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This is my Nation  


 

Bitter lessons for UNP

Opposition braces for hard times as UPFA juggernaut rolls on…

Vasudeva Nanayakkara’s explanation that they are against the amendment but voted for it because they wanted to ‘protect’ the government - which had the required number of MPs anyway - is ridiculous and an insult to the people they represent. Nanayakkara, Tissa Vitarana and DEW Gunasekara have now lost any semblance of credibility and will be treated with the same disdain that Upeksha Swarnamali, for instance would generate. If there was one opposition party that emerged from the melee with its credentials intact, it was the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna

It was a week of political drama and deception but in the final analysis, there were no surprises.
The ruling United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) ensured the passage of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, ultimately with relative ease.

It was an anti-climactic end that saw the opposition yielding to the inevitable with a minimum of resistance.
The impact of the 18th Amendment on governance and democracy has been debated over the past few weeks in ample measure.
We would in these columns, however, propose to examine the effects of these changes on the Opposition instead.

Clearly, the opposition was badly battered and bruised in the political deals that were struck in the lead up to the 18th Amendment being presented to Parliament as ‘urgent legislation’ and the worst hit was the main opposition party, the United National Party (UNP).

It was obvious that the power brokers in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the main party in the ruling coalition, were keen to strike while the iron was hot: they successfully exploited the now internecine leadership dispute in the UNP to the maximum, driving home the advantage by engineering the defection of some novices in Parliament and the veteran Lakshman Seneviratne, deputy general secretary of the party until he left the UNP. Of course, some defections left a bad taste.

Seneviratne, for instance represents Mahiyangana, once a ‘hardcore’ UNP electorate where his father, the late Captain C P J Seneviratne, a former minister in the J R Jayewardene government was an iconic figure.
Seneviratne (Jnr), during his many struggles with the party leadership had repeatedly pledged that he would never join the government and that if he couldn’t survive in the UNP he would go back to his electorate and do farming instead. He did return to his electorate last week, but that was in a helicopter by courtesy of the government!

Another defection that angered and disappointed many was that of Upeksha Swarnamali, the actress more renowned for her role as ‘Paba’ than for her parliamentary skills.
Swarnamali won the respect and admiration for her bold stand to support General Sarath Fonseka at the last presidential election when other artistes were endorsing the President in droves.
As a result, she was offered nomination by the UNP in the hotly-contested Gampaha district, where she won, elbowing out district leader Sarathchandra Rajakaruna in the process.

Last Wednesday, Swarnamali was dressed in black and joined the UNP protest on the Parliament lawn.
From there, she drove to Temple Trees and pledged support to the government.
This episode of ‘Paba’ would have been a bitter lesson for the UNP for parachuting glamour candidates at the expense of veterans who have toiled long and hard for the party.
Overall, the defection of another half a dozen MPs from its ranks has left the UNP depleted and despondent.
In addition another 11 MPs who contested on the UNP ticket as recently as April have switched allegiance to the government.

They include the eight MPs from the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) as well as the Democratic People’s Front’s Prabha Ganesan from the Colombo district, the National Workers’ Front’s P Digambaram from the Nuwara Eliya district and J. Sri Ranga from the Citizens Front, also representing the Nuwara Eliya district.
There are several lessons to be learnt from the latter defections, which significantly are all from MPs representing minority communities and interests.
It is debatable whether most of these MPs would be able to win a parliamentary seat on their own steam without the endorsement of the UNP; hence whether it is worthwhile to offer them nomination on the UNP ticket, sacrificing party loyalists is a moot point.

Also, it highlights the fact that at times the UNP has to resort to endorsing these candidates only because it has not promoted its own minority community leaders at the regional level.
Many were also disappointed with the UNP’s decision to boycott the parliamentary debate on the 18th Amendment. Here was an opportunity to present the case against the government and get free airtime on the national networks and the headlines in the next day’s newspapers and the main opposition party gives it a miss - and this kind of thinking is difficult to fathom, even loyal UNP supporters complain.

Also disappointing-if not downright disgusting-was the capitulation of the leftist alliance within the UPFA with a strength of five MPs and headed by Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Tissa Vitarana and D E W Gunasekara.
It will be recalled that it was the decision by these MPs not to support an extension of the executive presidency that led to the government and President Rajapaksa to propose an executive premiership in the first instance. However, the UPFA played its cards well, got the required numbers and then left the leftist parties to decide on their own.

Even if the passage of the 18th Amendment was a fait accompli, many expected the leftist alliance to register their protest either by voting against the amendment or at the very least by abstaining.
Vasudeva Nanayakkara’s explanation that they are against the amendment but voted for it because they wanted to ‘protect’ the government - which had the required number of MPs anyway - is ridiculous and an insult to the people they represent.

Nanayakkara, Vitarana and Gunasekara have now lost any semblance of credibility and will be treated with the same disdain that Upeksha Swarnamali, for instance would generate.
If there was one opposition party that emerged from the melee with its credentials intact, it was the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP).

The party mobilised the masses on the streets for what it was worth and its speakers gave a stirring performance along with its allied Democratic National Alliance in Parliament.
None of the JVP’s MPs defected and the party’s standing in the eyes of the electorate would no doubt rise, even if the numbers of its rank and file are not of the same magnitude as those of the UNP.
Hard times then are ahead for the collective opposition.

The Rajapaksa-UPFA juggernaut is rolling and the passage of the 18th Amendment will ensure that it gathers speed.
It is imperative that the opposition solves its leadership squabbles and gets its act together as quickly as possible-because, within the revised constitutional framework it now has to operate in, it may well be now or never.