Taming UNP's 'wild elephants'
The United National Party (UNP)
is embroiled in crisis, the worst since its inception some 65 years ago.
The UNP, one of the foremost political parties in Sri Lanka, has made
a significant contribution to the country's economic and social
progress. There was a time the UNP was firmly entrenched as the
strongest single political party in the country - especially after its
landslide general election victory in July 1977 with a five-sixths
majority under President J.R Jayewardene. The UNP was even looked upon
as an invincible force in national politics.
When former Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake, the founding father of
the UNP, made the inaugural address on September 6, 1946 at the Palm
Court, Albert Crescent in Colombo, he would perhaps never had the
foggiest notion that his party would descend to such a low ebb as it is
The UNP constitution encompassed all ethnic, social, religious and
other groups. The party set up with 205 members, saw its membership
swell to over 1.5 million in its first 50 years, producing seven Prime
Ministers and three Executive Presidents.
It is indeed tragic that a party with such an unsullied reputation is
with doldrums as, its members today are grappling with one another to
unite the party. Mounting differences among its leaders, and seniors are
my no means new. It is an open secret that President Jayewardene and the
then Prime Minister R. Premadasa had serious differences. However, they
never let such differences affect their political goals or the party's
On the other hand, the leadership of a political party, or for that
matter, any society or organisation, is something that should come with
maturity and dignity. It is more creditable when it comes to the UNP
since all its leaders, including the incumbent leader Ranil
Wickremesinghe , have stood out with a proven track record. None of the
stalwart UNP leaders cadged leadership but by their actions earned the
top seat. Those illustrious UNP leaders, even in their wildest dreams,
wouldn't have organised protest marches or rallies to win party
Unfortunately, those high ideals have ceased to exist in the UNP. In
this scenario, it is evident that UNP Deputy Leaders Sajith Premadasa
and Karu Jayasuriya are battling it out with their own hidden agendas.
They are apparently vying to realise their political dreams. This stance
is by no means conducive to democracy as a responsible Opposition is a
sine qua non for the country's well-being.
Premadasa Jnr, who at one time went hammer and tongs for the party
leadership, is now demanding that Jayasuriya be made leader. Most of the
UNPers still repose faith in Wickremesinghe in view of his political
maturity and wide knowledge on any subject which are undoubtedly far
ahead of all UNP seniors.
UNPers still recall how Jayasuriya spelt doom to the party by
defecting to the Government with 17 MPs and obtained a ministerial post.
UNPers would never pardon Jayasuriya for that great betrayal which
caused irreparable damage to the party. It was Wickremesinghe who
absolved Jayasuriya and accepted him like the prodigal son on his meek
return. Wickremesinghe, as a true leader, even went to the extent of
offering Jayasuriya the deputy leadership of the party on his return.
But Jayasuriya is singing a different tune today and claims that he is
'ready' for the party leadership. It came at a time when UNP leader
Wickremesinghe had been out of the country. This is scandalous to say
the least, and the greatest betrayal against the leader who had offered
Jayasuriya a 'political pardon'.
In contrast, Sajith Premadasa has barely shown any worthy credentials
of a national leader. Even on the few occasions he had spoken in
Parliament, Sajith Premadasa had merely focused on minor issues and
problems in his electorate and barely on any national problems. This
alone speaks volumes of his political immaturity. Could such a mere
mortal like him - one who is unable to think outside the box become the
leader of a national party? Could such a political neophyte be
considered a national leader?
If Premadasa and Jayasuriya do not wish to see the UNP in the
Opposition for another decade or more, they must shed their petty
political differences and rally round Wickremesinghe to save the party
from disaster. Wickremesinghe may perhaps not be the best leader in the
UNP's history but he still seems to be the best to lead the party as his
personality and proven track record, are by far superior to other UNP
For example, Wickremesinghe always won his seat at the general
elections with a large number of votes, be it from in the Biyagama
electorate, Gampaha or Colombo districts. He always scored a first in
the UNP list with a record number of votes. In contrast, Jayasuriya
retained his seat in Parliament, coming fourth in the Gampaha district
UNP list at the past general election. Since contesting his first
election, Jayasuriya has lost more than half his vote base while
Wickremesinghe on the other hand, increased his popularity in the
Moreover, Premadasa Jnr suffered a big setback with the UNP's dismal
performance in the Hambantota district at the past general election.
Though he often bragged that he would give the Government a tough fight,
it was smooth sailing for the ruling UPFA and the party even increased
its number of seats to five in the Hambantota district. The jackpot
question is whether a district leader who can barely impress the people
of his own area, become a national figure overnight and muster
In the event the UNP is to make a comeback, the party must first and
foremost adhere to discipline. There can't be two masters. It behoves
all to rally round a leader who could inspire national leadership and
not upstarts whose thinking is confined to the grass roots level.
Puerile thinking will not get the UNP anywhere in its forward march,
except to the political wilderness.
In this context, it is heartening that the UNP Working Committee is
moving in the right direction by initiating disciplinary action against
four rebel parliamentarians, who have invariably overestimated
themselves from the day they entered Parliament. Can mere Lilliputians
and ageing beauty queens challenge the leadership of a political
heavyweight such as Wickremesinghe?
If the UNP is to maintain discipline and take the party forward, its
'wild elephants' should be tamed. Despite the high drama enacted by the
Reformist rebels, Wickremesinghe stood his ground. Only a mature leader
such as Wickremesinghe could resurrect the party from the doldrums and
not the instant recipes turned out by Premadasa or his extremist