In a democratic set up where people are the eventual deciders as to who would get elected and who wouldn’t, a major political party, unlike its party headquarters or machinery, cannot be organized like a private corporation. A private corporation has clear cut authorities, both financial and administrative, well-defined job descriptions, trained personnel and a distinct flow of work, from top to bottom or bottom to top and this is not the case with a political party. When a political party includes its elected representatives also into the whole, unless there is a tough and exemplary leadership at the top and a stern disciplinary mechanism installed and implemented, it becomes a clumsy conglomerate of diverse individuals holding to their varied views and pursuing their sundry goals.
However, a party that has a ‘cell’ structure like the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), organized along the classical Marxist-Leninist principles, would not face this problem of inner conflicts to the extent that they are manifestly present in political parties established along democratic principles and values. But last year, even the JVP, with the evolution of time and social changes, had to grapple with the problem of dissent and an ultimate breakaway from within. This breakaway is anyway somewhat similar to internal conflicts culminating in major secessions that were experienced in the Communist world prior to its collapse in Eastern Europe and the then Soviet Union in the late eighties. Yet, when they go their different ways, these political parties that are essentially leftist in character and composition, show a marked sense of decisiveness which one would not see in parties like the United National Party (UNP) and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) in Sri Lanka.
Both the UNP and the SLFP were established on mass foundations. They draw their strengths from the mass membership, and although they may be loosely called ‘members,’ many of them would, in fact, fall into the category of sympathizers or fellow-travellers. The SLFP had to go through a very rough patch in the late seventies and the eighties after they were ousted from power in 1977. The fate, that befalls a political party when it is not in power, has now befallen the UNP too. The inner conflicts that plagued the SLFP at that time, have taken root in the UNP to such an extent, it was reported that Ranil Wickremesinghe, Leader of the UNP, has openly named both Karu Jayasuriya and Sajith Premadasa as his enemies (hathuro), instead of just rivals or adversaries. Given the mindset in which Ranil Wickremesinghe is conducting the affairs of his party today, one has no doubt that it was not a slip of the tongue, nor was it a political gaffe; Ranil obviously meant what he said.
With accusations mounting against him, not only from the UNP reformist group but from the government ranks as well, specifically from Minister Maithripala Sirisena, with or without the approval from President Rajapaksa, Ranil Wickremesinghe finds himself alienated from the mainstream political discussion in the context of a common candidate representing a grand coalition to defeat Mahinda Rajapaksa at the next Presidential Polls. However, at the very outset, I must let the reader know that it is not the writer’s intention to discuss the merits and demerits of Ranil Wickremesinghe as it has been discussed over and over again, amounting to an almost media overkill.
A valid case
In this context, I read with interest the article written by Kumar David to Colombo Telegraph on the subject of ‘Can Sobhitha pull off victory where Fonseka flunked?’ In his piece, David tries to make a case for Venerable Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera, Chief Incumbent of the Kotte Sri Naga Vihara, as a common candidate of a ‘Grand Coalition’ against Mahinda Rajapaksa in the next Presidential Elections. In order to strengthen his case, David puts forward a scenario where the campaign is run on a single issue as against a number of election promises and pledges, which usually a typical manifesto contained in election campaigns in the past. He also asserts that a potentially successful campaign requires two preconditions, namely: 1. A clear-cut single-issue campaign. 2. The UNP’s total involvement in the campaign as a fully-fledged stakeholder.
If David’s argument is taken as a valid case for a ‘Grand Coalition’, I beg to disagree with him on the limitation of the number of preconditions required. A legitimate campaign if not an ultimately successful one, needs many more conditions that it has to satisfy. One major precondition would be, even if the participation of the UNP is secured, the full machinery of the party needs to be fully committed and in this regard some mechanism must be employed in order to ensure that there will not be any pulling of strings by any quarter of the UNP as was evident in the Fonseka campaign in 2010 and the Gamini Dissanayake campaign in 1994. The UNP’s stake must be held to tangible accountability mechanisms, so agreed well before the campaign is launched.
Election campaigns were launched and run on a single issue in the past in Sri Lanka on three occasions. First in 1956, it was ‘Sinhala only in twenty four hours’; then in 1994 and 2005, the chief among many issues was the abolition of the Executive Presidency. In all three instances, the candidate who ran on the single-issue campaign won. The similarities stop there. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike who ran the ’56 campaign and routed the then UNP in a landslide, fulfilled his single issue promise if not in 24 hours, at least in due course. However, on the other two occasions, both Chandrika Bandaranaike and Mahinda Rajapaksa reneged on their pledges on the abolition of the Executive Presidency system with the latter even going onto empower it more by removing the term limits as well (You may decide to keep this or not). Therefore, one can understand the difficulty David has in trusting laymen on the issue of the abolition of the EP (Executive Presidency).
Susceptible to human failings
All politicians are susceptible to human failings; especially in instances where the subject is political power which contains within itself enormous potential for abuse. Rarely in human history has any leader abdicated power and such examples have been far and few in between. In Sri Lanka it happened only once and that was the resignation of Dudley Senanayake from Premiership in 1953. Dudley resigned during the hartal riots; though he later came back and assumed leadership of the UNP at the invitation of J. R. Jayewardene who had given effective leadership to the party from outside Parliament. It is rather naïve to expect that kind of sacrifice and magnanimity from today’s politicians, either from laymen or the clergy. Thus the most difficult part of the negotiations for a Grand Coalition would remain an unequivocal agreement for the single issue – abolition of EP.
Who should be the partners of the ‘Grand Coalition’? I could see the following: Venerable Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera, Justice Warawewa, Jayantha Dhanapala, Ranil Wickremesinghe, Karu Jayasuriya, Sajith Premadasa, General Sarath Fonseka, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna representative, Mano Ganeshan, a Muslim representative and Reverend Oswald Gomes with Jayantha Dhanapala as the convener, moderator and record keeper. Each person may be allowed to cast a vote for his choice of candidate; whoever secures a majority of votes may be nominated as the presidential candidate and an oath needs to be administered as to the secrecy and unqualified commitment to the success of the campaign. Such commitment so made in secrecy must also be made in public at four nationally-recognized religious locations covering all four major religions.
An election campaign of the magnitude described above would require the involvement and commitment of able personnel with talent, skills and experience. One cannot repeat the unforgivable way the last Presidential campaign was run for General Fonseka.
There are men and women with enormous talent and potential in our midst who can man an effective campaign hub. Only a ‘Grand Coalition’ of this magnitude and potential would attract such talents and skills. No single political party by itself would fit the bill. The money and muscle power of the government party needs to be neutralized if not bettered.
To be continued on Sunday… (Tactics and campaign parameters will be discussed in my concluding article to be published in the Sunday Edition).