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The UNP and democracy

Aug 16, 2011 3:35:04 PM - www.ft.lk

A crucial Working Committee meeting of the main Opposition United National Party is scheduled for today. Some dismiss the importance of the event, whilst others believe that if members take a genuine effort, the meeting will be a forerunner for change for the better.
The reformist group will be demanding a change in leadership at today’s meeting, which they say is critical to win the upcoming elections for the remainder of the local government bodies, including the coveted Colombo Municipal Council.

Countering this group are pro-Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe supporters, who have thrown a challenge to those who oppose the incumbent to contest elections and prove their popularity and capability.
Internal squabbles and sharp divisions within the UNP aren’t anything new. In fact, these have been the party’s bane and caused its downfall and repeated failure in almost all elections since 2004. Not even living up to its very name is an insult to the party which in the past had been a shining example of effective and exemplary leadership at all levels of politics.
The outcome of today’s meeting and the future course of the UNP is of national interest, since an efficient and effective as well as a united opposition – in this case the main opposition UNP – is critical for a vibrant democracy. In a political setting where the Government is enjoying a two-thirds majority, a dynamic opposition is paramount.
UNPers will also vouch that the absence of a strong opposition has led to a dictatorial or totalitarian regime in the country. The world is replete with examples of successful nations solely because of a good government and a strong opposition. In a critical analysis, Sri Lanka lacks both. This could see the unprecedented post-war opportunity, to get things right in terms of peace and prosperity, being mismanaged.
The hierarchy of the UNP must swallow some bitter truths. If politics is all about people, then the people have spoken out countless times in recent years, voicing their doubts and lack of confidence that the party has what it takes to govern the country. Disregarding the people’s verdict but finding strength in the party’s Constitution to cling on to leadership positions may not be the answer anymore for the UNP in its quest to become a force to be reckoned with.
If change at the top is necessary, then it must be persisted with, taking into account the larger interest and not personal glory. If greater unity is the biggest challenge for the UNP, then all must shed their differences for the sake of the party. Some have in fact expressed the opinion that the UNP’s Constitution is dictatorial and party reforms haven’t seeped in properly.
The UNP as the main opposition cannot raise a hue and cry at State level on bad governance if it cannot set an example when it comes to best practices within and internal politics. It cannot call for greater inclusivity as a means to find post-war reconciliation if the party is run as an exclusive club.
The UNP leadership has often been accused of political arrogance and being insensitive to cries for change and reforms emanating from the bottom. In most cases successive defeats would make those at the helm remorse, but as disappointed members allege, that hasn’t happened – greater insensitivity as well as oblivion has set in instead.
The UNP badly needs a unifying force and the party’s nucleus, the Working Committee, must prove its relevance by taking hard decisions for the better. Soft-peddling issues to remain in office or win favour isn’t the answer.
All past arguments and decisions have miserably failed so they hold no value today. Thankfully the party has three iconic figures in Wickremesinghe, Karu Jayasuriya and Sajith Premadasa. Each of them has an individual and collective responsibility to take the right decisions for the betterment of the party, irrespective of whether or not they are personally beneficial. For the sake of democracy, members specifically and the country at large needs a truly unified United National Party. That is the first step – the acid test which all have failed thus far.

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