Thursday, November 20, 2014

UNP Needs to have a Primary Election

The United National party has been accused by its opponents of blindly following the American line of thought in many of its policies. In retrospect, it can be said that the UNP has had a strong western-tilt in most of its history. However, the UNP leadership has found it convenient to use the western ideals to its advantage, while discarding them when necessary.

The last time the UNP held power between late 2001 to April 2004, the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe showed a strongly pro-western outlook. President Chandrika Kumaratunga took control of three Cabinet Ministries in late 2003 while Wickremesinghe was in the US. Upon his return, Wickremesinghe maintained that he is ready to face the challenge, stating that he has “the support of President Bush.” While he might have intended something else, the meaning was obvious and he was torn to pieces by the opposition parties for his slavishness to the White House.

However, while he has been an admirer of the west, Wickremesinghe has been unable to institute the values of democracy within his political party. Wickremesinghe’s rivals in the party have long accused him of ruling the party through handpicked higher organs and democracy is lacking within the party.

The announcement of the presidential election has given a new twist to the leadership saga of the UNP. The National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) started a campaign against the executive presidency and then made it clear that it will be seeking to put forward a common candidate against President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The common candidate project then hit a challenge when UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe indicated that he will contest the election.
Who will the UNP choose and will he have the support to be the common candidate

While Wickremesinghe has a sizeable backing in his party, his leadership is not totally unchallenged even now, after the apparent reconciliation between him and Sajith Premadasa. Meanwhile his leadership is questioned outside the UNP within the opposition with virtually all other parties reluctant to accept him as the ‘common candidate.’

His candidacy was termed as a step to jeopardize the common candidate project, with the NMSJ Chairman Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera and the Janatha Vimukthi Permauna (JVP) vocally against the Wickremesinghe candidacy. While Wickremesinghe has not officially stopped (he did not officially announce in the first place) his campaign, he has not been stridently insisting on his candidacy in public.

Meanwhile other names like Karu Jayasuriya and Sajith Premadasa have emerged, even names of government ministers are cited as possible common candidates. While Jayasuriya is likely to attract groups outside the party, his support within the party is a matter of contention. The same could be said about Sajith Premadasa. The opposition still has not been clear as to who will become the common candidate.

One thing is clear. Any common candidate without the support of the UNP will not be able to win the next presidential election. Also, if Wickremesinghe is the candidate, he will not be a common candidate of the opposition as many outside his party and even some of those within his party are reluctant to support him.

The UNP should take up the case boldly and select their candidate in a democratic manner. If all the party members, rather than the Executive Committee or the Working Committee, decides on a candidate, then the party can make a case to the ‘common opposition.’ The UNP should be competent to carry a national level primary election to decide on the candidate. Any party member should be able to propose his or her name so that party members could vote for their preference.

If the majority of the party decides to support Ranil Wickremesinghe, the opposition will have to acknowledge his popularity within the UNP. Whoever emerges victorious in such an American style primary within the UNP shall be in a stronger position to make a claim as the common candidate and challenge President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Any candidate who is elected by a less transparent mechanism will be less powerful to make a case for the party and for the common opposition as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment