Is Mahinda A Closet UNPer?
For one week starting tomorrow, Sri Lankans morning, noon and night will be force-fed a diet of how great their leader is. Hosannas will be sung praising him to high heaven, military parades will be held reminding one and all as to who won the war, coinciding with it, the first ship will be arriving at Hambantota, power will be generated for the first time at Norochcholai and among the many other ‘celebrations’ two Guinness World Records will also be attempted – the biggest kiributh and the planting of 1.1 million trees in 11 minutes – flat.
While the pros and cons of all this will be the main subject of analysis when you read through the Sunday papers today, we thought of reflecting on the plight of the main opposition party, the UNP, who surely must be gnashing their teeth as the mother of all Rajapaksa parties kicks off, with the silver lining to their dark cloud still not visible. To add insult to injury, what must really be getting their goat is the fact that Mahinda Rajapaksa seems more of an UNPer as the days go by than the UNP itself.
Take for instance Mahinda’s ‘A’ Team: G.L. Peiris, S.B. Dissanayake, Keheliya Rambukwella, Johnston Fernando, Bandula Gunawardena, Mahinda Samarasinghe, Rajitha Senaratne, Lakshman Abeywardena, Gamini Lokuge, Arumugam Thondaman, Susantha Punchinilame, Sarath Amunugama, Neomal Perera and P. Dayaratne, among others, are all UNPers who have crossed over.
Despite all the talk of the UNP and the troubles facing it, a little spoken about fact is that the SLFP is almost in the same predicament – neglected, unwanted. In addition to the UNPers who crossed over sitting pretty in government, the other movers and shakers in government come from an assortment of other parties such as the JHU, NFF, MEP, CP, EPDP etc. In fact, on close inspection, one finds that those who have the President’s ear are all from parties other than the SLFP. The President it seems is keeping a safe distance from his own party.
If any indication is required, the plight facing the SLFP’s Headquarters says it all. The present headquarters at Darley Road in Colombo 10 is in a dilapidated condition with little or no activity, while the new headquarters project in Battaramulla is reportedly at a standstill – all this while mega development projects are taking place all over the island. Except for the yearly convention that takes place, not much else seems to be happening in the first breakaway party of the UNP.
Internal power struggles that are obviously going on get little or no press coverage. It is apparent that General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena’s hands have more or less been tied by members of the Presidential family. Sirisena, one of the more senior members of the party is not one to give in easily and is holding on grimly.
On the other hand, Mahinda Rajapaksa with each passing day is proving to be more of an UNPer than even Ranil Wickremesinghe. Take for instance his pet projects – the Hambantota harbour, Norochcholai power project, Upper Kotmale, Southern highway, airport expressway – they are all UNP initiated projects. He has embraced the policies of the late President Premadasa albeit sans the all important checks and balances which the former president was renowned for. While back then the public sector would shudder at the mention of the former president’s name – where even ministry secretaries had to climb ladders to check on repairs — today it is the converse in a scenario where corruption rules at every level.
This is where Rajapaksa has gone wrong big time. Premadasa was a master at putting on big shows, yet there was a method in the man’s madness — for want of a better word — and it must be said that much of the splashing Premadasa did was more to the benefit of the people at least after the event like the mega Gam Udawas unlike the vulgar extravagance today where there is nothing for the people after the high budget events.
Mahinda Rajapaksa for all his socialist talk is putting the best of capitalists to shame. He is buying back big businesses like SriLankan Airlines, Shell gas etc. and is planning to use the stock market to sell the government’s stake to the public, no doubt making a tidy profit for the government in the process. He has also now made it possible for casinos to open up in all parts of the country. Import taxes have been slashed and foreign exchange restrictions lifted – all very capitalist in nature indeed.
When J.R. Jayewardene opened up the economy in 1977, he had in place the necessary safeguards to rein in the ‘robber barons’ who he famously invited in to the country. Over the years, in the name of ‘attracting investment’ many of those safeguards have been either diluted or removed in toto. So much so, the biggest growth segment in the books of the Board of Investment at present are Chinese and Indian restaurants and not the big corporations of the West as envisaged back in the day.
It is truly extraordinary that Rajapaksa has got away ushering in this new brand of capitalism while having in his ranks the Communist Party and the JVP breakaway, the so called Socialist NFF and of course the here-nor-there bikkhu-run JHU who for all intents and purposes see nothing and hear nothing when money talks.
The UNP are past masters in the game but Mahinda seems to be beating them at their own game. The grand old party’s strongest point has been its management capacity and more so when it came to the economy. The UNP was more akin to be run the way of a private corporation, which is why the leader of the party was endowed with almost infinite power when it came to matters of the party. With the right leader at the top the party machinery would be akin to a well run private corporation, operating with ruthless tenacity to increase its market share (voters) while all the time keeping things lean and mean in-house. To the UNP’s credit, it also gave adequate space for representation of every hue while doing this.
Up until Dingiri Banda Wijetunga took over the party leadership following the assassination of President Premadasa, this was the status quo at Sirikotha. Without an ineffective leader at the helm, the corporation simply collapses. Look at Sirikotha today and the proof is there for all to see.
Today the lean and mean corporation of yesterday that commanded a solid market share (voters) has turned into something like a government-run establishment (pun unintended), where inefficiency and lethargy are the order of the day with a dwindling market share.
Ranil Wickremesinghe being the corporate animal that he is and by far not the political variety by any stretch of the imagination, should know what he needs to do to reverse the trend however unpleasant it maybe to him personally, in the larger interest of party and country, which has much to benefit from a reborn UNP.
In the mean time, Happy Birthday Mahinda Rajapaksa. Bring on the kiributh.