Stop fooling around

The governing United National Party (UNP) continues to be in turmoil over the inability of its leadership to nominate a candidate to contest the upcoming presidential election.

In a rather irrational move, UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa has chosen to go public and nominate himself as the candidate, while the party, even a week later, has maintained a deafening silence on the matter.

It seems Premadasa has already shown his immaturity and lack of temperament for the job, by jumping the gun and in the process, denting his chances of greater support from the party – a prospect which seemed likely but not anymore.

One must keep in mind the fundamental fact history has shown, that the typical UNP voter traditionally votes for the party and not particularly for the individual, whoever that might be. The best example is when the party giants at the time, Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali, decided to part ways with the UNP over their collective inability to get on with Premadasa Senior who was President at the time.

The Democratic United National Front (DUNF), which the Dissanayake-Athulathmudali combine formed, enjoyed only limited support and had no real traction in the electorate. It is not surprising therefore that the party is nonexistent today even though one of its remnants, Minister Ravi Karunanayake, remains stoically anti Premadasa. Should there be another split, it is likely that the result will be no different this time around as well.

With the Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP) already having declared Gotabaya Rajapaksa as their presidential nominee, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) only having to announce whether President Maithripala Sirisena will contest or not, and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) hinting that it’s Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake will be its candidate, the competition is by now, well known.

It is not quite a secret that other than Premadasa, there are other aspirants within the UNP who are carrying out a silent campaign to land the nomination. Among them are Party Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, and former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka.

Premadasa’s record as national leadership material is not entirely convincing as he has consistently failed to deliver on his own promises, the magnum opus of which is the promised delivery of a million housing units.

Having completed four years of his term, the actual number of houses constructed remains at around 1% of the target. Besides, Premadasa is noted for his silence on matters of national interest and his reluctance to take a stand on any matter of importance. He has instead let others face the fire while he remains cocooned in his sterile environment. What is disconcerting is the fact that in the past four years, he has seized every opportunity to promote himself, at great cost to party unity.

Out of the rest, Jayasuriya commands respect among the party faithful for the principled stance he took against all odds during the 51-day political coup. However, his decamping from the UNP in 2007 remains a blot on his CV. But with his no-nonsense attitude in Parliament, he does come out as a strong candidate. As things stand, it is his age that might prevent him from coming out with a compelling case.

Last week, Sarath Fonseka joined the fray by announcing that he is able and willing to take on the role if given the opportunity. A Fonseka vs. Gota battle, although a mouthwatering prospect, may not be in the best national interest given their military backgrounds.

Since we have previously commented on a possible Wickremesinghe candidacy, we shall refrain from repeating the record again. Given the options before them and the zero margin of error, one cannot help but pity the party for the choices it will have to make sooner rather than later.

Wickremesinghe’s gambit of harping on the Rajapaksa era indiscretions as the party’s main election propaganda platform is likely to blow up in his face given the inaction and failure to deliver on the promise of “catching the rogues and murderers” which remains the only reason he and Sirisena were collectively elected to power in 2015.

It is an understatement to say that the UNP will have to pay a heavy price for its failure to prosecute even a single wrongdoer up to now. The latest bombshell from slain The Sunday Leader Editor-in-Chief Lasantha Wickrematunge’s daughter, Ahimsa, is a clear indicator as to who should shoulder the blame for four years of inaction. According to her letter to Wickremesinghe sent last week and which remains uncontradicted to date, Wickremesinghe is quoted as telling Ahimsa just after his election to office that there were “other priorities” than to investigate Wickrematunge’s murder when during the entirety of the campaign, the prime topic was just that. Now with Wickremesinghe trying to do a repeat, he has been stalled in his tracks by Ahimsa.

Wickremesinghe must understand that the UNP is not his personal property and he has no right to do as he pleases, especially at a time when he is more a liability than an asset to the party. He can’t mimic the Rajapaksa model where the SLPP is actually their personal property and they can do as they please with unquestioned support from an obedient and endearing vote base. Even in the absence of supportive documentation to prove the nationality of its candidate, the SLPP remains a strong contender. What is ironic however is that although party supporters accept this status quo, they will not miss an opportunity to rave and rant against the US and its defence pacts. Wickremesinghe does not have such carte blanche support from the UNP vote base although he seems to think so, as evidenced by his campaign propaganda so far.

Going forward, it is clear that at least a section of the population has realised that the time has come to hold politicians accountable for their actions. As those who live off the public account, politicians are duty bound to honour their promises. The time for accounting is now and some will discover the hard way that you can fool some of the people all the time and all the people some of the time but you simply cannot fool all the people all the time.

No 91, Wijerama Mawatha, Colombo 7.