SLPP VERSUS UNP PRESIDENTIAL PROSPECTS AND SAJITH P’S HAMARTIA
Posted on August 10th, 2019

By Rohana R. Wasala

(‘Hamartia’ is the fatal flaw that leads to the downfall of the tragic hero in classical Greek Tragedy; it is Greek for ‘missing the mark’.)

The artificially sensationalised controversy within the UNP ranks about the authenticity of the party deputy leader Sajith Premadasa’s educational qualifications in the evening twilight of its barely legitimate rule is a strangely anticlimactic, but justly retributive, reversal of its unbroken mudslinging campaign against the Rajaksas whose democratic return to power they have been determined to forestall by hook or by crook. The controversial 19th Amendment was primarily intended to keep them out of power for the foreseeable future. The calling into question of Sajith Premadasa’s academic attainments is actually much ado about nothing provoked by the heated leadership tussle between two camps within the party, the reactionary jaded old guard clinging to its hereditary ‘ownership’ of the party and the not so progressive ‘Young Turks’ (though they hardly have any passionate intention to bring about revolutionary change that would qualify them for that honourable title) trying to make it less inimical to the rising nationalist spirit of the electorate. But it promoted pro-Premadasa propaganda as a negative marketing strategy by giving him a little boost to his presidential nomination bid.

As a nonpartisan patriotic Sri Lankan, I believe that Sajith Premadasa has a historic role to play at this, the most crucial, a moment in national politics since independence, although he is not personally equipped for that role yet. Until he is able to execute that role successfully, his attempts, if he finds a chance to make them, at winning the executive presidency or executive premiership will be in vain, and his hopes will remain mere dreams. Though eventually, Premadasa could have an enviable future, right now, it is doubtful if he should even dream of it. However, he should not feel demoralized or distracted by his intra-party rival’s/rivals’ canard that he doesn’t even have the GCE OL qualification meant to disorient him, because none other leaders in the UNP could offer a credible challenge to him. Having said that, I need to add that I, for one, do not for a moment think that either he or any other candidate nominated by the UNP or by an alliance led by the UNP will stand a chance of defeating Gotabhaya Rajapaksa or any other nominee proposed as an alternative candidate by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the unlikely event of GR is not nominated as a result of the malicious myth propagated by detractors that he would be unpopular among Tamil and Muslim minority voters. 

Though a good formal education is a valuable asset for a presidential aspirant to possess, one could perform successfully as a prime minister or a president without having high educational qualifications to flaunt, as D.S. Senanayake, Sirima Bandaranaike, and his own father Ranasinghe Premadasa demonstrated in the past. Sajith apparently does have adequate educational qualifications. Whether he has them or not is not important. He cannot be unaware of the important complementary role he has to play in the immediately emerging transitional context to ensure the survival of Sri Lanka as a single independent sovereign state that is a safe home for all the communities. The geopolitical vulnerability of Sri Lanka’s geographical location is a formidable challenge to face, but a sovereign nation has no alternative but to fight to survive. In that context, the role that history is assigning him is different from that of serving as the next executive president or premier, for which, in any case, he is not at all likely to be elected. To assume the role that is actually awaiting him, he needs to subject himself to a complete personality transformation, in addition  to modernizing his party’s fossilized political ideology so as to make it more pro-Sri Lanka and less pro-West, and more nationalistic (in the positive sense that the term is invested within the current Sri Lankan political context), and less communalistic and less pre judgemental towards the majority Sinhalese community; the UNP must give up its traditional complacency about the Sinhalese majority and it stop taking the Sinhalese Buddhists for granted, which they have done since independence.

As to Sajith P’s educational qualifications, the controversy is ill-founded. It used to be an established tradition (I don’t know if this is the case now) that British schools and universities admit the offspring of powerful political leaders of the countries they earlier dominated as an imperial power. The purpose of this was obvious:  it was to perpetuate their cultural and political influence in those countries through them. Sajith may not have got his local GCE OL qualification, but is sure to have got its equivalent in Britain. He may have also followed his university education at the prestigious London School of Economics with the same aplomb he seems to have displayed at the public school level there (he was a class monitor at school, captained a school cricket team, etc.); it may also be true that he was actually taken ill about the time the final exams were held at the university. UK universities do not penalise their satisfactorily well-performing undergraduate students by refusing to award them degrees for succumbing to ill health at the time of the final exams. They award them ‘aegrotat’ degrees when the students fail to sit the exams due to illness. The meaning of aegrotat (Latin, literally, ‘He is ill’), according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is:

1. a medical certificate testifying that a student is unable to attend lectures or examinations as a result of illness

2.the unclassified university degree granted to a candidate who is prevented by illness from attending examinations 

It is awarded to a student who has been recognized as a potentially successful candidate on the assumption that s/he would have passed the exam if s/he had not fallen ill. So, Sajith P’s aegrotat degree is not actually a disqualification for him, though it is hardly a qualification either. The fact that he doesn’t demonstrate any deep knowledge about economics or politics or any high level of intellectual ability in his speeches or in his general performance as a presumably ambitious politician is a different matter, though it is not a non-negative reflection on him. Unfortunately, however, of late, he has begun to impress this fact on his captive audiences with every appearance he makes, and every speech he delivers, which means that his chances of eventually making it in politics at least in the future are receding, not exactly a prospect to be cherished.

But he need not worry if he is able to take notice and adopt remedial measures in order to avoid being overtaken by a younger and wiser person in the party. Sajith Premadasa is the son of former President Ranasinghe Premadasa who genuinely cared for the poor and did much to ease their lot within the framework of the open market economic model that his former leader and predecessor J.R. Jayawardane had brought in. But Sajith P is not cut from the same cloth as his father. The late R. Premadasa came from an underprivileged social background and had great empathy with the people of that class. He was not my ideal political leader, and I detested some features of his rule when he was in power. Yet he was a politician with certain good leadership qualities: He had a distinct vision; he followed a disciplined lifestyle dictated by his commitment to work; he was a good communicator and was outspoken about what he believed in; he inspired trust in his leadership and self-confidence among his followers; he had an instinctive knack for finding and employing persons with talent to work for him even among trusted followers of his political opponents; he demanded and got the best out of state functionaries serving under him, and personally enforced discipline among them; he didn’t waver in his decision making, although some of his decisions had disastrous consequences including his own assassination (which showed that he was not without naivety, nevertheless); and he was a creative person and even wrote a novel, which was later turned into a film. He brought his literary creativity to statecraft in the form of  his innovative practical solutions to crucial problems such as implementing a new housing scheme for the poor, trying to prevent level crossing accidents by installing low cost bamboo gates as an ad hoc measure, or devising ways to take development to the villages, and so on. He had to do these things within the broadly Colombo-centred neo-liberal economic model favoured and followed by the capitalist UNP.

Incidentally, more than a decade later, a much younger and more refined and more humane Mahinda Rajapaksa showed that he too possessed those leadership qualities plus a graceful generous nature and applied them more benignly and more successfully under worse constraints than the senior Premadasa faced. But naivety was a common factor between them: it cost Premadasa his life, and the other his presidency. Since J.R. Jayawardane was a decent party leader, Premadasa rose to the top in the UNP more smoothly than Rajapaksa did in the SLFP under the begrudging and bitchy Chandrika Bandaranaike. It was reported that when Sajith Premadasa met Mahinda Rajapaksa at a personally oppressive moment for him in the UNP, during the pre-2015 Rajapaksa government, he advised him to be patient and bide his time in the party, without getting frustrated for he had his future there. Rajapaksa used to stress the importance of the UNP being there as one of the two main national parties, along with the SLFP which he led. The historic role that I am suggesting for Sajith Premadasa is to do with the preservation of the UNP as one of the two main parties in a successful two-party system (the other being the newly emergent SLPP in place of the virtually obsolete SLFP under Sirisena), where bipartisan compromise, necessitated by national interest, obviates too much dependence on communalist minority parties for the purpose of forming a stable government (the ground reality is that these communalist parties now do not represent the vast majority of the ordinary members of the Tamil and Muslim minority communities, who are now with the Sinhalese majority).

The success of Ranasinghe Premadasa’s programs was constrained, among other things, by corruption, which of course, has bedeviled more or less all the governments to date, particularly since 1978. Introducing the free-market economic model in that year, President J. R. Jayawardane of the UNP, declared Let the robber barons come”, cynically warning or just predicting that the new economic system would allow businesses to resort to unscrupulous methods to increase profits. Since any government’s development activities are inevitably connected with these, opportunities for corruption in ‘high places’ are galore. Yet, Jayawardane saw advantages in his new economic model for Sri Lanka that, he thought, overshadowed the possibility of the governments having to succumb to the pressures applied on them by the ruthless business class to serve its own interests at the cost of national interest (something that is being experienced at its worst by Sri Lankans today under the current regime, its latest politics and economy-related imports being international crooks to run important financial institutions, foreign interference in internal affairs, terrorism and garbage).  

In addition to this inherent corruptibility of the system he participated in ushering in and later inherited, the senior Premadasa had to beat innumerable odds to meet the challenges from the elitist class, which was the immediate successor to the departing British colonials, that sponsored the UNP. In his undeclared struggle against the elite, he turned his lower-class origin to a strength, rather than a disadvantage (He used to say that poverty was actually a strength because it gave the poor the passion and the courage to fight to escape their helpless situation).

It has become a popular blame game ploy used against those who are set to rescue the nation-state from further destabilization and destruction that is being adopted by the JVP and and a handful of recent upstarts like lawyer Nagananda for their own purposes to attribute the country’s current politically and economically ruinous situation and its strategically exaggerated developmental backwardness over the past seventy years of independence to a single alleged cause: the unstoppable corruption and general depravity of all the politicians who have been ruling, generally, as members of the two main parties the UNP and the SLFP taking turns. (Significantly, they avoid talking about the much more important causes of Sri Lanka’s worsening fate such as the thirty-year civil war, brazen foreign interference in its internal affairs, and the related, recently introduced Wahhabist terrorism.) This indiscriminate attack on all past politicians and all the current 225 MPs seems to be gospel truth for the least informed members of the millennial generation (18 – 40-year-olds), but it is a fallacious argument thought up and peddled by the JVP for over fifty years now (Lalkantha, JVP’s politburo member and well-known trade union leader, publicly admitted the hollowness of that argument recently); the same specious reasoning has been picked up by a few others equally innocent of a general knowledge about how parliamentary democracy has malfunctioned, particularly after the 1956 watershed, much much more due to other potent factors including the communalism of  some minority politicians than to corruption, which itself remains uncontrollable, at least partly, as a result of minority politicians having the upper hand in parliament. All genuine attempts made by consecutive governments for the restoration of full national independence in terms of governance, economic development, cultural resurgence, education through the medium of native languages, and so on, with a view to creating a truly egalitarian society where all communities are treated without discrimination of any form,have always met with limited success due to the few powerful communalists among minority politicians failing to cooperate; often they have exploited the competition between the two main national parties, the UNP, and the SLFP to dictate policies in parochial communalistic, rather than, national interest. The virulence of minoritarianism in parliament is such that, assisted by other factors, it has indirectly reduced the SLFP to a mere wraithlike rump already, and it is leading the UNP (government) around by the nose. This reflects the parlous state of parliamentary democracy in Sri Lanka today, which has left the vast non-communalist minded ordinary citizens that form at least 95% of the population virtually silenced and leaderless. The few communalists there are rule the roost.

It is up to the two main parties to put an end to this anomaly immediately and to reverse the catastrophic course that Sri Lanka is being forced to take. Of these the almost dead SLFP (hence described as ‘wraithlike’ above) seems to have no future unless integrated into the newly formed SLPP, which now represents the ‘left of center’ alternative to the ‘rightist’ UNP in the roughly two-party system that has evolved. A good feature for democracy in this setup is that there are no significant differences between their political ideologies except for the UNP’s Westward leaning neoliberal economic policies and the SLPP’s, as can be presumed, relatively independent nationalist stance in that respect. At this critical hour, considering the ground realities, the SLPP, but not the UNP, is capable of producing the national leader the country needs and this candidate is going to be officially announced today, August 11, 2019, and he is most probably going to be Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Since Sri Lankans are not mad enough to undergo the Yahapalana experience a second-time Sajith Premadasa or any other UNP candidate will not be a formidable opponent to Gotabhaya (or his, at the moment, unlikely substitute). The election bid of every possible UNP candidate will be inevitably undermined by the stigma of their association with the destructive Yahapalanaya.

Meanwhile, the UNP sorely needs a leader like the late Premadasa for its survival, but Sajith is not capable of filling that vacancy, primarily because he lacks the leadership qualities that his father possessed. This is because, instead of trying to appeal to the people as a capable leader of the same mould as his father, he tries to impress them, mistaking them for a captive electorate mesmerized by the personal charisma that he imagines he has, by his haughtiness of manner, lack of empathy with others, and his apparent superiority complex. Sajith’s public persona since the death of his father has betrayed these personality deficits. Such a person is not fit to lead a political party, much less the country. However, ordinary people have usually remained ignorant of these things and been prepared to be hoodwinked. That is the nature of popular democracy. At least, this was the case until January 2015. But four and a half years of Yahapalanaya must have knocked some sense into their heads by now. 

However, I for one, think that Sajith P need not depend on his father’s name or fame alone to play the role that he is destined to play, as it were, and he’d better not dream of becoming president overnight. There is something more important for him to do before that. It is up to him to correctly assess his importance or rather his current unimportance actually, to begin with; then, he needs to understand what that role is (as hinted at above), and play it to the best of his ability, for his own good, and his party’s, and most importantly, for the good of the country. As a well-wisher, I think that he must bide his time until he is able to claw his way up to the top of the party and mark time until the SLPP restores the country to normality over the next few years.

These are the writer’s subjective personal opinions offered for critical reception for what they worth with malice to none, but with love to all Sri Lankans, who are patiently waiting for a democratic reversal of the catastrophic results of the foreign engineered regime change conspiracy of 2015. 

2 Responses to “SLPP VERSUS UNP PRESIDENTIAL PROSPECTS AND SAJITH P’S HAMARTIA”

  1. Ananda-USA Says:

    Sri Lanka is ON TRACK to be GREAT AGAIN!

    Pohottuwa Convention accepts Mahinda Rajapaksa as Party Leader and Gothabhaya Rajapaksa as Candidate for President!

    JAYAWEWA! JAYAWEWA! JAYEN JAYAWEWA!

    Ratna Deepa, Janma Bhumi
    Lanka Deepa Vijaya Bhumi
    Mey Apey Udaaru Wu
    Maathru Bhumiyayi!
    Maathru Bhumiyayi!

  2. Ananda-USA Says:

    Sri Lanka is ON TRACK to be GREAT AGAIN!

    Pohottuwa Convention accepts Mahinda Rajapaksa as Party Leader and Gothabhaya Rajapaksa as Candidate for President!

    JAYAWEWA! JAYAWEWA! JAYEN JAYAWEWA!

    Ratna Deepa, Janma Bhumi
    Lanka Deepa Vijaya Bhumi
    Mey Apey Udaaru Wu
    Maathru Bhumiyayi!
    Maathru Bhumiyayi!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

 

 


Copyright © 2019 LankaWeb.com. All Rights Reserved. Powered by Wordpress