appears that the on-again off-again struggle to lead the United National
Party is once again heating up to its inevitable, lukewarm anti-climax.
But this time, might there be a difference in the outcome of the battle
to be declared the Elephas Maximus, the great elephant?
Not that anybody seems to care anymore. The leadership of the Grand
Old Party seems almost irrelevant, as the jumbo vote gets smaller and
smaller and the party itself loses significance in the greater scheme of
It is indicative of the abyss in to which the UNP has fallen that its
leader went to London to sort out differences between two factions
within its UK branch.
Ranilís visit to the British section is of significance because it
shows (a) the extent to which divisions are rending the party apart and
(b) his priorities: would the leader not have considered it infra dig to
have gone to resolve conflict in the UNP branch in, say,
The recent Local Government elections seem to have been the last
straw which broke the pachydermís back. The public observed the
spectacle of the leaders of UNP lists simply giving up the fight to win
control of Local Councils and turning their resources to simply getting
However, the debacle seems to have galvanised the Opposition within
the GOP to the leadership of Ranil Wickremesinghe, so much so that they
took advantage of the absence abroad of the Grand Wizard to creep out of
their mouse holes and talk about leadership alternatives.
The rogue elephants were in must and were ready to challenge the
alpha male no sooner than he left the jungle. And even in the chief
tuskerís absence, the young bulls remain circumspect.
Their modus operandi would not have been out of place in the novels
of James Clavell - each Daimyo scheming to be Kampaku or even Shogun,
but without ruffling the current Kampakuís feathers.
Thus it came about that the perennial UNP leader of tomorrow, Sajith
Premadasa, called upon the venerable Karu Jayasuriya - yesterdayís
leader of tomorrow - to seize control and unify the party.
Now, people might have serious reservations about Karuís suitability
for the party leadership. This is not so much because he led the
crossover group in the aftermath of the UNPís defeat in 2005, and then
decided to cross back again.
Lack of policies
It is more to do with his inability to judge a situation on its
merits. For example, after Ranilís defeat in 2005, he offered to step
down. At that point, Karu protested his loyalty, only to mount a
challenge to the leadership once Ranil withdrew his offer because of the
lack of takers.
And of course it is not far from everybodyís minds that, at the last
General Election, Karu came second in his district in UNP preferences,
behind the novice starlet-politician Upeksha Swarnamali, popularly known
as ĎPabhaí from her role in the soap opera.
There is no reason to doubt Sajithís sincerity. However, given Karuís
Kamikaze record, Sajith would be less than human if he did not expect
the other to self-detonate and destroy all the obstacles in the path of
the younger Premadasaís rise to the leadership. Of course, Sajith is
simply not leadership material. He is borne by the support base
engendered by his father, but neither Premadasa Seniorís charisma nor
his diligence appears to have rubbed off on Junior.
Another young bull, Ranjith Maddumabandara, was more vociferous in
demanding that Karu be given the mantle. But then, he has nothing to
lose, having been sidelined relentlessly by the leadership.
Far more serious, from Ranilís point of view, is the outburst by Rosy
Senanayake, who last week laid it on with a trowel to the press. She
said that the reasons for the UNPís cataclysmic defeat at the recent
elections were lack of policies or strategies for victory and lethargy.
Ranilís leadership, she claimed, was ineffective. The UNP was losing
the support of the minorities because of its lack of engagement. It was
losing the support of its own bloc vote.
The neophyte MP (who nevertheless calls herself a Ďstalwartí) is the
symbol of the corporate sector which is the UNPís very foundation. She
also represents the TV reality show aspect of todayís politics.
Consider her background. As a young employee of the Tea Propaganda
Board, Rosy was Miss Sri Lanka, winning the Miss Asia Pacific title but
not gaining a place at the Miss World competition. She later became the
first Mrs World.
She went on to become a household name by being the advertising face
of Anchor milk food products - the archetypal fantasy mother of every TV
viewer. It was this media exposure, rather than her knowledge of
politics, which gained her a place in Parliament.
But then, this is the reality of todayís media-centred world. It
should not be forgotten that Ronald Reagan became President of the USA
mainly because of his familiar, rugged look and his thespian ability to
give emotional voice to a lack-lustre programme.
Rosy made one particularly interesting statement. While complaining
that she was no longer on her partyís working committee and that capable
people were being denied key places, she said that the majority of the
voters were women and UNP should have used the strength of the women.
Historically the UNP has been very much a menís club, with no place
for women leaders, but that could change. After all, that bastion of
masculinity, Britainís Tory party chose Maggie Thatcher as leader.
In the wild, the actual leadership is given to a herd by its
matriarch. Could politics copy nature and a cow elephant become the
UNPís Elepha Maxima, the Great She-Elephant? Certainly Ranil and the
rest of the UNP leadership hopefuls should ponder on this.