Guess, who or what is central to the future course of contemporary politics and political leadership in the country, in the present context? Not the ruling SLFP-UPFA combine, nor even the war victor in President Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose developmental agenda too has made an impact…
Not the Tamils and the TNA, who continue to be in the news – for the wrong reason and owing to a peace process that has not taken them to the post-war promised land. Not even the Muslim community, which too is in the news, again for the wrong reason – thanks to the episodes involving the ‘grease devil(s)’ and the security forces.
Instead, it is the Opposition United National Party (UNP) that remains central to the politics and polity of Sri Lanka today. As and when it is in the news sporadically, it is again for wrong reasons. The faction feuds in the party have tired its supporters, allies and opponents alike.
If the UNP continues on the current path of self-destruction, there may not be politics and polity left in the country, for the UNP factions to fight over. Worse still, none in the UNP hierarchy seems to have guessed as much and acted accordingly.
Politics in the country, as elsewhere, has followed a cyclic path. Either of the two, namely the UNP or the SLFP, has a long stint in elected office — and this is followed by an equally long innings of power-drought. They seem prepared for it and take it in their stride. No correctives are hence applied.
Structural weaknesses of these two parties while in power causes the reversal in their electoral fortunes, if only over time. The structural weaknesses become even more pronounced when they are in the Opposition. The latter feeds the former. It is a vicious circle and they enjoy the self-inflicted pain. It remains so until after the pain becomes too unbearable for the people at large. They take matters on hand and effect changes through electoral verdicts.
It is a collective that the voter then votes on, not the kind of ‘elitist issues’ that the national media flags off and on. Governments have come and gone in the midst of the decades-old ethnic war, and the two major parties have shared the responsibilities and liabilities going with the process.
Yet, the ‘Big Two’ act as if whatever they do, or do not do while in power, the voter will effect a change in good time. Likewise, whatever they do or do not do while in the Opposition, the voter will reverse their electoral fortune independent of their own intent and content. They are content with that – and are confident about that.
Those who talk about excessive powers in the hands of the Executive President since the advent of the Republican Constitutions should remember that it is not a product of an individual’s dreams. It is a product of the national psyche. The UNP’s is a good example for now. Others do not lag behind.
Minority parties and minor parties are no exception – so are their militant avtars. The TNA is a different amalgam, and the politics of power-devolution being played out by the party in power that keeps the TNA pot boiling.
For the post-war politics in the country to take a definite course, it is the present condition of the UNP that needs to be watched. The UNP too needs to watch itself. If the party does not want to get out of the self-destructive limbo the nation will pass by it. The writing is on the wall, and the party needs to learn its lessons from its own past.
In the Fifties, when the UNP remained unconcerned about what was happening in and to post-Independence Sri Lanka, the SLFP was born and became successful. When political moderation on social issues did not match the promises made, the SLFP contributed to the birth of militant JVP – just as its communist compatriots did.
It is a churning process that is on already, all over again. If the UNP fails the nation, the nation would fail it, too. Or, else, the voter would invent, re-invent an alternative. Sarath Fonseka, the politician, was a pointer. He was a wrong man at the right place at the wrong time. As and when correctives get applied, the UNP may not have another innings awaiting it.
Whatever is true of the UNP is relevant to the SLFP, too. They are parts of political processes, not just political parties.