenades bouncing off the head table at which JR and Premadasa were sitting, rolled away killing an MP, an employee of parliament, and severely injuring Lalith Athulathmudali. The military wing of the JVP, Deshapremi Janatha Viyaparaya claimed responsibility].
‘Premadasage putha’ to launch policies, programmes of father
R. Premadasa was appointed as PM by JR after reducing the powers of the post and the enormous concentration of power in the Executive Presidency, a manoeuvre to cut down Premadasa, and the forces and desires of masses that he represented. “The PM enjoyed powers, only that of a peon” said Premadasa in his acceptance speech on receipt of presidential nomination in October 1988.
“People are facing unspeakable suffering. Our youth has to obtain opportunities for jobs, social security and economic progress have been unsuccessful. The patience and courage of masses who are bearing severe burdens of the cost of living, must not be conceived as a weakness.’’ He wrote in a contribution to ‘Prabuddha Shakthiya’, June 1978; a magazine His programmes and projects were multi faceted and multi sectoral.
The current political trend makes it obvious that at any other election apart from presidential; the UNP under PM Ranil Wickremesinghe would be routed and crushed by Rajapaksas. However, in a Presidential clash Sajith as party leader and candidate and with minority vote in party’s favour, certainly, it would lead to a close tussle.
The UNP old-guard who backs Ranil will never hand over the party reins on a platter to Premadasa’s son, Sajith, a product of a British public school and the London School of Economics is certainly more popular, among the party’s grass root level supporters, the youth and the floating voters in the country.
"In a Presidential clash Sajith as party leader and candidate and with minority vote in party’s favour, certainly, it would lead to a close tussle"
True, Premadasa as President doused the wild fire in the South with the help of Ranjan Wijeratne. They massacred the terror organization which would have swallowed up everything: but at the other end of the Vilakkuwa which he played a part in lighting, [supplied arms, cement for bunkers and money; ordered 600 Policemen to surrender] finally destroyed him. [The LLRC recommended that an investigation should be carried out into the incident] R. Premadasa was sensitive to media reports which were critical and adverse; hence they attempted at arm-twisting of journalists too, which led to the brutal murder of Richard De Zoysa. He chased away the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) and antagonized the Indians.
Is there someone who is not narrowly communal minded and can therefore win the minorities without keeping away the majority. R. Premadasa who launched Sucharitha Movement at the age of 15 organised a night school when he was only 18 years. His friend and writer’s cousin Jayasena Weerakoon not only volunteered to teach at the school attended by youth living in slums and shanties, but collected contributions from his co-businessmen in Dais Place and Dam Street for donating a Morris Minor car [a taxi converted] when he was elected a city father [CMC] at 25 years.
A self made, self disciplined, self educated, and self motivated man, Ranasinghe Premadasa took the initiative with a team of loyalists backing him and a drive to reach the top. He was a man of amazing courage and self confidence who took up defeat and looked ahead without weakening in strength. He did not waste millions of state money or state resources on media advertisements seeking cheap publicity for his services.
Sajith has a lot to learn from the father’s pluses and minuses; he should take careful note of his misdeeds too—at one stage in early 1970s, and just before the demise of his mentor Dudley Senanayake, Premadasa worked against him and formed a parallel political unit called ‘Citizen’s Front,’ and wrote critical columns on Dudley in newspapers. The causes and the factors responsible for President Premadasa’s rapid fall can be attributed to the power-centred office of the Executive President. The fall which ended in his tragic death, all happened within less than four-and-a-half years.
For the sake of the country and the party, it’s time Ranil Wickremesinghe makes way for the youthful leader. In March 2011, Sajith and his supporters made a failed attempt to oust Wickremesinghe. This is going to be another power hungry battle, between two factions. Members of the UNP should first make a resolution and amend the party constitution and elect their next leader; by doing so they can show the people that they are the true democratic UNP. Time buying exercises by the leader has caused the party to suffer enough. It is time for him to leave honorably without initiating a major split and remain an independent advisor to the young man. That is the only reform the UNP needs.