This is my Nation  


President’s political fortunes on way up

The attention of the world was focussed on the killing of Osama Bin Laden this week and the incident was not without significant political and diplomatic ramifications for Sri Lanka.
Even if Bin Laden’s death was welcomed by most nations, there has been controversy surrounding the circumstances of his killing. The White House changed its version of events and embarrassingly for the United States, it has transpired that Bin Laden was unarmed at the time of his death.
Despite this, Sri Lanka officially congratulated the US for its efforts. There was a sense of ‘we told you so’ in that message because Colombo is now being taken to task for ending its own war on terror and killing Velupillai Prabhakaran.

By co-incidence, at the time of the Bin Laden killing, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Robert Blake was in Colombo for the purpose of determining Sri Lanka’s response to the report commissioned by the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Blake was in an uncomfortable position, on the one hand having to justify the killing of Osama bin Laden and on the other hand, known to be calling for international inquiries into the killing of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) leader Velupillai Prabhakaran.

It was only days before the Bin Laden killing that the ruling United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) had converted its May Day rally into a massive protest against the Moon panel report, with the underlying message that this was the stand of the government of Sri Lanka.
If anything, the Bin Laden killing would give impetus to the government and its leadership over the potential war crimes charges that are being dangled before them by interested parties. Now, certainly Sri Lanka can take the moral high ground.

This is even more so because of the circumstances of Bin Laden’s death: the US invaded another country, Pakistan, to assassinate Bin Laden and the terrorist leader was unarmed when he was shot and killed. Prabahakaran’s death in battle was certainly more justified.
Obvious though these facts are, Sri Lanka will still have to answer questions before the international community with regard to its own war because that process has now begun and the Bin Laden killing will not automatically halt it.

However President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the ruling UPFA are taking the necessary precautions to ensure that come what may in the international arena, the President will remain popular in his home country - unlike other leaders who have been accused of human rights abuses.
Indeed, the more pressure President Rajapaksa and his government comes under from the UN and the western bloc of nations, the more popular he would become locally being hailed as the person who sacrificed his own reputation to free his motherland of terrorism.

This is not lost on the opposition it is why the main opposition party, the United National Party (UNP) is making a somewhat disorganised attempt to try and appear not to be too critical of the government on this issue.
However, given the rather fragmented state of the UNP at present, the impact of these efforts will be lost on the electorate and the best it could achieve is not to be stuck with the ‘traitor’ label-and even that could be considered a significant achievement.
That its fractional in-fighting is not over by any means became all too apparent this week when Co-deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa took it upon himself to challenge the appointment of Ravi Karunanayake as the party’s national organiser.

Premadasa’s nominee for the post is Moneragala district MP Ranjith Madduma Bandara. The latter’s argument is that the composition of the Working Committee which ratified Karunanayake’s appointment was irregular.
What was striking though was the fact that Premadasa chose to call a press conference to air his grievances. This he did, flanked by Madduma Bandara. It was an unprecedented step where the Co-deputy leader was berating the leadership of the party in public.

The underlying intention is to convey to UNP leader Ranil Wickremasinghe that his actions will no longer go unchallenged and that when his decisions are indeed questioned, it will be in public, thereby undermining Wickremasinghe’s authority as party leader.
If the UNP leader were to strictly follow party disciplinary guidelines, he would now have to call explanation from both Premadasa and Madduma Bandara for their actions and an inquiry would have to be held-and that can only aggravate the crisis.

Whether Wickremasinghe would do so or bide his time and strike when the opportunity arises is left to be seen. However it is clear now that his reappointment as party leader, warding off Premadasa’s challenge for the post is no guarantee that he will enjoy an easy ride in his role.
Person for person though, it must be said that Karunanayake is arguably more suited than Madduma Bandara for the post of national organiser. But Premadasa obviously values loyalty over merit - a trait that his father, the late Ranasinghe Premadasa also displayed.

Premadasa would do well to realise that those tendencies in his father was to the detriment of the UNP. And by antagonising and marginalising Karunanayake at this stage when the party is still in the opposition, he is standing in the way of a united party effort to fight the government.
As Premadasa becomes more vocal in his criticism and as Madduma Bandara hints of a legal challenge to Karunanayake’s appointment, it is the credibility of the UNP in the eyes of the electorate that takes a severe beating, eroding what little confidence it has left in the UNP.

But at present such considerations are cast aside in favour of petty party politics in the party obviously with an eye on the future where the party expects to be returned to power as the only viable alternative to the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led UPFA.
What both factions in the UNP must realise is that this will not happen by default alone and that the party must regain public confidence. And, with rivals like the UNP locally and Ban Ki-moon internationally, President Rajapaksa’s political fortunes can only be on the way up.