AS the United National Party (UNP) celebrated its 65th anniversary on Tuesday many people concentrated on the responsibilities and challenges it has to face.
At the event UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe took the optimistic standpoint that the party is for the small man and that it is the same togetherness that will help it win the upcoming local government elections, particularly in Colombo.
There is no doubt that the UNP has its work cut out for it. With little attention to good governance and transparency a vibrant opposition is one of the main salvation paths for the country. Yet repeated divisions and battles over leadership have weakened the party to the point that it is almost disregarded in the political environment.
If it were not for the fact that the people believe in change the UNP would already be a thing of the past. As a party that has lasted for 65 years it has weathered many storms; but this is only because there was a person within the ranks to think with vision and be ready to do what is best for the party. It is simply this trait that is lacking to bring the party together.
Having lost a string of elections the UNP faced yet another loss in the last round of local government elections. In fact it did not even manage to win one seat in Jaffna, a place that was once very much coloured in green. The fact that the UNP as a party and as the main opposition of the country is facing a survival challenge is a worrying fact for the entire nation.
It is well known that many of the less popular moves taken by parliament cannot be stopped as the UNP does not have the required strength. It has consistently struggled to make its voice heard in key development issues and this is a loss to the people. As Sri Lanka’s public sector stumbles from problem to problem there is an increased need for the UNP to act as watchdog.
The UNP was there to see the country through the transition from colonial to dominion and from there on to independence. It saw the advent of war and the dawn of peace. Now the UNP must guide Sri Lanka through the minefields of development and this it has full power to do.
Winning elections is important for the party. However it is not the only service to the nation, in fact stamping out corruption, mismanagement and wastage can be a greater service to the country than merely ruling it. The UNP has to fight for what the people deserve but do not have inclusive and genuine democracy, freedom of expression and transparency.
Wickremesinghe as well as the other members within the party can call for unity. But for unity there must be sacrifice. There must be the humility to listen to the people and do what must be done without regarding personal benefits. Whether the UNP has that kind of leadership remains to be seen.
The upcoming local government elections will be another test for the UNP, a time to see whether change can be a reality or if the party will limp to its 66th anniversary with the same problems burdening its and the country’s future.