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For A Public Dialogue With UNP As “Twenty-Eleven” Rolls Out

Jan 1, 2011 2:17:36 PM - thesundayleader.lk

Ranil Wickremesinghe and Sajith Premadasa

We can’t forget the Sinhala voter. They are important in elections.” A strong reformist voice in the UNP told me, a fortnight ago, when I casually slipped into small talk at a seminar, that did not allow much private discussion.
It was in response to my accusation that “reformists” are Sinhala racists, trying to compete with this Rajapaksa image, the original Sinhala Buddhist icon in present day Sri Lankan politics.
If we were able to continue with that discussion, I presume, it would have been something like this exchange, below.
“But your presidential candidate Wickremesinghe lost in 2005 November, because Tamils did not poll…. Tamils were more important than the Sinhala vote, that time.”
“Yes, the Tamils betrayed us….. but now, its the Sinhala vote. We can not go against the Sinhala sentiment and the war” the much reformed response would have come.
“War was over one year and six months ago. Now post war Sri Lanka, is accepting the fact that Tamil political issues need political answers, anti Sinhala for you ?”
“They are not relevant now, for the Sinhala voter….There are other issues to take. We want to make the UNP a winning party…. we have been loosing for too long” and the reformists think, the Sinhala voters would leave the Rajapaksa leadership and rally round them, with a change of name and a face, in their UNP leadership.
There is no democracy talked of in endorsing party policy and programmes. Democracy for the Reformists in the UNP have only been about changing their constitution to elect the top five positions in the party leadership and not in deciding a political programme.
Speaking to the media, MP Karunathileka confirmed the UNP leadership issue can be sorted out amicably, within the 120 days now allowed by their party constitution. The 120 day count begins from Saturday, January 1. For Sajith, as he himself says, there are no piecemeal deals in the leadership issue and he was to meet Ranil to announce his claim for the leadership.
While Ranil undoubtedly has more political clout than Sajith, he has by now burnt out all oil, to keep his confidence among the party rank and file burning. Unfortunately for Ranil, how ever intelligent he could be, he cannot lead the party, once the party looses confidence in him, over repeated defeats. Voters will not be mobilised by a half hearted party and that has come to be the fate of the UNP. For Ranil, the best would be to step not down, but out of the party and allow the party to mould its own future leadership, which he curbed to satisfy his insecure political life, as the leader.
That would certainly take time and time there is. The UNP needs to understand there is no possibility of a quick claim for political power. There is no possibility of a tragic accident any more as in the past, that provides for change of power as in 1993 May. That ruthless factor is what the Rajapaksa regime negated militarily and not the political conflict. There is no possibility of forming a new government, within 2011 or 12, for sure, talking of politico military issues. This gives ample time for the opposition and the UNP to formulate an alternate programme to the Rajapaksas and canvas public support, to face elections when eventually they come.
But how could the UNP approach such a programme?  Do their “reformist” leaders have such intellect? That much political depth? If they do, they have to ask themselves what their programme would be, that differs from Rajapaksa.
That for sure is tied to a more basic question the UNP has to provide an honest answer to. Why are they in the UNP compromising for a new leadership? Is it to saddle themselves in power as early as possible in anyway possible? Or, to be a responsible government, to address national issues that continue aggravating with complexity and burden 19 million people, since independence ?
What ever their conscience, their personal agendas are, they cannot afford to say anything else, but, that they stand for national development and well being of the people. That therefore requires a paradigm shift in policy. One that provides people with a different set of proposals to what this Rajapaksa regime is carrying through. People need a different approach in solving their problems. That in short, would have to go beyond jovial and sarcastic remarks and slander.
It is not enough and serves no purpose in saying the “Plant Protection Act” does not allow the government to import “coconuts” or ridiculing the decision as “nutty”. The UNP has to say, what their answer is that would not be “nutty” to the increasing price of coconuts and all other essentials.
There is no purpose in saying the Cost of Living has risen by “this percentage” or the workers wages have to be increased by Rs.10,000. How will the UNP, if given the government, bring down Cost of Living or increase wages to Rs. 10,000 and does the UNP mean to say, increasing wages of 1.9 million people would help the balance 17 million people ?
How and what will the UNP do to curb corruption that would not be the order of the day, when they sit as ministers with the same corrupt administrators and the far more corrupt business community, in this free for all economy? What guarantee?
On most issues, the UNP and its reformists are totally dumb and dodging, talking of nonsensical peripheral issues.
There is no clear position with the UNP on private universities. Does it accept private universities? Issue of “private universities” is only the peak in a much larger, serious educational crisis. This country cannot afford to see only the peak and say niceties about it. The UNP has to say how they would approach the larger question of “national education” within which the issue of “private universities” has to be addressed.
What is their answer to the Tamil and Muslim people in post war Sri Lanka? Do they want Tamil and Muslim people to vote for them? If they do, the UNP and its reformists would have to be clear on issues that affect minorities.
Will they, if “brought to power” implement the whole of the 13th Amendment? Without any curbing ?
Reconciliation and rehabilitation in war affected areas? They simply cannot get away by saying “crimes were committed only by the LTTE”. That proves their budding leader is a childish racist. Hardly any material to lead a war affected country. The UNP has to answer on all those disappearances and abductions. Will they continue militarisation of society, especially in the North – East? Will the UNP guarantee and assure the Tamil people there will be no “State sponsored Sinhala settlements” in war affected areas, a strong accusation this Rajapaksa regime keeps ignoring?
Will they do away with emergency laws forthwith? The PTA? Will they take immediate steps to do justice to hundreds and more detainees held under Emergency and the PTA without any charges for over months and months?
Will they disarm all Tamil para military groups, not talked of openly and also not operating openly? Does the UNP and its reformists at least accept there is a long term issue of Tamil armed groups working in tandem with security forces in especially North – East?
Will the UNP annul the 18th Amendment and establish Independent Commissions with better constitutional provisions than what we had with the 17th Amendment? What is their position with unlimited terms for presidency? Scrap it?
Where does the UNP, its prospective leadership stand on all such issues and more, for them to be taken seriously as the alternate government in waiting? They would have to start talking with responsibility, at least in 2011, the new year.