On Monday, the Working Committee of the United National Party (UNP) met to finalize its ‘selection’ of Office Bearers. After getting himself elected to the Leadership of the Party and extending his tenure for six years, Ranil Wickremesinghe summoned the main policy making body of the Party to nominate the key office-bearers who are expected to help him navigate a problem-ridden political entity that has been embroiled in a self-made destruction course.
The UNP is today a political party whose vote bank has been diminishing since 1994. It is a party which has known more holes than in a sieve. But what has it come up with? A national list MP as an Assistant Leader, a defeated candidate at the last General Election as the National Organizer; the General Secretary again a National List MP and the Treasurer, a total outsider. The only elected MP, other than the Leader himself, Sajith Premadasa, who was elected the Deputy Leader the pervious time has not been reappointed to the position. In fact Sajith has been completely thrown out of the Working Committee.
Sajith’s father gave his life for the party; he was felled on the road amidst thousands of party supporters during the UNP May Day procession. By making the very first and crucial decision the Leader had to make in his new tenure, Wickremesinghe has clearly showed, as one writer penned on the pages of this newspaper, ‘a cruel scourge has visited upon the party’.
To challenge the growing propensity of the government to augment its own hold on matters of governance and keep the electors on their side of the fence by whichever means they choose to do so, the most vital element an opposition needs is people’s representation. That is precisely what is missing at the helm of the UNP.
If this is a signal as to what line of approach the Leader of the UNP is planning to tread, the path ahead does not seem to be very promising. Should the UNP leader decide not to reappoint Sajith Premadasa, one of the more popular political personalities in the country, it certainly would be in effect, the final nail on the coffin of the Grand Old Party.
We don’t intend to prop up any political party, the UNP or any other. However, the weakening of the Opposition wing, especially against a growingly suppressive regime, cannot be ignored.
The UNP Leader, enjoying his newly-gained status as the ‘leader-for-six years’ did not allocate time for Premadasa during the recently concluded impeachment debate. His spirit of vengeance against all those who opposed his childish, yet dictatorial, way of handling Party matters seems not to know any bounds. Instead of recruiting new leadership material into the Party, he finds it difficult to locate the meaning of democracy and freedom of ideas and fresh thinking.
Unfortunately for the average UNP supporter and the country at large, the dire consequences of this infantile but, destructive, performance of the UNP Leader in the selection of the Party leaders would have a devastatingly telling ending. Ranil seems to be so angry and vengeful that he has opted to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. The snowballing effect of all this will be felt much later. Wickremesinghe may not be there to enjoy the bitter taste of his ill-gotten power, as there might not be a United National Party left for anyone in the country to deal with.
Nevertheless, we would not like to jump the gun, so to speak. Ranil may still appoint Sajith to the Working Committee and to the post of Deputy Leader of the Party. It is wildly rumoured that a parliamentarian representing the Colombo District who joined the UNP in 2000 is eyeing the same post. He is one person who is whispered to have taken a personal vow not to allow Sajith Premadasa ever to attain the leadership of the Party.
Ranil Wickremesinghe has to choose. Each time he chose to choose, he bungled in the past. Let us hope, at least for the sake of the country, democracy and the United National Party, this time he would choose wisely.