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This is my Nation  


 

Did Algama die in vain?

The UNP hierarchy has much to learn from recent events. Rienzie Algama paid the supreme sacrifice to demonstrate that internal party unity was the need of the hour. This only highlights the undercurrents within the UNP now. The overt leadership battle is in a state of abeyance. But a trigger such as Algama’s self-immolation brought the various factions to the surface yet again, sniping bitterly at each other. Indeed, there are many in the UNP who feel that Wickremesinghe has outlived his political shelf life and that it is time to go. But the recent performances of the pretenders to his throne, have now convinced them that he should perhaps stay on, for now

In a week devoid of much political activity, a different kind of political event- A tragedy nevertheless, was the main focus of attention: The self-immolation of ardent United National Party (UNP) activist Rienzie Algama opposite the party headquarters at Sirikotha in Kotte.

Algama, from all available accounts, was a middle level party worker, a typical diehard (‘kepuwath kola paata’) UNP loyalist from Weligama, who was disillusioned by the dissension and divisions within the party, which has now culminated in a constitutional overhaul, where the primary aim appears to be ousting Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe from the leadership of the UNP.
The UNP hierarchy reacted with shock to Algama’s death. Party leader Wickremesinghe was overseas, but Karu Jayasuriya, who was overseeing his duties, was visibly shaken. That would have been more so because Algama had spoken to him shortly before his death, and expressed his dissatisfaction at the state of affairs within the UNP.

After his attempt at suicide and before his death, Algama was visited by Jayasuriya in hospital. There, Algama had explained the ‘rationale’ for his action: He wished that his extreme attempt would convince the warring factions to end their bickering and work together instead, for the betterment of the UNP.
Ironically though, Algama’s death, at least initially, had quite an opposite effect. There was outspoken UNP parliamentarian Lakshman Seneviratne, one of the key personalities at the forefront of the ‘oust Ranil’ campaign, saying that Algama’s attempt could have been at the instigation of Wickremesinghe’s supporters.
At best, that exposed how naďve Seneviratne could be. At worst, it appeared that the Badulla district MP was trying to score brownie points, even over the death of a party loyalist. And then, the media was also drawn into the controversy.

Jayasuriya wrote to the Inspector General of Police, stating that a newspaper and a State-run television station had both suggested that Algama had expressed the view that party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe should step down for the betterment of the UNP. Jayasuriya asked for an inquiry into these reports about this statement that Algama is alleged to have made, as it was contrary to what other media reported.

Another television station, which was heavily promoting the UNP leader’s ouster, by broadcasting an anti-Wickremesinghe segments in its nightly news bulletins, chose to highlight the fact that Algama was an ardent supporter of late President Ranasinghe Premadasa. They suggested that Algama used his good offices with the former President to improve the living conditions of his hometown.
This was of course true, but its significance was not lost on the audience, because the late President’s son, Sajith Premadasa is widely perceived to be the frontrunner in the race to succeed, or at least be No. 2 to Wickremesinghe in the UNP.

The younger Premadasa himself did not comment directly about Algama’s death. Instead, he chose to say at a public gathering, probably for the benefit of the cameras that were rolling, that ‘unity in defeat’ was of no use. This was apparently in response to Algama’s fervent plea for unity within the party. Premadasa probably believe that disunity in victory is a better option.

However, Algama’s real loyalties were spelled out by his grieving widow. Despite her anguish, she spoke out on behalf of her dead husband, to say that his ultimate wish was for the UNP to forget internal differences and unite under the leadership of Ranil Wickremesinghe. Obviously, he was distressed that, despite the long drawn out discussions and the appointment of innumerable committees, this had not materialised so far.
All these events only highlight the undercurrents within the UNP at this moment in time. The overt leadership battle is in a state of abeyance right now, pending the party’s special convention, which will be held sometime in August. But a trigger such as Algama’s self-immolation brought the various factions to the surface yet again, sniping bitterly at each other, leaving acting leader Karu Jayasuriya with the unenviable task of playing pacifier and peacemaker.

One factor that emerges from recent events is that, although UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe- Even in the opinion of most staunch Wickremesinghe loyalists themselves, has bungled on crucial national issues such as the war effort, and is not a great public relations personality, there appears to be no real worthy successor; not yet, anyway.
The performance of Sajith Premadasa in the leadership stakes has convinced many that he is not mature enough to take over the reins of the party just yet, and the most telling indication came at last week’s crucial Working Committee meeting.

There, Premadasa opened scoring with an ‘own goal’, questioning, at the outset, whether the ‘Reforms Committee’ had read what they had signed. That committee had several seniors, and what was implied was that it was rubber stamping the Wickremesinghe school of thought. Premadasa’s own supporters were dismayed at this outburst, because it set the tone for the meeting, and it was downhill thereafter for their camp.
The use of the media to slander Wickremesinghe, making provocative statements to the effect that a ‘Premadasa era’ was about to dawn yet again, and allies such as Lakshman Seneviratne and Dayasiri Jayasekera who open their mouths and put both feet firmly in, are certainly not helping the Hambantota district parliamentarian.

Indeed, there are many in the UNP who feel that Wickremesinghe has outlived his political shelf life and that it is time to go. But the recent performances of the pretenders to his throne, have now convinced them that he should perhaps stay on, if not till the next election, at least until all these young men in a hurry come of age.
Clearly, the UNP hierarchy has much to learn from recent events. Rienzie Algama paid the supreme sacrifice to demonstrate to the party that internal party unity was the need of the hour. Those near and dear to him would not want this sacrifice to be in vain. At the same time, the UNP can take solace from the fact that, despite the tragedy, the party still commands loyalists who are literally willing to die for the UNP- Unlike those who threaten to stage ‘fasts unto death’, only to walk away two days later, after their ‘15 minutes of fame’.