Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

  • June 2021
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Only Option Available to UNP: An open letter to UNP Deputy Leader

Posted by harimpeiris on June 30, 2021

By Harim Peiris

(Published in the Island on 30th June 2021)

Dear Mr. Ruwan Wijewardena,

I thought I must write to you because the UNP finally managed to fill its solitary National List seat in Parliament, unsurprisingly with your cousin and leader for life, former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Unsurprising, because the moment I heard, after the general election wiped out the UNP, that Mr. Wickremesinghe intended to resign as the leader at some future date, I knew that day will never come. When you were appointed as UNP Deputy Leader, I hoped that Mr. Wickremesinghe may at least make way for you, his close kinsman, even if he would never do so for anyone else and, thereby, finally see a welcome, though now largely irrelevant switch of the UNP leadership, from an old Royalist to a fellow old Prepite.

However, I thought I would address a few issues of relevance in the opposition political space, which may be food for thought, for you. Though I am uncertain how much clout you carry with your cousin.

Firstly, though the UNP, post the formation of the SJB, garnered 2% of the national vote, this really is your highwater mark, since voters, in August 2020, were never really sure how the UNP’s voter base would divide up between the SJB and the UNP. The contrived media hype was all entirely on your side. Now it is very clear, that it was hardly a contest. Nine out of every 10 UNP voters, voted for the SJB and only one remained with the rump UNP. There is something known as electoral credibility. That is the ability of a political party to actually secure representation and the corresponding desire of an active voter, to not waste his or her vote. Given that the UNP failed to elect a single Member of Parliament from any district, including from Mr. Wickremasinghe’s supposed pocket borough of the Colombo city, or even your own electorate of Gamapha, expect the UNP’s vote at future elections, be that local or provincial polls, to garner even fewer votes, if you persist in the foolishness of contesting future elections under the UNP’s own banner.

Secondly, there is serious confusion as to whether the UNP occupies the non-Rajapaksa anti-government political space or whether it is actually a pro-government political ploy, masquerading as an opposition political party. It is never really quite clear, exactly what kind of political creature the UNP is; you seem to be neither flesh, fish nor fowl. In fact, the general observation, both earlier and even now, is that the UNP seemingly sees the political opposition, led by Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and the SJB, as the real political competitors to be opposed, rather than the government and the ruling party. This is extremely detrimental to the Opposition’s political cause as they seek to ensure that the current Rajapaksa administration is a one term exercise and ends without an encore. The obsession of your rump UNP, in snipping at the Opposition Leader, Sajith Premadasa and the SJB, creates a dissonance in the Opposition political space that is only beneficial to the government. Frankly it is not even beneficial to you. You only come across as sour grapes and poor losers, who cannot accept the verdict of the electorate. You were not just beaten fair and square but comprehensively and completely. In simple mathematical terms 54 :1. You weren’t just routed; you were wiped out and the verdict of the electorate must be respected. Take the JVP as an example. They chart an independent political course, without sniping at the other opposition parties. They train their guns on the government. An Opposition party is called to be a check and balance on government. Not be a cannibal on your own side of the isle.

Let me explain to you, why I believe that if Ranil insists on Parliament being his retirement home, he should at least occupy his solitary seat in golden silence. History will probably judge Mr. Wickremesinghe kindlier than the electorate does right now, because we all make mistakes over the course of a long career and as Alexander Pope famously wrote in his subliminal Essay on Criticism, “to err is human and to forgive is divine”. No political party or personality has a monopoly on either virtue or vice, but, right now, Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP has been ruled out by the voter/umpire and should retire back to the pavilion. The nature of the innings he played and how he fared out in the middle, during his various tenures, is a different story. But the fact is that the curtain has come down and the lights have gone out and the actor needs to leave the stage or at a minimum not disturb the next show.

Frankly, take a page out of former President Jayewardene, who in term limit induced retirement, referred to his successor President Ranasinghe Premadasa as his greatest political friend. This was at the height of the impeachment drama and the Athulathmudali/Dissanayake breakaway saga. Some grace and wisdom, along those lines, may be in order at this time. Sajith Premadasa should be your greatest political friend of all time. You may also advise your leader that there are other more gainful ways of spending an elder statesman retirement rather than hogging a parliamentary seat and constantly sniping at your own side of the political divide. Seek some guidance from former President Kumaratunga, who, upon retirement, became involved in the Clinton Global Initiative and the Club de Madrid among other international organisations and roles, though she did play an active behind the scenes role in ending the former Rajapaksa Administration in 2015, when it became clear that they were not interested in a course correction.

Anyway, for you and the UNP, there is but a single course of action. Retire the leader to an international role and join the SJB unconditionally, as a minor ally, mindful that you bring little to the table, except ceasing the “friendly fire” constantly being rained down on the SJB, by your party and its allied media houses.

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