By Malinda Seneviratne –
The United National Party (UNP) has not won a Presidential Election given that 1988. That is 26 years. In a could which saw frequent baton-changes between the two key parties, i.e. the UNP and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) or at least coalitions led by one or the other, this is a significant state of affairs.
Now it can be argued that Ranil Wickremesinghe was robbed, so to speak, each in 1999 and 2005. In 1999 a close election went the incumbent’s way when she lost an eye in a terrorist attack, the resulting sympathy translating into a vote-sway. In addition, S.B. Dissanayake when claimed that he had ensured that 400,000 හොර ඡන්ද (illegal votes) had been cast in her favor. The claimant of course late switched sides and was the UNP’s National Organizer for a even though just before crossing party lines once again. It is also claimed, frequently enough, that Ranil would have won in 2005 had the LTTE not stopped Tamils in the North and East from voting.
It appears to have gone downhill thereafter. The short UNP-led Government with Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister was roundly defeated in 2004. The UNP suffered one more key defeat in 2010 when the UPFA retained energy in a Parliamentary Election. Between 1994 and 2014, except for a brief high in regional government elections in 2002/three, Ranil’s UNP has lost so dozens of elections. It must be stated, nevertheless, that the provincial and neighborhood government elections typically go to the party holding power at the centre and hence Ranil was usually handicapped, not to mention the fact that the ruling celebration utilised the staggered-elections policy so that state resources could be more effectively (and illegally of course and as has been accomplished by all ruling parties, the UNP included) employed to safe victory.
For all this, the UNP’s manifest inability to field a credible candidate at presidential elections is a serious indictment on that party. In 2010, as the ‘Common Opposition Candidate’ Maithripala Sirisena observed, it was a challenging ask for anybody. He said he was surprised that the former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka polled the numbers he ended up with. This was, as he said, just following the country was rid of the terrorist menace soon after 3 lengthy decades of bombs, bullets, suicide attacks and bloodshed. Naturally, credit accrued to the man beneath whose leadership the battle was won. No one who says ‘all power resides with the president’ courtesy the constitution can genuinely argue that credit must go elsewhere.
The 2010 election was as a result going Mahinda Rajapaksa’s way anyway, whoever the UNP fielded. And yet, even in unfavorable circumstances, these in the weaker camps have not twiddled thumbs, either in Sri Lanka or elsewhere. Hector Kobbekaduwa in 1988 and Sirimavo Bandaranaike in 1988 fought the great fight. Left candidates usually showed spirit. They all lost, but their respective parties gained, at least to the extent that they managed to periodically re-energize their ground-level networks.
The UNP on the other hand threw in the towel virtually right away right after the bell was rung for the initial round. In 2010, Sarath Fonseka was not a proxy but a sacrificial lamb. The help was lukewarm, the outcome was a foregone conclusion and the only consolation that the UNP got was the correct to say ‘we didn’t contest, so we didn’t drop!’ That’s as weak a brag as you can discover. If the UNP wounds of 2004 and 2005 had been close to receiving healed, the January 2010 victory of Mahinda opened them up. In April, the UNP bled and continued to bleed to the point that the regime was able to safe a two-thirds majority in Parliament.
One would have anticipated the UNP to find out some tough lessons, but this time about also the celebration was unable to put forward a credible candidate. Rather, it now supports a renegade of the party’s principal political enemy, expecting to get some tidbits need to he succeed in defeating the formidable incumbent, Mahinda Rajapaksa.
For all the talk of the Prime Minister for Ranil (for services rendered) in the occasion Maithripala Sirisena wins, for all the calculations about Maithripala needing the UNP’s Parliamentary group after January eight, 2015 (if he wins, again), the UNP has shown abysmal understanding of political realities. On Day 1 of a Maithripala Presidency, he would not just be the all effective Executive President, he can count on the entire SLFP to turn its back on Mahinda and back him instead. The political future of all SLFP MPs, after all, would thereafter be tied to the fortunes of Maithripala and not Mahinda. It is not impossible to believe that he could even get the help of two-thirds of the MPs and institute constitutional reform without any assistance of the UNP!
Where would that leave the UNP? Where would that leave Ranil Wickremesinghe? In quick, in the event of a Maithripala victory, Ranil and the UNP will be totally dependent on Maithripala’s generosity. To spot one’s political eggs in a basket of a man who nevertheless claims to be the Secretary Common of a rival party is utterly naïve.
‘In the larger interest of the country,’ Ranil and the UNP can claim. ‘If only politics was a fairy tale!’ somebody would respond.
Is it a personality concern? Something incorrect with Ranil and not necessarily the celebration? Probably. The truth remains though that the celebration hasn’t been in a position to repair the problem if indeed this was the problem. So, as items stand, this side of the ‘national interest’ thesis, the celebration doesn’t stand to gain in the occasion Maithripala wins. Is this the explanation for the lethargy of the UNP’s electioneering machine on the ground? Right after all, there seemed to be a lot a lot more enthusiasm in Badulla during the Uva elections, with Harin Fernando leading the way.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be identified at www.malindawords.blogspot.com