UNP in political tangle over Moon report
is only one issue dominating the political headlines
these days and that is the report released by the
panel appointed by United Nations Secretary (UN)
General Ban Ki- moon to ‘probe’ the final stages of
the Eelam war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
The potential diplomatic
consequences of the report are many and they are
dealt with elsewhere in today’s issue. However, the
report appears to be creating considerable
dissension in the local political landscape as well
and that is a matter of concern because this is a
national issue, not a petty political dispute.
Of those who have got themselves into a political
tangle, the opposition United National Party (UNP)
appears to be in the worst possible dilemma, not
knowing whether it should oppose the report
unequivocally or express their reservations in less
Some UNP ‘spokesmen’ such as
parliamentarian Dayasiri Jayasekera were quite quick
to suggest that this is an issue on which the
government and the opposition should speak with one
voice. This week, respected lawyer and MP Wijeyadasa
Rajapakse expressed similar sentiments.
Others in the UNP however have been more
circumspect. Co-deputy leader Sajith Premadasa has
voiced his opposition to the report, but linked it
to the release of jailed former Army Commander
Sarath Fonseka. Lakshman Kiriella has called for an
‘internal inquiry’ into the charges.
What is clear from all this is that
the UNP is grappling between extending unqualified
support to the government and wondering whether it
would stand to gain if the political leadership of
the United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) is
endangered in any way as a result of a potential war
Faced with this quandary, the UNP and its leader
Ranil Wickremesinghe this week bought some time
using a ruse that is only too familiar to those in
the UNP: appointing a ‘committee’, to be headed by
former civil servant Bradman Weerakoon.
We are not for moment disputing
Weerakoon’s credentials here. Weerakoon served nine
Prime Ministers in this country with dignity and
distinction and his integrity is not in question.
However, we need to question why he should be called
upon to advise the UNP at all.
Has the major opposition political party reached
such a state of inertia that it needs a retired
civil servant - albeit a distinguished one - to
advise it on what stance it should adopt on a matter
of crucial national importance? Or, is the UNP
simply dilly dallying until the critical hour
Ranil Wickremesinghe lost two
presidential elections - in 1999 and 2005 - because
he was tainted with the ‘Tiger’ label. That may have
been an unfair tag to christen him with, but the
fact remains that some of his political decisions
did nothing to allay those concerns in the average
The ceasefire with the LTTE was a case in point.
While it lasted and while the guns remained silent,
Wickremesinghe was hailed as the hero who finally
outsmarted Velupillai Prabhakaran and trapped him in
the international safety net.
However, when Prabhakaran reneged on his end of the
bargain, Wickremesinghe became a traitor overnight
and was the villain of the piece. The propagandists
of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party led-coalition saw to
that and the rest is history.
The aftermath of that is
Wickremesinghe’s current plight, where he is
desperately trying to reinvent himself in the eyes
of the Sri Lankan public at a time when even his
stranglehold on the UNP has been put to the test and
he struggles to retain control over the party.
Even so, the internal divisions within the UNP that
came to the fore during the recent leadership
struggle seems to have taken their toll: even on
national issues, the UNP is now speaking in several
voices, each representing a faction within the UNP,
trying to outsmart not the government, but rival
It also appears that Wickremesinghe - having
fathered the ceasefire agreement with the LTTE - at
least ideologically subscribes to the theory that if
human rights abuses were committed in the last
stages of the Eelam war, the alleged perpetrators
should be dealt with.
What Wickremesinghe fails to realise
is that the war crimes allegations have now become
an emotive issue for the Sri Lankan public. The
average voter is prepared to cast aside political
differences and support President Rajapaksa at least
- if not the United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA)
- on this issue.
Whatever the faults of the UPFA, its singular
achievement of ridding the country of terrorism is
still fresh in the minds of the public - as
evidenced by the record mandates received by
Rajapaksa and the UPFA at the presidential and
general elections held last year.
With the President being called upon
to explain his conduct by the Moon panel which is
egged on by a hostile western bloc of nations, his
popularity in the electorate can only rise. He is
too smart a politician not to realise this and the
UPFA is too well oiled a political machine to let
such an opportunity slip by.
The least Wickremesinghe and his UNP can do in such
circumstances is to announce that it would support
the government unconditionally on this issue and
jump on the patriotic bandwagon. Unfortunately, the
UNP is instead trying to read the small print in the
UN report and attempting to prevaricate.
If, in the final analysis President
Mahinda Rajapaksa does emerge unscathed after all
this hullabaloo - and that seems to be the most
likely outcome anyway - one can be certain that the
UPFA propagandists will see to it that
Wickremesinghe and the UNP will be roasted for their
They will be labeled traitors once again for not
supporting the nation when its war heroes were being
threatened internationally and there will be a sense
of déjà vu which the ruling party will try to cash
in on, even if major national elections are at least
five years away.
It is still not too late for the UNP
to salvage some credibility from the political mess
it has got itself into. In the coming days,
anti-Moon sentiment will be on the rise and the UNP
could still throw its weight behind this tidal wave
of dissent. But the big question is, does it want to