06 October 2015

Reflections on the UNP-SLFP curse [with Sudat Pasqual]

'The Nation' started a series on what could be called the curse(s) of the SLFP and UNP.  Sudat Pasqual reflects on the SLFP and the need to put it out of our misery and I pen the notes on the UNP.   Sudat's notes are in blue and mine in Green. Note: we've moved pretty fast from query to assertion!

Is it time to put the SLFP out of our misery?
Political parties are an essential part of modern democracy. They are essential in that in many instances political parties are the bridge that connects the voter with politics. Parties have the ability to formulate policies and programs that reflect the choice of their members and also provide them the opportunity to select the people who will be their delegates in government. Since democracies tend to have many political parties, they provide the voter with options in terms of representatives and programs. A political party in a democracy is the agent of its members.  What a political party should not be in a democracy is to be the pawn of a few at the expense of many. It must not collude with opponents at the behest of a few to deprive the choice of many. Unfortunately for the members of Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), their party has been hijacked by the few, for the few and in the name of the few.  Their party has failed them and the country and the rules are stacked on the side of the few.  
What and where to now? 

Is it time to put the UNP out of our misery?
The short answer is yes.  If political parties have relevance because they represent us in decision-making bodies, the UNP has long since abdicated that role.  When it happened is debatable but it did happen. If 1978 is not ‘too long ago’ then the constitution that J R Jayewardena shackled us to can be called the beginning of the end of political parties and reasonable representation.  It took time of course but this is the principal device that have made political parties irrelevant. Sure, we vote for the elephant (or the swan) or the hand (or the chair or the betel leaf) but the day after we vote party symbol, color and name cease to matter.  In name one or the other party or rather a coalition led by one of them rules us, but that’s just eyewash.  We don't know, for example, if Maithripala Sirisena is a UNPer or an SLFPer, really.  And anyway, the real constituency of any party, including the UNP, is not the voter but the financier.  The big boys and girls in business call the shots.  

What and where to now?

It is time to put the SLFP out of our misery – Part II
A political party in a democracy generally represent a segment of that society. A party is the public persona of its members and should be able articulate the demands and expectations of members in a coherent manner. A party, to be distinct must develop political programmes that will project their stand on issues such as the economy, national security, foreign policy and energy policy; just to name a few. These programmes and policies are the foundation that will build support from the public, encourage and entice citizens to become partners of a political party. The acceptance of a political party’s programme legitimizes it in the minds of the citizenry. 

So, where are we with the SLFP in terms of policy? There was a time when the SLFP was clear about Sri Lanka’s foreign policy; about economic policy; and about national security. However, the same cannot be said of the SLFP of Maitripala Sirisena and Chandrika Kumaranatunga. The party has allowed its nemesis the UNP to dictate terms on every policy front. Policies of the UNP, whether they be economic, foreign relations or ethnic reconciliation have been embraced and promoted by the leader and the patron of the SLFP. Sri Lanka Freedom Party has become a subsidiary of the United National Party. 

The distinctness is gone and so is the thrill.

It is time to put the UNP out of our misery – Part II

Nepotism.  Is it the preserve of the SLFP?  First it was Dudley succeeding his father as Prime Minister when the former died in an accident.  Was Dudley the most senior? No. Was he the most suitable?  No.  Then he groomed his nephew for the party leader’s post.  There was a time when people thought Rukman will inherit the party.  The UNP stood for ‘Uncle-Nephew Party’, it was said at the time.  J R Jayewardene was the victim of all that.  He survived.  

When JR took over after Dudley died in 1973, he fought the SLFP on a strong anti-nepotism platform.  He won.  He then began to groom his nephew, Ranil Wickremesinghe to take over the party leadership one day.  Ranasinghe Premadasa would have none of it.  He took over in 1988.  He had said ‘my father was not a politician and my son will not be one either’.  He didn’t get to groom his son Sajith, but here we have him fighting Ranil for the UNP leadership.  And now Ranil has brought in his nephew, Ruwan Wijewardena, some say to groom him to take over once Ranil retires.   

It’s all about ‘Gene Right’, apparently.