“Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.”
Never was there a time in Sri Lanka’s post-independence history like this. There was never a time when hypocrisy on the part of politicians has been so rampant, from the ruling party to the Opposition and from Cabinet Minister to the Pradesheeya Sabha Member. From top to bottom, hypocrisy is the common denominator, of course, among other atrocious features, such as corruption, nepotism, bribery, insensitivity and above all plain stupidity. Yet ever since 1994, whenever elections were held to ascertain which way the voter is swaying, the results were almost always foregone; a thumping majority for the ruling party and a humiliating thrashing for the Opposition, except perhaps in the North and the East.
Then one wonders: How is this happening and more fundamentally, why is it happening? Academics, pundits and observers, both international and local, have been grappling with this enigmatic dynamic of electoral victories for the ruling party.
Despite economic hardships, social inequities, naked corruption, explicit nepotism, bribery made to look so routine and part of the legitimate process of deal-making, inefficiencies in state-controlled institutions, human right violations, humiliation at international fora, rising cost of living, downward movement of elites, thinning of middle-class numbers, breakdown in social discipline, school teachers and government servants being subjected to open humiliation and shame, spiraling incidences of crime and above all else, a lack of foresight, stupendous insensitivity to people’s needs and horrendous incompetency on the part of the ruling cabal and its henchmen, both within the Cabinet and Parliament and without, at all conceivable levels have been the order of the day but still the ruling party comes on top at every election.
There are a million reasons for people’s displeasure towards the Government. But it appears that there are a million and one reasons not to elect the Opposition to power. Today, that is the million dollar issue. The core problem faced by the Opposition led by the United National Party is one of gigantic proportions. On the one hand they were being harassed, intimidated and humiliated by a Government that has within itself some clever politicians, most prominent of them being President Rajapaksa himself. People of the caliber of Dallas Alahappperuma, Wimal Weerawansa, Basil Rajapaksa, Champika Ranawaka, Nimal Siripala de Silva and Maithripala Sirisena may not be the best of Ministers in the context of governance, efficiency and integrity, but they have proven to be extremely clever handlers of public opinion.
Crafty politicking seems to be in their veins and blood and they would go after any obstacle thrown in their way in the most ruthless and unmerciful fashion which the UNP and its supporters show no sign of countering in any meaningful way with any counterweighing strength. In such an unequal battlefield and in the absence of any equalizing force, the UNP and its leadership have chosen, to a greatly dismaying extent of apathy, to meander in a haphazard and lethargic way without making any effort to be creative or novel in their political thinking and action. This lethargy and dearth of intelligent political maneuvering have created a vacuum that is existing today in the main opposition party.
On the other hand, even though from its inception, the United National Party had been attracting the highest number of votes, taken as a single entity and prior to 1977, it did secure an absolute majority only in the 1952 General Elections and that was in the wake of its founder leader’s death. Although at that time it was the considered opinion of many that Ceylon got her Independence from the British colonial powers due to the indomitable efforts of D S, the UNP did not receive an absolute majority at the first general elections held in 1947. D S Senanayake managed to form a government only after co-opting some Independent MPs to join him and with help of the six Appointed MPs.
The stain of an uncaring, Colombo-based Party so far divorced from the pulse of the ordinary man and woman, with which Sir John Kotelawala left the UNP in 1956, could not be erased until 1977. That too after J R Jayewardene assumed the helm and introduced some drastic measures, not only in the composition of the Party hierarchy and formulation of policies but more so in the mode of organization that was thereto absent in it.
But in comparison, the discredited ‘bad-image’ which Sir John left behind as his inglorious legacy, pales into insignificance when one ponders as to the image and the structure that the present Leader of the UNP, Ranil Wickremesinghe has left for it today. In an increasingly tube-sensitive culture where the availability of news is almost instantaneous, the present leadership of the Party has got caught in an unmerciful struggle against a more unmerciful foe. The foe is the present Government and pathetic preparedness, lack of wherewithal, waste of opportunity coupled with total absence of articulate platform speakers, both in English and Sinhala, has brought the Party to an ‘electoral-halt’.
Among the wasted opportunities are: impeachment motion against the ousted Chief Justice, Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake, failure to strike a bargain with General Sarath Fonseka to put forth a common front, Weliweriya fiasco, the 18th Amendment and University unrest to mention a few. And among the issues that were ignored by the Party are endless, from rising cost of living, rampant corruption, nepotism, politicos running wild, shameless behavior on the part of Government Ministers and their kith and kin, lack of good governance, increasing tendency toward dictatorial rule, breakdown in discipline to the ever-increasing crime rate. None of these issues are being tackled in any professional way and the growing displeasure of the people towards the Opposition would be more prominent in the forthcoming Provincial Council elections in the Wayamba, Central and Northern Provinces. The tremendous lack of preparedness on the part of the UNP is atrocious. Its lack of talent, not only among the parliamentarians but also among those non-parliamentarian members of the Working Committee has raised many a question as to their qualification and suitability for occupying a seat in that once-exalted decision-making body of the Party.
Moreover, one serious issue that would be foremost in the minds of the voter and of the opponents of the UNP would be the dictatorial behavior of its leader and the stupidly crazy way he has been grappling with dissention in the party. The voter will genuinely question the bona fides of a leader who is acting in the most arbitrary fashion, resulting in the desertion of the Party by many leading personalities in the last few years. It is alleged that the Leader’s judgment on appointment of various district leaders and to seats in the Working Committee and other important offices and even nominations for elections are based on sexual preferences. If this were true, then the UNP is dead and what we are seeing is a walking corpse of a party. In this writer’s mind, one’s sexual preference is purely a personal matter and that should not be held against the practitioner of sex at all, period. But if the practitioner is holding power to decide between choices in other spheres and he decides in favor of his chosen trade, then there is a serious problem and there is no way can such a person be allowed to continue his decision-making any longer, for such practice in modern society is called ‘malpractice’. Thus if Ranil Wickremesinghe is found to be engaging in malpractice and those who continue to support him despite that knowledge are equally guilty.
That is why it should be repeated over and over again- if one wants to get rid of the present regime, he or she has no option but to relieve Ranil Wickremesinghe of the leadership of the UNP and of the Opposition. The onus is not only on Ranil Wickremesinghe alone, it is on the Working Committee too.