reforms’ mean ouster of Ranil?
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
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.
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
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, `
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.