sloth, greed and other occupational diseases of the Opposition
‘Sri Lanka’s economy is on the verge of collapse,’ is a claim that
has been made by nincompoop economists from time to time over the last
ten years. There was indeed a time when things were really bad, for
example, at the point when Rauff Hakeem, S B Dissanayake, G L Peiris and
some others fell into Ranil Wickremesinghe’s lap and propelled the UNP
to an electoral victory. Still, the ‘verge-of-collapse’ story has been
related too often for anyone to take much notice, especially over the
past seven years. We are not living in heaven, but we are quite a
distance away from hell.
Such pronouncements don’t make news. ‘Crisis’ is overworked, I think.
So overworked and so quickly debunked, less by statement or
counter-argument but by non-arrival, that few take crisis-warnings
seriously. Quite apart from the nonsensical nature of such claims, the
known malice of their articulators only adds to the doubt.
On the other hand, there are other kinds of crises which are not
newsworthy not for poor truth-value but for their ‘perenniality’. The
UNP’s leadership issue is a case in point. It is not about a punch-drunk
political party staggering from one crisis to another. It is not about
floundering on account of the regime reigning blows left and right. It
is about internal punch-ups rather.
Poor quality of leadership, aspirants for party leader’s post being
fascinated with short-cut options or blinded by notions of gene-rights,
overwhelming popularity of the President, a regime that has steadily
consolidated since having its candidate for Speaker lose in 2004 and
enjoying an extended grace period for having vanquished terrorism and
brought about peace, don’t make us ideal conditions for any Opposition.
More than this, we need to keep in mind that J R Jeyewardene’s
bahubootha constitution not only was made to make dictatorships but
designed to ensure a perennially weak Opposition.
This side of revolution or invasion, regime-change can happen only
under extremely fortuitous circumstances, one feels.
The assassination of a President not too long after brutally crushing
an insurrection and a split in his party, followed by injudicious
political decisions made by his successor paved the way for regime
change in 1994, but only just. ‘Anything can happen,’ is a comforting
thought for those in the Opposition. Indeed, it can be argued that they
can do no better than wait for a happier configuration of political
factors. If one takes such a position, then the perenniality of crisis
shouldn’t worry any UNPer. It provides entertainment, and so one can
laugh and then get about one’s life.
Bunch of jokers
The problem of twiddling one’s thumbs until Lucky Day arrives is that
it will place in power a bunch of jokers, jugglers and acrobats and not
people who are intellectually equipped to run a country.
This is why the UNP, in anticipation of a return to power (someday),
ought to get its house in order.
There is universal agreement that Ranil Wickremesinghe is a weak
leader. Even those who back him against would-be successors, do so not
out of faith in the man’s ability to turn around the fortunes of the
party; they believe that someday when he has to go, ‘next-in-line’ would
be a nice place to occupy.
Among those who oppose him, Sajith Premadasa proved has a long way to
go before he acquires the maturity and political acumen to replace Ranil.
Ranil, after out-maneuvering Sajith, has moved quickly to consolidate.
Vociferous reformists like Dayasiri Jayasekera, for all their
braggadocio, have been neutralized and appear quite crestfallen.
What next for the UNP? The quick answer might provoke some laughter:
‘anything!’ That’s the level of desperation. Ranil Wickremesinghe may
have wanted an honourable exit a few months ago, but ‘exit’ is probably
furthest from his mind right now.
There’s little that the rank and file can do sans a viable
alternative to stand behind.
Seven years ago, almost to the day, I wrote about Ranil, the UNP
leadership post and possible alternative. The title was ‘Move over Ranil,
your time’s up’. That’s how long he’s overstayed. I offered myself,
tongue-in-cheek of course, as a possible successor. In the process I
listed some attributes that the next leader of that party ought to have,
if that party is to entertain any reasonable aspirations of returning to
power. Here goes.
Needs to know who he/she is, have a relationship with our people’s
sensibilities, their sense of self and nation, and their aspirations,
both material and otherwise. Needs to know agriculture, know rice and
know that rice is not just a commodity but a way of life, an artifact
and an idea that contains history and heritage. Needs to know the weva
and the dagaba. Needs to know how to be deshahitheishi without being
xenophobic. Needs to know how to be an internationalist without severing
roots. Needs to know his/her ancestors and possess the determination to
fight for his/her great grandchildren.
Someone endowed with such credentials could, I believe, turn the UNP
from a sulujathika pakshaya(minority party) into a truly
jathika(national) party, simply on account of knowing ‘nation’,
something that Ranil has no clue about. Such a person would take
‘Regaining Sri Lanka’ not as slogan but project, his/her blueprints
would be home grown and time-tested, would know that ‘regaining’
involves knowing what we have lost.
Who would fit this bill? Karu Jayasuriya, perhaps. He has the stature
and all the credentials necessary to reinvent and lead the UNP, infuse
the nationalism that it lacks etc., but might very well be stumped by
the party constitution whose draconian character can be said to best
even JRJ’s effort in 1978.
Anyone else? None that I can see. Still, there is nothing to say that
such a person does not exist and will not come forward at the right
time. Such a person would understand that it is not about overthrowing
Ranil but protecting and rebuilding the protected nation. Such a person
would see beyond party and party leadership. If it was just about party
leadership, then ‘anyone’ would do. Anything beyond that would mean that
someone few know about has to do a lot of thinking and a lot of hard
work. Sloth, unfortunately, is the occupational disease of the
Opposition. I am not hopeful.