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UNP membership urge dissidents to cooperate




D.S. Senanayake Dudley Senanayake Sir John Kotelawala
J.R. Jayewardene Ranasinghe Premadasa Ranil Wickremesinghe
Daya Gamage Sajith Premadasa Ravi Karunanayake

The United national Party, which was the most formidable political force in the country had rendered invaluable services to the nation since its inception under a number of leaders. Some of them had been epoch-makers in the political and socio-economic history of Sri Lanka and earned the most appropriate designations such as Jaathiye Piya and Bath Dun Piya for the immeasurable services they rendered to the nation during their tenures of office.

The United National Party (UNP) had been led by seven people since its inception - D.S. Senanayake, Dudley Senanayake, Sir John Kotelawala, J.R. Jayewardene, Ranasinghe Premadasa, D.B. Wijethunge and the incumbent Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. Sri Lanka has had a number of general elections since 1947 and the United National Party had never remained in the Opposition for more than one Parliamentary term up to 1994.

After 1994 the UNP managed to secure power only at the 2001 general election under the stewardship of Ranil Wickremesinghe, but he couldn't consolidate the power and continue as President Chandrika Kumaratuge dissolved the Government due to the pressure exerted by its constituent parties headed by the opportunists JVP.

The United National Party was swept out of power at the 2004 general election and since then had been struggling to regain its last glory at the subsequent elections, without success.

Political analysts bear different views in respect of the downfall of the UNP; most believe that the victory in the war against terrorism was the main cause for the present Government to remain in power among various drawbacks. Some are of them strong belief that internal party conflicts are the principal reasons for the erosion of the United National Party.

There is no argument that the credit for the war victory should go to the Government.

That is exactly why they had a convincing victory at the last Presidential election followed by the general election.

However, without resting on these laurels forever, they should find solutions to the problems of the masses.

Differences of opinion

Internal party disputes are not a unique experience faced only by the incumbent UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. Similar problems had been faced by the UNP's previous leaders. D.S. Senanayake had differences of opinion with his Cabinet colleague S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike; Dudley Senanayake had problems with Sir John Kotalawala over leadership issues during his second term.

Dudley also had problems with J.R. Jayawardene on certain issues, but those problems never affected the party's forward march. They sorted out matters amicably and worked as a single entity with one voice.

After the demise of Dudley Senanayake, J.R. became the leader of the party in 1973. He was an experienced, far-sighted and astute politician who had correctly read the pulse of the stakeholders.

He revolutionised the party mechanism and achieved a mammoth five-sixth victory at the 1977 general election. J.R. Was a strict disciplinarian and a true democrat who believed in collective responsibility. Having learnt political lessons from his senior leaders, locally and internationally, he had gathered an ocean of knowledge on all aspects of proper governance.

He believed in party discipline more than anything else. That is why he obtained undated resignation letters from all Cabinet ministers whom he himself had appointed.

As correctly anticipated by J.R., he had disagreements with some of his Cabinet members and they were forced to leave immediately. Minister of Trade Cyril Mathew, who did a yeoman service to the party, was asked to leave since he didn't fall in line with the government policies.

Minister of health Gamini Jayasooriya left on his own accord since he didn't agree with the Indo-Lanka Peace Accord. Dr. Neville Fernando from Panadura was sacked over disputes with J.R. And G.V. Punchinilame from Ratnapura was severely warned and not accommodated at the subsequent general election. However, none of them ever grumbled with the leadership and tarnished the image of the party.

Party conflict

The present conflict is different to the problems faced by the former leaders of the party.

Since the UNP has failed to secure power at the last few elections, the Sajith Premadasa faction is pointing fingers at the leadership, claiming that Ranil Wickremesinghe is responsible for the party debacle, which is not true according to political analysts.

It is true that the UNP has suffered successive defeats, but one has to understand the ground realities before making irresponsible statements.

It is the general belief that the downfall of the UNP commenced with the formation of the DUNF (Eagle party) by some of the most prominent members of the UNP, viz Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake and Parliamentarians who broke away from the UNP owing to the short-sighted policies of then President Premadasa.

It is true that former President R. Premadasa had done an invaluable service to the nation during his time, but at the same time he did irreparable damage to the party by side lining UNP stalwarts such as Athulathmidali and Dissanayake. The hitherto well consolidated UNP started deteriorating rapidly after 1994.

Most of its top leaders faced untimely deaths due to LTTE terrorism and finally the leadership vested on Ranil Wickremesinghe who is undoubtedly the most suitable person to guide the party.

Wickremesinghe demonstrated his genuine leadership qualities on a number of occasions and has been identified as a true democratic statesman even by international leaders; his appointment as the President of the Commonwealth Parliamentarians Association a few months ago was a testimony to his leadership qualities.

It had taken J.R. Jayewardene to become the leader of the party over three decades. The late Premadasa was patient enough to slowly rise to the top and Wickremesinghe also had amassed enough experience to achieve what he is today.

The party membership cannot comprehend why some are in hurry to reach the top. Sajith Premadasa, Karu Jayasuriya and other dissident members should realise that constant conflicts with the incumbent leader will not be helpful for the party to bounce back to power. Now the time is ripe for everybody to work as a single unit to bring back the lost glory of the party.

Disciplined and committed

Politics today is different from that of two decades ago. Now faces gain prominency very easily through the electronic and print media.

However, the conventional UNP membership remains unchanged. The grass roots level UNP membership is a disciplined and committed lot. They cherish and admire the senior figures in the party.

It does not mean that there is less recognition for the newcomers. They have to earn the respect of the members through their actions.

There are quite a few of newcomers who agitate against the incumbent leadership, but they do not understand the majority membership view.

Just because they have been recognised by the public as competent orators or charismatic parliamentarians, they should not try to revolt against the leadership, craving instant power, the members say.

Sajith Premadasa has political charisma, a good education, a substantial degree of public oratory skill and other basic requirements to be leader of the party one day.

He is already the Deputy leader and should cooperate with the incumbent leader to bring the party to victory, without making unwarranted statements against party hierarchy.

Some of his actions have already led to his unpopularity. Some of the dissident members who supported him at the beginning have now realised that they made a wrong move and try to patch up the differences with Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Even in the past, some of the UNP stalwarts had islandwide programs to garner support for the party. However, they never promoted these programs as their own, to promote their personal image; instead, they associated them with the party activities. Sajith Premadasa's Sasunata Aruna program is no doubt commendable, but most of party membership has reservations about it as they fell that he tries to promote his personal image through scheme.

The United National Party is a formidable political force and anybody who has talent and charisma can rise up easily to the top. At the same time, the degree of dedication, loyalty, faithfulness, commitment and seniority when selecting their leaders.

This had been proved beyond doubt at the last election at the party headquarters to elect new office bearers. Political analysts and even some journalists who had travelled round the country conducted opinion polls to ascertain the positions of different politicians, and their findings are similar to the message conveyed at the party headquarters at the last election.

Demoralised members

Grass roots level UNP membership was totally demoralised over the uncouth incidents which took place at their party headquarters after the election results were announced. The United National Party membership is scattered in all four corners of this country and they are not happy to see conflicts of this nature which have never been heard of before.

Now the time has dawned for them to realise their follies and work in harmony with the leadership without further driving membership to a state of higgledy-Piggledy.

Experienced members such as Dayasiri Jayasekera, Thalatha Athukorala, Sujeewa Senasinghe and Rosy Senanayake who have brilliant political futures should work in harmony with the leader to secure power at a future election and establish their political empires.

Discipline is an integral part in any organisation and JRJ was the best disciplinarian the UNP has ever had. He made an indelible impression in the annals of politics of the country.

It is the duty of the main Opposition, the United National Party to mobilise the masses and try to secure power at the first available opportunity.

Ranil Wickremesinghe has all the qualifications and is supported by able senior lieutenants; young Parliamentarians such as Ravi Karunanayake, Harsha de Silva, Hareen Fernando, Ajith Perera and other promising regional politicians, especially Daya Gamage from the Ampara district who discharges a yeoman service to the party as its National Organiser.

The United National Party grass roots level membership expect all members to forget their differences and work as a single unit to capture power at a future election as the United National Party is hi-headed Party stalwarts should understand that there are senior party supporters in rural areas who love the United National Party.

They are extremely disappointed with the present state of affairs and feel that unless everybody regroup as a single unit and march forward, that there will be more Rienzie Algamas in the future.

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