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