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Saving UNP Karu Jayasuriya as interim leader may be the best out of the fratricidal struggle

18 August 2020 12:10 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The United National Party (UNP) is on life support. Its plight is an aberration in the history of centre-right politics. Generally, it is the polar opposite of the UNP’s political ideology, the Communists, Marxists and the hard Left that found themselves thrown into the dustbin of history at home and elsewhere. Even in comparison to the gradual decline of the LSSP, Communist Party and ideological bedfellows, the UNP’s fall from grace is all too spectacular. And to make matters worse, the UNP leadership keeps digging deeper into the hole it is in. That would make crawling out of it, extra difficult, if not nearly impossible.   


Consider the tragedy and farce of the whole affair. After the Grand Old Party was reduced to just one national list seat in Parliament, Ranil Wickremesinghe, the party leader, intimated his desire to resign. Had that decision was made a few months ago, it would have saved the party from much of the current troubles. Though the UNP could still have lost the election, it might have scooped around 80 seats in Parliament.   

 

Ranil is naive to think that the result of provincial council elections would be any different from the UNP’s disastrous showing at the general election


However, the former PM’s intended resignation, after holding tight to the party leadership and leading it through a ruinous downward spiral, was still a glimmer of hope. Alas, then he suddenly changed mind. Now he wants to be at the helm of the party until the provincial council elections, according to his confidante Akila Viraj Kariyawasam.  


Ranil Wickremesinghe is naive to think that the result of provincial council elections would be any different from the UNP’s disastrous showing at the general election. It could well be much worse if any. Now, Ranil Wickremesinghe reportedly wants to hand over the party leadership to a young leader. Seven party members, some young and some not- so- young have thrown their hats to the ring. But there is a hitch. None of them could make it to Parliament. A truly alluring national level leader might have been a little more electable. Therefore, the leadership search within the current lot is as good as a wild goose chase. So is the UNP’s chance of winning future elections under the current status quo within
the party.  


There are some stubborn facts: The UNP is in pieces and it can not be resurrected without all the missing pieces put together. Its splinter group, Samagi Jana Balawegaya has parted ways, carrying good 90% of the UNP’s vote base. The remainder would be gone by the next election. SJB is the UNP by another name. Same policies, same people, and the same bloc vote that was once the UNP’s.  


On the other hand, the SJB had not done any better. Its only achievement so far is cannibalizing the UNP. It is stuck with the UNP’s core vote. It even missed out nearly two million votes that the UNP polled during the presidential election. It is the main opposition, but in truth, it is a timid, uninspiring distant opposition force. Its growth would be constrained by its own limitations. It could prevail in the power play over the depleted UNP, but it is unlikely to put up a fight against the SLPP electorally.   

 

Karu Jayasuriya might be the best bet out of the available lot. He has clout among the Sinhalese Buddhist electorate, minorities and the clergy


Divided, both the UNP and the SJB are bound to languish in irrelevance. It would be in the mutual interest of both parties to patch up. However, petty jealousies are standing on the way of that commonsensical step. Sajith Premadasa, the SJB leader, had vouched not to return to the UNP, and most of the UNP’s leadership aspirants would be happy with that outcome. Conceding the UNP leadership to Sajith Premadasa is a hard pill to swallow for many who remained with the UNP. 


But, the egos cannot win elections. Given the competing vested interests, an immediate leadership transition to the returning Sajith Premadasa would be tricky. Probably the solution should be an interim leader who could facilitate the leadership transition.  


Former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya might be the best bet out of the available lot. He has clout among the Sinhalese Buddhist electorate, minorities and the clergy. He is old and might not overstay his welcome. He will also be happy to help save the UNP from its untimely death, at his twilight age. He can keep the party afloat until the new leader is elected through a secret vote. To that end, the UNP would also have to reconfigure its working committee, which was filled with RW loyalists. Also, like China after Mao, the UNP might have to amend the party constitution to prevent any future leader from turning the party into his or her fiefdom, and probably, also to create provisions for a leadership challenge like in the UK or Australia. All that would take a year, and though, it might take much longer to bury the hatchet, if ever.  


 However, with all its imperfections, that might be the best option to save the Grand Old Party and the multi-party democracy in Sri Lanka.   


Follow @ Ranga Jayasuriya on Twitter  


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