Thursday, April 26, 2012

Slinging mud against each other in public – a Sri Lankan story

The disagreements within a political party in Sri Lanka that are played out for all to witness in public seems to be an accepted norm in the Island. It is well known that in Sri Lanka there are effectively two camps competing for UNP acceptance with two very different strategies. With regard to the governing UPFA coalition this takes place to a greater degree in private, so as not to jeopardize the positions of power they have attained from which they can maximize personal wealth, a hallmark of that Government. 

However lately it has spilt over to the mainstream news media, such as the very public fight of Presidential favorite Mervyn Silva and the Kelaniya Pradeshiya Sabha members of the UPFA, hurling accusations and counter accusations against each other.

In a relative sense, an opposition tends to air their dirty linen in public and government tends to keep in private, so it is quite normal to have this current trend as the former is for the purposes of jockeying for power and leadership, which they hope will lead to their being the future leaders in the country, and the latter due to the importance of unity for the sake of continuance in power, something those in power hate to give up, under democratic norms or otherwise.

Interestingly the fractious state of the UPFA is now raising its ugly head, where the undercutting and backstabbing is about to reach a crescendo. To give you some examples, Bertie Premalal and his mob in Anuradhapura are frothing mad that they got few of the Deyata Kirula contracts largesse that went to Govt. favorites in the South. Now I understand he is opposed to the proposal to have the NCP elections a full year before its term expires, as he is either worried of losing, due to the thuggery blamed on this leadership, or the fact that he will be called upon to give up his powers due to new favorites about to be appointed there, and given a fillip!!

A cock-up recently created by the Hela Urumaya, where people’s emotions were inflamed by the storming of a Muslim place of worship by a mob, led by Buddhist Clergy, has created a rift with all the Muslim leaders in the UPFA coalition, that is likely to escalate further after Friday’s nationwide hartal which the President is trying desperately to stop, by making his usual promises which he will not keep. I do not believe that he will be able to offer carrots to his horses, as they know now they are poison carrots!

Another incident, where the total power over the disbursement of funds rests with ruling family, has resulted in many out of it being disgusted, by the very impotent status they have in their own ministries, where they cannot do anything they believe is worthwhile, due to their powers being clipped, and the handpicked political appointee, Ministry secretary effectively runs the show on behalf of the ruling family, much to the disgust of that particular line ministry.

Then there are the stalwart SLFPers who are frothing with the leadership for giving plum positions to MPs who have crossed over from other parties, and who want to teach the leadership a good lesson. There are apparently over 60 desperate to jump to the UNP camp at the first sign of instability, and UNP are not keen right now to steer the sinking ship, until it is sunk, before they take it over, as otherwise the people will not be able to see the administration for what it truly is – incompetent!

The UNP expect to be in a very strong position by end of 2012, so that they will force a general election, by the use of the turncoats. The die-hard UNPers will oppose taking these people in, but the leadership being more pragmatic do realize that without them it is only a touch and go situation. I am firmly opposed to this ability to change parties, as it is patently unfair on the electors who voted for a different philosophy who must necessarily be appalled that their choice has been compromised. The only way to reasonably resolve it under our current practice of the legal precedent that allows jumpers, so the electors do not get cheated, is by an immediate general election, once the whole bloc walks across the aisle, as happened quite a few times in the recent post colonial history of Sri Lanka.

The problem for the jumpers is if they can win from the other party. That fact is what prevents them from acting on their consciences. This gives rise to completely disaffected elected persons, pretending to endorse their leaders for personal gain and effectively are unwilling members who do not wish to give up their office, something in the Sri Lanka context gives them power, prestige and permission to purloin people’s property.

Coming back to the open warfare within the UNP, it is a great excuse for the UNP old guard to sit and wait for power to fall at their feet, not to do anything essential to chuck the rogues out of power at the moment. They can blame their inaction on the lack of party unity. In my opinion it is just hogwash. No matter what the internal battle is for leadership in the UNP, the people on the ground who must organize their areas, should really try and deflect any criticisms as being irrelevant to building the base and organize the party membership throughout the land.

In conclusion, in-fighting is the norm, managing it requires enormous skill, and the method of tackling it is the true indication of gallant leadership, if it can be turned round within a short space of time to an electoral victory.

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