Article By Gomin Dayasri
Sri Lanka’s UNP the United National party has more problems than the mere Change of leadership. Surgeons of the party are undertaking to do major surgery trying to extract a ruptured appendix mistaking it for the malignant cancer that remains intact. It’s the image that needs the change, stupid!
It’s a party of many things but none of it ignites to create the image needed to attract the votes of the majority. Problem is deep down beyond the comprehension of the UNP from 1956 except for the spell under President Premadasa: a failure to understand the culture and civilization of the contemporary community.
Don’t blame the leader alone since it’s a problem coming down the historical lane. Siri Kotha itself requires a structural alteration more urgently as the foundation is faulty. The party was built during the time of the British, strong solid stable structure in a different era, but the Grand Old Party failed to change the façade in keeping with the changing times. The icon of the evergreen elephant seems to be parked permanently in the London zoo. Siri Kotha failed to keep pace with of the changing face of Sri Lanka. UNP has genuine antique value, no doubt. There is nothing else to show, for the present.
UNP leader must reflect a people friendly image of the party and not allow the opponents create a hollow image of the party and place Ranil upon it to send the wrong message.
Mahinda Rajapaksa when he ran first time for Presidency had no national image
worth a mention; he extracted it from the allies he kept company. He won narrowly against Ranil, since Prabhakaran made the second mistake that cost his life, by depriving the UNP the vote in the North. JVP won 42 seats obtaining the first place in most district lists and the JHU won 10 seats to make SLFP look a junior partner in the government, in the general elections that followed. Those two parties had acquired a public image of respect, candidate Mahinda lacked in gaining while Prime Minister, whom he likened to a role of a reporter in the Chandrika regime. MR rode on an image of a combined team of the national forces of which he was the Field Marshal. On that image created, he won by a whisker.
President Rajapaksa enhanced his national image in the first term in office to become the undisputed leader of the national forces after the war, that the breakaway JNP and JHU have become appendages of his and the official JVP a non entity and placed Ranil in a such peril he dared not to contest at the next round of Presidential Elections.
Elections are much about a lasting impression of an image created of a party and its leader. Is it convincingly appealing to the majority of the people? If so, such a leader and his party are comfortably home. If otherwise at least learn to repair the image and win the respect of the party first. Junius Richard [J.R.] Jayewardane did it his own way recreating a new image of himself at the age of 70 and won the election reducing the SLFP to seven seats in Parliament, a party that commanded a 2/3 majority in parliament. Does the UNP have a leader or a team capable of doing a repeat performance?
The UNP has a major obstacle to overcome: it has a pathetic team on display unlike JRJ and CBK who each had a few parliamentarians to contend with and could build an unknown untested team from scratch. First timers with a name are easy to sell. The UNP’s present line up stands discredited during the war with loose language; to revive them would be like resurrecting bodies lying in the mortuary. The leader has to bring new faces to the forefront or the old faces must bring a new leader.
In the absence of a dynamic image of a leadership or formidable team that can deliver, the Party image has to propped up to meet the challenge from a man who made the people safe and secure. As at present, Government has to make life intolerable for the UNP, to gain a new lease of life as the UNP appears unable to make a break thorough.
The present leader or the new leader must bring fresh thinking from the grassroots for the UNP to revive. The next round of local elections in the Municipal Councils will feature on a turf the UNP will be most adaptable to do its best. Leadership stakes will battle to get honors at this encounter searching for a turn around.