Party reforms | Daily News

Party reforms

Both major political parties, the UNP and SLFP, are in reform mode. The Greens are in the process of a major overhaul, with several changes in party office bearers while new faces are entrusted with added responsibility. The SLFP too is to undergo major reforms, as indicated by President Maithripala Sirisena at the party May Day rally in Batticaloa. Addressing the crowds, the President said the party will undergo a comprehensive reform drive and he is committed in transforming it to be more people centric.

Of course the election set back suffered by both parties on February 10 has hastened this reform process and it (the election results) could well be a blessing in disguise in that it has given an opportunity to the Greens and Blues to mend their ways and work towards regaining lost ground by implementing pro-people policies and take measures to ease the cost of living burden which proved decisive at the polls.

Both parties have undergone reforms following election debacles in the past and made spectacular comebacks, the most famous being the success achieved by JRJ, turning around things to win the 1977 election by obtaining 140 plus seats for the UNP after the party was reduced to a mere 18 seats at 1970 poll. A similar feat was achieved by the SLFP, too, after it was reduced to a pathetic 8 seats in 1977, with CBK winning the Presidential election by over 60%, although it had to remain in the wilderness for 17 long years before success came its way.

Be that as it may, reforms, for the sake of reforms, will always not bring the desired results. Both parties should do a clear introspection and be prepared to take some hard decisions. One need not have to drive the point home that both sides have made some costly blunders during the three years of the cohabitation government thus far and any reforms that are to be undertaken should address these core issues that has distanced the public away from the government.

The reforms should not be cosmetic but a genuine endeavour that will convince the people that the parties have turned the corner. When JRJ undertook the task of reforming the UNP after its defeat he changed the whole outlook of the party which up until then was branded a capitalist entity run by an elite cabal. He, along with seasoned politicians like Premadasa, Gamini D., traversed the length and breadth of the country interacting with the rural folk and thereby changed whole outlook and image of the party. It short JRJ re-branded the UNP in a way that the party gained acceptance with the common man.

It is not clear the type of reforms that President Sirisena has in mind for the Blues. He says that he will make the party more people centric implying that it will go back to its populist policies of handouts and giveaways with the accent laid on an indigenous economy. He is on record stating that certain economic policies of the UNP has made the government unpopular with the masses and hence the reversal suffered at the local government elections.

However, it will be advisable if no wholesale changes in the current economic structure is contemplated. SLFP governments in the party's early years were firm advocates of state driven enterprises and a closed economy which frowned on borrowing from international lending agencies. This led to economic stagnation and shortages and poor quality products in the name of import substitution that categorized the 1970-77 Sirima Bandaranaike government.

To her credit CBK broke the mould and turned the inward looking SLFP policies on their head after she took the reins in 1994 .What is more, she not only continued with the much reviled market economy but went ahead with the UNP's privatization programme with such zest that may have even made the Greens blush. She also famously proclaimed that she who was once a good Marxist would now be a good capitalist which elicited the response from Dullas Alahapperuma in parliament that aanduwa vamata signal dala dakunata harawanawa the government is signalling to the Left and turning Right. CBK also went further and re-invited the Shell Company which was booted out of the country by her mother during her first stint as Prime Minister in the early sixties.

It is certain that President Sirisena will not want to roll back the years and go back to the old economic policies of the SLFP that were rejected by the people in 1977. Whatever reforms he has in mind, it is hoped, will not be a wholesale change in the open economy. The world has undergone a huge transformation since the sixties and the seventies and even once diehard socialist countries such as Russia, China and even Cuba are today advocates of the market economy.

True, the open economy is not without its flaws, marked by unequal distribution of wealth, glaring disparity between the haves and have nots, waste, corruption etc. But these can be tackled on their own. There can be no tampering with the status quo. 


 

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