Karu returns with less clout

The return of Karu Jayasuriya to the United National Party (UNP) this week is not the first cross-over of its kind, and it is a certainty that it will not be the last. But it raises important issues of political morality that has been put to the test in recent times.

Prior to his exit from the UNP, Karu Jayasuriya was widely hailed as a gentleman politician who practiced what he preached and eschewed playing to the gallery. In the murky world of dirty politics, he was seen as the exception rather than the rule.

It is no secret that Jayasuriya owes his meteoric rise in the Grand Old Party, to Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, who appointed him as Chairman of the UNP twelve years ago. From there onwards, he was the Mayor of Colombo, Chief Ministerial candidate for the Western Province, Deputy Leader of the UNP, Minister of Power and Energy and Prime Minister designate- in the event of a Presidential election victory by Wickremesinghe.

But that was not to be: and with Wickremesinghe’s defeat, there was a call for his ouster from the leadership of the UNP. Surprisingly and rather uncharacteristically, Jayasuriya gave leadership to those who were seeking his mentor’s scalp.

At a time when the UNP had pledged support to the ruling party, Jayasuriya took with him a contingent of seventeen Members of Parliament and joined the Cabinet. It was the perfect political double cross from the UNP’s perspective..

Jayasuriya’s argument at that time, was that there was a lack of democracy within the UNP. The party’s constitution is so skewed in favour of the party leader, that he could be a virtual dictator within the party, if he so desires. Hence Jayasuriya and his ‘rebels’ styled themselves the UNP (Democratic) group, to imply that the parent party was undemocratic!

There was also the rationale that the mainstream UNP was not supporting the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime enough, in the latter’s efforts to defeat the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militarily. This was a theory that was to gain momentum as UNP rebels have become more and more vocal in their support of the Rajapaksa Presidency in recent months.

Significantly, in his resignation statement issued this week, Jayasuriya speaks of this issue but does not mention any squabbles about democratising the UNP, the issue over which he left that party nearly two years ago.

He only goes so far as to say that at a crucial time for the country, the UNP leadership did not agree with his stance and that this compelled him to extend support to the Government together with a group of colleagues.

Jayasuriya, in his resignation statement also speaks of his disappointment at being unable to implement the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, an effort to which he gave leadership and impetus, giving the impression he is a disillusioned man.

In retrospect, if Jayasuriya left the UNP because he believed the party lacked internal democracy, he found the going tougher within the Government, which was in effect a rainbow coalition of extreme ends of the political spectrum, bonded together, more by the glue of political expediency, than perhaps enlightened principles.

Jayasuriya speaks of his worries about the economic challenges facing the country, and his belief that the UNP is best equipped to deal with them. But then, that begs the question: which minister resigns because he is at odds with economic policies for which, as Minister of Public Administration and Home Affairs, he is not even remotely responsible?

Clearly, within a United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) Government, Jayasuriya was at the end of the road politically. For the lesser mortals who accompanied him in his crossover, a cabinet portfolio was as good as it gets, but for Jayasuriya, that wasn’t satiating his political ambitions.

Besides, the UNP’s ubiquitous and persistent internal squabbles offered Jayasuriya the chance to return to the fold at minimum cost. He was re-instated in his post as Deputy Leader, and obviously that would augur well for scaling greater heights, if the UNP were to return to power.

But, we must also give credit where it is due. It must be said that even while being within the Government, Jayasuriya did not criticise the UNP leadership, or launch scathing personal attacks on the Leader of the Opposition. Allegations of corruption or abuse of power have never being hurled at Jayasuriya either.

He has held the responsible portfolio of Public Administration and Home Affairs with dignity and decorum, where he tried to implement a competitive examination scheme for the recruitment of grama niladharis, instead of installing political stooges in that job.

Karu Jayasuriya returns to the UNP with his Deputy Leader mantle intact, but perhaps with less authority than what he earlier commanded.

From time immemorial, opposition parties in Sri Lanka have steadfastly subscribed to the notion that once they are in the opposition, they have to “ oppose” and assume the confrontational politics mode. It this confrontational politics role, that has reduced this country to its sorry state today, where, politicians have opposed for the sake of opposing, while their conscience, and perhaps, their innate ability to discern between right and wrong, may have told their inner self, their path was certainly wrong and not good for the people who have elected them. It is time for politicians to realise that the art of politics is changing, while politics may be the art of the possible, it is also the quintessence of managing a country, and therefore, immaterial of where one sits in that august chamber, the Members of Parliament should practice participative politics, as that, is the need of this hour. This, therefore, is the time for the Manager and the Gentleman in Karu Jayasuriya to give that direction to the UNP.