Leadership battle in UNP becomes media spectacle
The leadership battle in the UNP is taking a more serious form than anyone expected. One factor that could add fuel to the fire is increased media interest in the goings on within the UNP. The war is now over and all the important elections have been held. The country is now settling into a humdrum existence and as newsworthy issues dry up, the ongoing battle within the UNP will get more coverage than it otherwise would.
One notices that at least one TV channel has made the internal crisis within the UNP a special feature in their nightly news bulletins. We did not see something like that even in 2006, when the UNP was plunged into a crisis which led to the biggest ever parliamentary crossover in post-independence history. When a special feature is introduced into a nightly TV news bulletin, usually the issue is followed up until it’s resolved, the way the war got regular coverage in the media in the last year of so of the hostilities when media men were ‘embedded’ with the advancing troops and reported daily on the progress of the battles.
The internal battle within the UNP is now becoming something like that, where people will get their popcorn and peanuts ready every evening to watch the unfolding events within the UNP. This kind of media coverage may do what so many internal rebellions were unable to do over the past one and a half decades. The longer such media scrutiny continues, the more the image of the party will deteriorate and the more damage it will do to the image of the party leader. This will vitiate any hopes the UNP leader may be entertaining of making a comeback six years from now. That is of course assuming that Ranil Wickremesinghe is staying on with a view to leading the country some day, If however he is merely staying on to enjoy the perks of the office of opposition leader as his detractors claim, then this adverse publicity will not matter.
Be that as it may, Wickremesinghe is now a gladiator fighting in the public arena for his career with a ratakaju munching public watching his footwork dodging darts that are being hurled at him. The difference in the internal UNP war this time is that there is no challenger as such, nor are there any visible reformists except for a few individuals like lawyer Upul Jayasuriya. This time the resentment seems to be spreading like a canker throughout the whole party. That Vajira Abeywardene is no longer around to organize a vocal defence of Wickremesighe and to engage in backroom manoeuvers to outwit Wickremesinghe’s detractors is probably what makes Wickremesinghe look defenceless this time. Wickremesinghe may perhaps by now realized that D.M.Swaminathan, Harsha de Silva and Eran Wickremeratne can’t do for him what Vajira used to do so competently.
Sajith Premadasa had been summoned by Wickremesinghe for talks on the direction that party reforms should take, last Thursday morning. Premadasa had turned up for the meeting with two ‘witnesses’ Kegalle district parliamentarian Kabir Hashim and John Amaratunga. Why witnesses, one may ask. Young Sajith has apparently resolved that he is not going to have one to one talks with the party leader lest the others in the party think he is trying to come to a private understanding with Wickremesinghe. He wants the talks to be as transparent as possible.
Above all he wants the party to know that he is not negotiating for any positions from Wickremesinghe. At this meeting with Wickremesinghe, Sajith had suggested only one reform – that all office bearers of the party including the party leader be elected by the decision making bodies instead of being appointed. The suggestion that emanated from Sajith was honey laced with potassium cyanide. Everybody knows that if Wickremesinghe presents himself for an election especially against Sajith, he stands no chance.
Realising that trying to get Wickremesinghe to hold an election for his own job, was not a practical proposition, Sajith had later softened his position and told Wickremesinghe that if he is uncomfortable with the idea of opening up his own position for election, he should make all other positions in the party from deputy leader downwards, open for election. Such a suggestion would have made any other leader want to resign on the spot, but not Ranil Wickremesinghe who has as I have pointed out earlier in these pages, has a skin that would make a rhinocerous envious. Sarcasm affects him not a whit – such comments roll off his back like water off a duck’s back. He happily and promptly entrusted John Amaratunga and Kabir Hashim with the task of preparing a paper on the suggested reforms to be presented to the working committee when it meets. The UNP working committee has not yet met after the defeat at the parliamentary elections, and as at the time of writing a meeting has not yet been summoned. However, the UNP parliamentary group will be meeting on the 3rd of May and it’s expected that the MPs will ask for a working committee meeting to be called for the 7th. So what we now have to do is to get the pop corn and ratakaju ready to watch the fun. ~ courtesy: The Island ~