UNP has a historic responsibility for the country

Tuesday, 3 September 2019 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Former President late R. Premadasa, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and UNP Deputy Leader Minister Sajith Premadasa

If one has an honest look at history of the Grand Old Party founded by D.S. Senanayake, one has to reckon that the UNP has been a potent political force for national construction. 

The party had its roots in the Ceylon National Congress; it helped spearhead the independence movement and achieved political independence for the island nation. UNP leaders have given leadership to outstanding developments beginning from Gal Oya through various other irrigation schemes like Minneriya, Kawduluwewa, Giritale, Parakrama Samudraya, Mahaweli Development, colonisation schemes, health, Maha Vidyalayas, free education and a range of hospital and medical care across the whole country. For a long time, it ran a sound public service and a great judiciary. 

The party has gone through difficult political vicissitudes many a time. But, perhaps having emerged in auspicious times or perhaps driven at the start with honest intentions by men of calibre, the UNP has continued to dominate the political scenario in our country. 

Ranil Wickremesinghe currently bears the mantle of that great heritage and it is his historic task to keep the party as an instrument for the island’s further development and internal harmony as a nation. Only one’s political prejudices can dictate that he isn’t doing it right, even against the very difficult situations he has to contend with. 

His key problems now are numbers in Parliament and a capricious President hostile to him and the party. Ranil’s management of these precarious tribulations and his skill in walking the rope represents a unique leadership quality of a different type. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s leadership isn’t the charismatic punchy and brawny type but a brainy and strategic type more in accord with Max Weber’s ‘Legal-Rational model.’


Lesson for the younger generations in party

Younger generations have necessarily entered the party; they have been products of a different cultural upbringings. This explains the sharp variances in their responses in the face of multiple challenges that Sri Lanka face today. Seniors must recognise that. However, these new generations must adhere to the core values that have made the UNP the great party and the productive force it has been. Essentially, there must be discipline. 

Barring a few years of rule under the impressive mountain that was JR when it appears that some elements of the party were taking it astray, the United National Party has been disciplined. Younger members must learn to follow before they lead. 

I remember Ranasinghe Premadasa (one of the party’s icons who heralded the metamorphosis of the UNP from a dominant feudality into the era of the common man) saying that a future leader must first learn to follow before he leads. I have my serious doubts that his son Sajith is following that wisdom.  


Younger members must learn to follow before they lead. I remember Ranasinghe Premadasa (one of the party’s icons who heralded the metamorphosis of the UNP from a dominant feudality into the era of the common man) saying that a future leader must first learn to follow before he leads. I have my serious doubts that his son Sajith is following that wisdom


Sajith Premadasa 

I say this from empirical evidence of his observed political behaviour and from the many assertions of policy he has been announcing on the public stage recently. 

While as a senior public servant I watched in Parliament how Ranil Wickremesinghe, the present leader and Prime Minister, openly defended R. Premadasa on the floor of the house during the infamous impeachment that preceded the latter’s untimely death at the cruel hands of an assassin. I am rather disconcerted to notice that from the commencement of his political career Sajith took a different course. Sajith has been afflicted by a neurosis born of a strange hunch that he has a right to replace Ranil as soon as possible.

This explains why about 15 years ago, when he was barely 35, Sajith chose to challenge his leader during the dark years of the UNP when the party was thrown into limbo for a long time by Mahinda Rajapakse and the Rajapakse family.  Mahinda kept inducing UNP members to cross over offering them all portfolios and other forms of bribery and Ranil stayed cool with his characteristic unruffled Buddhist composure. 


Ranil – the EQ man

Ranil Wickremesinghe has displayed a rarely high quality of emotional intelligence that has kept him on the survival wings despite all sorts of impediments. Daniel Goleman in a landmark book ‘Emotional Intelligence’ has brought out the point that the critical thing for a leader is emotional intelligence, which he rates above traditional IQ. Goleman calls this EQ. 

It is Ranil’s EQ, even more that his political foxiness, that has kept him on top. Prabhakaran publicly asserted that he feared Ranil because he was “a fox.” On the other hand, in politics one must have a foxiness to succeed and, hence, that characteristic cannot be regarded as a negative in a leader. In his classic book on advice to rulers Machiavelli made this point quite bluntly. I believe it was more a case of EQ rather than alleged political cunningness as far as Ranil is concerned.

The EQ is about the first thing Sajith should have observed and learned from his leader when he joined the ranks. The second thing is the need to develop a broad understanding of public policy issues that are critical for a political leader. This, too, Sajith could have learned from the leader had he decided to be a more humble apprentice rather than a man waiting to usurp as of right.  


I remember Ranasinghe Premadasa (one of the party’s icons who heralded the metamorphosis of the UNP from a dominant feudality into the era of the common man) saying that a future leader must first learn to follow before he leads. I have my serious doubts that his son, Sajith, is following that wisdom

The first stance would have made Sajith a man of political wisdom; the second stance converted him into a youngster with a grudge. Sajith has the great and eloquent voice of his father but not the wisdom and learning that he could have gathered from his leader. 

The result: we observe with embarrassment many juvenile and unschooled expressions Sajith makes on stage these days. To refer to only a few: Sajith states that he will (once in power) give money to families that hand over their kids to the temple for ordination. Next, he will give everyone a minimum income of Rs. 50,000. Third, he will give everyone a plot of land. Fourth, he will take from the 20% who have wealth and share that ‘excess’ with amenities for the rest. And now he swears to die for his country. 

The aspiring UNP leader sees nothing of the central economic problem at the bottom of Sri Lanka’s society that is driving the country into total dysfunction in every aspect of life. This is the need for structural reform that converts Sri Lanka into an export economy out of a dependent import economy. He could, surely, observe his leader fully focused on this issue and talking everywhere about economics. 

Sajith should learn his economics. This is learning time for him, not leading time. Sajith should have learnt the crucial need for export policy and employment from his father as well. R. Premadasa’s noticeable national contribution was not his ‘Gam Udawa.’ That was mere hype. Premadasa’s economic policy contribution had been the development of the garment industry.

Sajith’s housing policy has been criticised by me before. He will never make even a small dent on the housing problem by diverting scarce revenue resources from the Treasury onto the construction of houses. That revenue extracted from the treasury has a serious opportunity cost to health, education and other vital areas of social life. A housing problem can be solved only out of a grown economy and banking system acting in conjunction. Yet, Sajith has locked himself into the narrow area of housing ever since he got minister status. Consequently, he gathered no experience in complex thinking about broad policy issues. He has not grown out of challenges. His mental focus has narrowed instead of grown. His father used to famously say that he learnt his law out of the old cases thrown over the Hulftsdorp parapet walls! Although he was joking, he was really evincing the need for learning.

We do not observe Sajith Premadasa making any policy advancements toward the other critical national problem of reconciliation and nation-building. Hence, he doesn’t address the burning issues of the Tamil and Muslim groups in the island. These don’t seem to cause any concern for him. How could he, then, be a national level leader and be acceptable by all communities? He has to get the latter’s votes if he is to win.

On the whole, I observe an old-style policy attitude in this aspiring leader. This is essentially populist and belongs to Sri Lanka’s misguided and disastrous years of handing out doles like free rice to every man and woman. He keeps worshipping at temples in the old style of the Bandaranaikes. 

I fear that if ensconced in power Sajith Premadasa will convert the Grand Old Party from being the potent force for private entrepreneurship and freedom that it is into a chaotic, autocratic and moribund SLFP- type.


How come Ministers like Harsha and Eran and Malik back Sajith?

Against this bizarre political behaviour, I have wondered how persons we assume know their economics, like Harsha, Eran and Malik take the upper hand in the pro-Sajith campaign to oust the leader and endanger the steps already installed to set the economy right. A Lanka E News columnist, raises this very issue. Translated to English it reads thus:

“Persons like Harsha and Eran who pose as economics pundits should hold themselves responsible for (such inane utterances by Sajith). They should explain the economic consequences of Sajith’s promises. They shouldn’t underestimate the knowledge of the ordinary man about these matters. No person with any brains will back a person who makes such proposals. 

Pohottuwa has presented its best candidate, according to Sarath Fonseka. The JVP leader’s knowledge cannot be put behind. It is not difficult to predict what will happen if an immature leader like Sajith is pitted against strong opponents like these two.”

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