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Does ‘party reforms’ mean ouster of Ranil?

The ongoing battle for the UNP leadership, based on the premise that the party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe would either step down or would be forced to quit the position, reminds one of the satirical anecdote about a group of Lankan sinners condemned to suffer the torments in one of the dark pits in hell. The anecdote runs something like this:

There were many dark pits in hell fixed with spikes at the bottom and on the sides. Sinners thrown into these pits would raise shrill cries when spikes pierce their bodies causing severe pain. Nevertheless, some enterprising and persevering sinners suffering in pits would try to clamber up helped by fellow sinners in a desperate bid to escape. A few sinners who had climbed up had made good their escape and King Yama had later posted a guard at every dark pit to ensure that there would be no more escapees.

However, King Yama had not posted a guard at the dark pit in which the Lankan sinners undergoing the torments of Hell. Why? Because he had found that whenever an enterprising Lankan sinner tried to climb up in a bid to escape, the other sinners would invariably pull him down by the leg.

Judging by the stories coming down the grapevine, even the most enterprising and most eligible aspirant to the UNP leadership would find this coveted position of the once strongest and most popular political party elusive for there would be others either due to rivalry or malice always ready to pull him back by the leg!

Decline of UNP begins
It is an incontrovertible fact that the decline of the UNP began in 1994 following the loss of its leaders of national stature like Ranasinghe Premadasa, Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali. Their falling victim to LTTE’s suicide bombers within a short period deprived the UNP of a strong dynamic leadership at the apex of the party organisation.

It became quite obvious to all soon that Ranil Wickremesinghe who stepped into the UNP leadership under fortuitous circumstances lacked the charisma characteristic of his great predecessors. The party still had a few young and dynamic leaders like Gamini Atukorale who ably stemmed the party’s decline. Although the party’s momentum of growth slowed down, it still managed to retain its voter base intact at least until December 2001.

The real slide of the UNP towards decay and decline began when Ranil Wickremesinghe meekly allowed President Chandrika Kumaratunga to take over three key Ministries and later dissolve Parliament. If Wickremesinghe were a clever, far-sighted and strong politician he could have easily stymied every move made by President Kumaratunga to undermine his government which took office in 2001. He could have prevented the dissolution of parliament too, by constitutional means. He could not hold on to power when he commanded a comfortable majority in Parliament. He passively looked on while President Kumaratunga drove the last nail into the coffin of his government.
A charismatic leader like Mahinda Rajapaksa or Ranasinghe Premadasa would never have allowed President Kumaratunga to push him out of power in the way she could oust Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Meek surrender
The meek surrender of power in 2004 by Ranil Wickremesinghe was a great shock to the UNP supporters at the grassroots level.
From the days of the late D.S. Senanayake, particularly during the administration of President Ranasinghe Premadasa, the UNP supporters had been a highly spirited and motivated segment of the population. They readily came forward to participate in any mass struggle for a just cause under the direction of a strong leader.

Protest staged at KIA
The UNP supporters put up a grand show of their collective spirit in an abundant measure when they converged in their tens of thousands outside the Katunayake international airport to demonstrate their solidarity with their party Ranil Wickremesinghe on his return home from the UK soon after the take over of the three Ministries by President Kumaratunga. The massive crowd later marched towards Colombo shouting slogans.
Wickremesinghe either did not have the political savvy or the presence of mind to make the maximum use of this massive non-violent demonstration of public will to safeguard his government. He told the highly spirited party supporters, “You go back home. I will settle matter with the President alone.”

Wickremesinghe killed the spirit and loyalty of the party supporters when he spurned the offer of solidarity made by them. He virtually killed the UNP voter base. He emasculated the political will of the membership by his passive attitude. It would be a Herculean task for the new leader to revive the dying party.
The party organisation at the periphery has gone into utter disarray in the absence of a dynamic leadership at the apex.
It is quite obvious that when the UNP seniors and the young rebels call for party reforms, they really mean the ouster of the present leader. One cannot understand why the UNP front-liners continue to hide their real demand under the euphemistic term, ` party reforms’.

Not out of love for UNP
One can easily understand why mass media and intellectuals in this country are taking a keen interest in the crisis plaguing the UNP. It is certainly not out of any particular love for the UNP, but out of grave concern over the future of democracy in this country. If there is strong government in power, there should be an equally strong opposition to offer constructive criticism to it. Any government would naturally develop dictatorial tendencies and aspirations when there is a very weak opposition. It is the collective misfortune of our people that we are having an opposition in shambles in our country today.

Take a cursory glance at the track record of Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister of this country. Did he do anything that people could remember long with nostalgia and gratitude? He offered the profit-making Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation to a business tycoon for a song. But he allowed state media to remain as docile creatures in the hands of the government in power.
Will there be a strong opposition in the country as long as Ranil Wickremesinghe remains the leader of opposition? Every one now knows the correct answer.