The hottest topic in corridors, offices, canteens and drawing rooms even today is about the utter disaster that the oldest political party in Sri Lanka had to face in the recent election, surpassing every other defeat.
The Sunday Leader, the nation’s watchdog, very appropriately came out with a front page article not so long ago, under the bold headline “Ranil Must Go.” Yes ! Ranil MUST go and every man and woman who has the interest of the United National Party at heart must force Ranil to step down and give the party a kick start that will give Sri Lanka a new brand of political dynamism that is desperately needed right now.
Upul Jayasuriya, the eminent lawyer has very rightly identified the problem, and placed his finger exactly where the trouble spot is; that the UNP is saddled with a leader who has no clout with the people. The leader of a party with no PR (public relations) is like a boat without a rudder, aimlessly drifting in the water without any direction. I was shocked to read in a leading newspaper recently that Colombo UNP lawyers want Ranil and there should be no change in the party leadership. Where may I ask have these lawyers been when Ranil led the UNP from one humiliating defeat to another?
It has been said that one man cannot be blamed for the party’s dismal failure. Absolute rubbish ! Even lawyers must know that a dynamic leader, whether he is the captain of a cricket team or the leader of a political party, must initially inspire and motivate his team to deliver the desired results. He must initiate moves that will bring the party and the people together. He must create situations to demonstrate to all and sundry the strength of the party. With unwavering determination, a common understanding and a brand of result-oriented leadership the team must always be in the forefront as a vibrant opposition paving its way to take over the reigns of power.
Under Ranil’s leadership, the UNP has been non-existent. It’s a crying shame that with intelligent, knowledgeable young parliamentarians the party should be in this pathetic state. Can a party like the UNP which has a solid block vote, die-hard loyalists and a record of outstanding achievements afford to disintegrate by losing election after election simply because its leader doesn’t have the clout to win over people?
The Colombo Branch of the UNP-affiliated National Lawyers Association must understand that if a leader cannot stop and speak to the man in the street, smile or wave to people who are looking at him from a distance, merge with ordinary folk and be considered simple, down-to-earth and accessible, such a leader has no place in Sri Lanka’s political arena. And that’s where President Mahinda Rajapaksa scores! These lawyers must ask the man on the street what they look for in a party and bang will come the answer that they look at the party and its leader as the solution to their problems. If you then ask as to why the UNP has lost one election after another the answer is that its leader is aloof, arrogant, indifferent and inaccessible.
The UNP had a tailor-made opportunity to join hands with the JVP and storm the country with people’s power against the government when Gen. Sarath Fonseka was arrested. Every citizen in this country, notwithstanding party obligations was waiting excitedly to see a super dynamic opposition blazing a trail of unprecedented action. The UNP and the JVP alone would have been a force to reckon with. But what we saw was a feeble protest described as a damp squib! If that is all that the UNP as the oldest political party could have produced it speaks very little for its leader who in fact should have spearheaded a massive island-wide protest demanding the General’s immediate release.
It was so disheartening that people even thought that Ranil Wickremesinghe was working hand in glove with the government to remain passive! The majority in this country, regardless of party colour, would have rallied round to support a General of commanding personality whose popularity had spread through the length and breadth of this country. This lapse on the part of the UNP showed, in no small way, that it was a spent force primarily due to the lack of a dynamic leader.
It is common knowledge that Ranil and his circle of friends and advisors live in a water-tight compartment, forgetting the very existence of those who are around! Sticking to a handful of lawyers, some contemporary Royalists and a few selected 5th Lane advisors will never help Ranil to change his ways and be a charismatic, people-oriented leader who is liked by all.
I will quote just one instance to show how distant Ranil is from the people whose vote he has to win. Just ask yourself why he continues to hold office when some of the most capable seniors in the UNP crossed over because of his self-centered arrogant ways. He is the last man who can defend democracy and champion its cause when he does not even bow to the will of the majority within his own party.
With the wealth of talent that is available within the UNP, it does not have to hire experts to innovate ideas and create far reaching strategies. What is firstly requires is a new brand of dynamic leadership that the country desperately needs right now. The fact of the matter is that Ranil Wickremesinghe just cannot measure up to this requirement. Even when he comes to witness the Royal-Thomian cricket match for a short time, he doesn’t think it is good PR to walk up to Royalists and Thomians and start up a friendly conversation at a time when there is an impending election in the near future. As a leader, where then is his vote catching strategy ?
Surely NLA lawyers must know by now that Ranil Wickremesinghe has been at the butt end of severe criticism in that he doesn’t even know what to say and how to say it. The leader of a party has a major part to play in delivering the desired results. With the party’s performance going from bad to worse Ranil doesn’t even realise that it is time for him to step down and make way for a new leader.
With Ranil Wickremesinghe stubbornly clinging on to his position in the UNP we see no difference between him and most other politicians. That is sad because Ranil was perceived as a honourable politician and a gentleman. At least the members of his family must advise him to bow out honourably rather than exit in disgrace.
The time has come when the UNP must be spearheaded by a people-oriented leader and the common choice is Sajith Premadasa. He is young, forceful and result-oriented. He is a meticulous organiser and a powerful speaker. He is a chip off the old block and one who, like his father, has a genuine desire to alleviate poverty and take Sri Lanka forward.
Sajith, I am sure will shake up the party and give it pulling power. Some might say he is not the man, but if an opinion poll is conducted you can be sure that within the UNP and amongst the other parties there will be a significant number who will throw their weight behind Sajith who certainly has everything that people in the government and opposition want in a new leader.
Sajith, in my opinion is young, dynamic and a wizard in building lasting relationships with the man on the street. A few say that he is too young… what rubbish. If young leaders cannot excel, look at John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton who were two shining examples and now Barack Obama!
If you look into the make-up of these three personalities you will see how people-oriented they are. At any occasion, they would merge with the crowd and give the people memories they will cherish for all time. That’s what people want from a leader. If a leader cannot radiate the charm of smiling, waving, talking and walking up to people to clasp their hands in a warm and friendly gesture he might as well step down and hand over the leadership to an individual who can do this; win the hearts of people and take his party to greater heights!
A good part of the 50% who did not vote at this general election are UNPers who knew that Ranil Wickremesinghe was incapable of carrying the party through to victory. Ranil made the stupid mistake by sacrificing the elephant symbol and settling for the swan which came from nowhere. Under Ranil Wickremesinghe, we all know that before elections he screams about winning and after losing he complains that the election was rigged. This has been a long playing record. Enough is enough ! Let Sajith Premadasa’s leadership bring in a breath of fresh air and restore the glory of a party that was at one time, highly respected. Here’s hoping Upul Jayasuriya’s laudable intentions will bear fruit!
The government is sitting pretty as long as Ranil Wickremesinghe is the leader of the UNP. Many people want the UNP to emerge as a formidable force. It cannot with Ranil as its leader. The most logical thing is for Ranil to step down in favour of Sajith. The masses of this country want leaders with the common touch and the UNP more than ever before desperately needs such a leader. If the UNP constitution is a stumbling block, get rid of it and give the party and the country the kind of leadership that people are fervently praying for.
President Rajapaksa has made a bold statement that he will win the next election too. He will for sure, if Ranil continues, because it is a foregone conclusion that Ranil will be the Leader of the Opposition for life. Ranil must follow the motto of his school Disce Aut Discede. It is a proven fact that Ranil never could ‘learn’ how to win the hearts of people. With that being so the most logical thing he must do is to ‘depart’ gracefully so that the UNP will rise from the depths to which it has sunk!