Sri Lanka’s politics… what’s the choice for those who seek change?

Daily Mirror

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” ~ Barack Obama   

Change as a universal phenomenon is vastly understated; its effects, specifically of short-term genre, are not felt by a great majority in the human family; its long-term effects are left for historians to pen on paper long after the said changes have taken root. Absence of change for those who enjoy dwelling in the ‘comfort zone’ is as pleasurable and comfortable as a cushy bed for a sleeping baby. But if man did not embrace change as a matter of a universal constant (pardon for the oxymoron, change and constant), the long and arduous journey he has travelled would not have been a reality. If the first Neanderthal who stepped out of his cave was discouraged by the vast new panorama of what he beheld and forced him back to the narrow confines of his abode, human society would not have experienced the epic changes that made the march of man more enchanting and all-encompassing.   

However, the very freshness of change has its own attraction as a common spectacle; its impulses and seductive stimulus is what an inquiring and curious mind would want to pursue. That intellectual curiosity, that logical and rational inquisitiveness draws man towards invention. In such a captivating milieu, man not only invents, he also makes unprecedented twists and turns along his forward journey and renders it more exciting and exhilarating.   

Change, the marvel it is and its marvellous consequences on history have continued to shape man’s persona and his likes and dislikes alike. It is this phenomenon called change that allures, especially the young, and inspires the events to unfold. However, when change comes in really tangible measure, some react to such change in a nervous and unsure way, being suspicious about the way his first response to the need for such change. This is the ultimate dilemma of the human being. The mystic shades of nature may have a little impact on man if he chooses to be blind to it. History however has shown us that real societal change has come not by one stroke of pen but by sustained struggle that sheds, to paraphrase Churchill, a lot sweat, blood and tears, and over a long period of time. Man’s very outreach away from his caves, the fall of the Roman Empire, the vast changes that came about as a series of consequences of the Industrial Revolution were changes that revolutionized the way in which man thinks even up to today.   

It is in that broad context that we need to characterize the notion of change the people of Sri Lanka seem to demand in the upcoming Presidential Elections. In the first place, there are the political parties that contest the elections; then secondly, those who contest from each of the parties. Let us inquire: 

It is in that broad context that we need to characterize the notion of change the people of Sri Lanka seem to demand in the upcoming Presidential Elections

Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP)

Barring the short term from 2001 to 2003 during which time the UNP was in control of the House of Representatives, SLFP was in power from 1994 up until 2014. 20 years, two decades, is a long time for one political party to be in the seats of power, especially in a democracy where the people choose their rulers. Such a long stretch of time could have seen a country go forward from economic stagnation to a robust development; it could have transformed a country from one of corruption and dishonesty to one of justice and fair-play; from one of warped cultural values to one of serene family values which define a nation as a whole. What really occurred was just the opposite.   

Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s reign was utterly lethargic as was she herself. Subjecting the UNP supporters to humiliating ends, she unleashed all her pent-up anger, envy and intrinsic viciousness on her political opponents while paying scant respect for law and order and unchaotic governance. She was initially responsible for the beginning of the process of obliteration of the image of the ‘common man’from the political party her father, SWRD Bandaranaike, gave birth to. Such an irony of events would eventually lead to the rise of a pathetic and petty autocrat like Mahinda Rajapaksa within the same party, SLFP.   

Having been voted out in 2015, the choice of the same party does not represent change that the people are looking for. 

Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP)

The 2015 Presidential Election results gave birth to another political process; it exposed the fissures in the party that SWRD created. Essentially a family-owned party, after its transfer from the Bandaranaikes to the Rajapaksas, the SLFP became the responsibility of Maithripala Sirisena who was elected by the UNP but soon forgot to pay homage to that strategic decision to field a non-UNP candidate at the Presidential Elections in 2015. When Maithripala took over the UNP, MR and his clannish supporters did not have any alternative other than to form another family-owned party, SLPP. The SLPP, however, having all the riffraff from the defeated regime, clearly does not represent change.   

United National Party (UNP)

The UNP threw away a wonderful opportunity in the last four years. From the time Maithripala  was elected as the UNP-led coalition, the main thrust of the new government was supposed to be bringing all the evil-doers of the MR regime to justice through a speedy legal system. Accusations are many that some key Ministers of the new government were protecting those who were being accused of many a financial misdeed. On top of that accusation landed the ‘Bond-scam’. The corruption charges that were levelled against the Rajapaksas are now being levelled against the UNP. What a shame!   

The failure on the part of the UNP cannot be justifiably disregarded, nor could it be put to rest without seeing it to a successful conclusion. The people should not be taken for granted. So, does the UNP, as it is currently composed of, represent change? The writer doesn’t think so. Yet some of its top leaders, as diverse personalities, may do so. Let’s discuss the persona now.   

SLFP – Maithripala Sirisena is no representative of change. On the contrary, he is one person the electorate at large willfully rejects.   

SLPP – Any one of the Rajapaksa family cannot be an acceptable agent of change; not Basil, not Gotabaya not Chamal, period.   

UNP – Ranil Wickremasinghe certainly does not represent change from the status quo. He is one of many who have been unreservedly rejected by the electorate. Who else is there who could be considered for nomination for Presidential Election? Does anyone from among Karu Jayasuriya, Sajith Premadasa and Navin Dissanayake ostensibly represent change? Let’s take them one by one   

From the time Maithripala  was elected as the UNP-led coalition, the main thrust of the new government was supposed to be bringing all the evil-doers of the MR regime to justice through a speedy legal system

Karu Jayasuriya – Certainly a change from the norm of the current corrupt culture of politics. His reputation as being an honest and devoted democrat has not been hurt at all. His courageous stand against the parliamentary ruffians in the dark days of October to December of 2018 was ample testimony of his commitment to democracy and administration of justice without prejudice. When corruption charges are being hurled at almost all politicians, Karu has managed to hold on to his reputation as an in-corrupt, honest and democratic political leader. He is liked by the Buddhist order and thoroughly respected by the other religious denominations and their leaders. Yet his age may signify a notion of status quo representation and he has to overcome this serious challenge which is certainly going to be levelled against him.   

Sajith Premadasa – A totally different cup of tea. His modus operandi has been in the mode of a loner going where no UNPer has been before. Yet he has a very serious setback in the context of change. Sajith is going around the country saying that he wants to bring back a ‘Premadasa Era’. That certainly is not change. The writer wonders whether Sajith realizes that, although his father President Premadasa was a unique traveller along the political field in Ceylon, his tenure as President (from 1989 – 1993) was a dismal saga of ‘one man show’. R. Premadasa’s way of doing things by driving fear into his subordinates is not a satisfactory commentary about the man. And when R. Premadasa died, some in the country went to the vicious and ungainly extent of lighting up crackers. Sajith is a change without a change. The bottom line is Sajith might be acceptable to a certain segment of our voting population but whether it is a winning number is a question yet unanswered.   

Navin Dissanayake – His father Gamini Dissanayake enjoys the highest acceptance among the UNP leaders dead and gone. Yet Navin’s refusal to hide behind the shadows of his late father is noticeable. Being the National Organizer of the Party and being the only active UNP leader who is travelling the physical landscape of the country, trying to galvanize the UNP grassroots rendering new meaning to the title of National Organizer is a remarkable feat of this gentleman. If he makes a coordinated effort, he certainly can project the image of an agent of change.   
That’s yet to be seen.   

The author can be contacted at: vishwamithra1984@gmail.com