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Looking beyond Uva polls


The government is treating the Jumbo party the way it is handling the Pinnawala elephants, the only difference being that, of the political pachyderms, it prefers to grab grown-ups capable of pulling loads for it.

With days to go for the Uva PC polls, the government has engineered a spate of crossovers from the UNP in the Southern Province. The Southern PC has been dissolved. President Mahinda Rajapaksa's strategy is clear. A few months ago, we said in these columns that the Southern PC polls would immediately precede a snap presidential election. Before the war was over, the President had been banking on the South to provide him with the much needed sonic boom to clear electoral barriers in the presidential race. Today, he has won the war and the cumulative impact of his victory over terrorism and his popularity in the South is sure to take him to unprecedented heights in politics within the next few months, if he does not ruin things for himself. Paradoxically, the UNP is busy doing President Rajapaksa's election campaign in the South! With such an Opposition hell bent on committing political hara-kiri, he needs no friends to propel his party to power. The UNP has suffered, nay it has caused itself to suffer, another debilitating split. One of the main pillars of the party in the South has given way with its strongman Justin Galappaththi and a group of other prominent UNP representatives breaking ranks. Galappaththi accuses the UNP leadership of having smoked him out by replacing him arbitrarily with someone else as the Matara District leader of the party. When his replacement was announced a few weeks ago in Matara, some UNP stalwarts close to the party leadership were roughed up by a group of irate UNPers demanding intra-party democracy, justice and fair play.

Thus, it may be seen that the present crisis in the UNP, too, boils down to a chronic absence of internal democracy and lack of transparency in the party's decision making process. One is reminded of the predicament of the SLFP after its crushing defeat in 1977. It became faction ridden and too enfeebled to take on a seemingly monolithic UNP regime at that time and as a result democracy took a severe beating at the hands of 'dictatorial' governments of Presidents JRJ and Premadasa without anyone to stand up to them. President Chandrika Kumaratunga's government, which was elected in 1994, also came to be characterised by arrogance of power and a manifestation of dictatorial tendencies within a few years of its formation owing to the absence of a strong Opposition capable of rallying public support for its cause.

The current Opposition and the so-called civil society are crying blue murder about what they term the country's journey towards a dictatorship. Yes, they must remain alert as watchdogs of democracy but at the same time they ought to campaign against intra-party dictatorships which are equally inimical to democracy. For, a political organisation devoid of internal democracy cannot be expected to help bring about external democracy. They cannot make a nice pudding with rotten eggs, can they?

The SLFP has, since its inception, stood accused of family bandyism under the Bandaranaikes as well as the Rajapaksas. Two of its stalwarts Mangala Samaraweera and Sripathy Sooriarachchi fell out with the Rajapaksas and voted with their feet. The UNP may have broken free from dynastic politics, by accident rather than by design, but it has become a prisoner of the party leader under its present constitution. Or, in other words, the UNP is the party leader and vice versa thanks to unbridled powers vested in him. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the UNP to get rid of its leader! As a result, dissenters are leaving the party in a huff by the dozen. The JVP, which is vehemently campaigning for external democracy, is also accused of being run by a cabal of hardliners averse to dissent and change. A group of its prominent members including parliamentarians and provincial councillors have decamped in protest.

Opposition parties made strategic blunders both collectively and severally as regards the national war effort. Their political miscalculations and ill-advised utterances which left a bad taste in many a mouth let the government monopolise victory, which will inevitably pay political dividends at future elections in a big way, as will be seen in Uva shortly and in the South within the next few weeks. Thereafter, early next year, we will witness the incumbent president emerge far more powerful after securing a second term and bolstering his power at a snap general election with an incapacitated Opposition and a pliant Parliament not capable of posing a challenge to him.

It is in the second term of presidency that the need for belling the executive cats usually arises but the problem is that there won't be anyone intrepid and equal to the task in the Opposition. Jumbos will be licking their wounds (like the baby elephants 'abducted' from Pinnawala) with the Bell Boys lying spread-eagled.

The Opposition had better get its act together and brace for future risks and challenges instead of letting out hysterical cries and passing the blame for its failure on to others.

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