UNP membership urge dissidents to cooperate
||Sir John Kotelawala
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
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
There is no argument that the credit for the war victory should go to
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.