The UNP at 72 | Page 2 | Daily News

The UNP at 72

The United National Party (UNP), which held its 72nd anniversary convention on Thursday, was founded two years before the country gained independence. The party played a crucial role in the struggle for independence from the British. Although initially mocked as an elitist “Uncle Nephew Party” by opponents, it has since transformed itself into a common man’s movement with a solid vote base.

Three years ago, the party embarked on a new journey that has never really been previously experienced in Sri Lanka – a union with its main political rival the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) to form a government of National Unity based in the principles of Good Governance.

In Prime Minister and UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, we have an astute politician who has realised that divisive party politics can only take the country backward. Party politics should not be seen as a force that can impede the country’s progress. Many thought of the idea of a Government of National Unity as an impossible dream. Despite certain ideological differences between the two parties and attempts by the Opposition to scuttle the union, it has worked well to bring positive results, from the restoration of basic freedoms to the active pursuit of reconciliation. Both President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe have been broadly committed to these efforts.

The UNP has always been a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural party that has never discriminated against the minorities. In fact, some of its most well-known stalwarts have been Tamil and Muslim. The LTTE assassinated a large number of leading UNP figures because of their avowed commitment to peace. The party has since been in the forefront of efforts to formulate a new Constitution that will resolve the National Question and bring all communities and religious groups together, for a truly Sri Lankan identity.

The party must now essentially look forward to the future in a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka. It is with this aim in mind that Prime Minister Wickremesinghe declared at Thursday’s Convention that he was actively grooming the next generation leaders of the party with a view to the future. Our politicians are notorious for looking only at the next election, but Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has always looked at the next generation like a true Statesman should.

In fact, some of the pivotal programmes of the Government, including Enterprise Sri Lanka and Vision 2025, are already looking beyond 2025-2030. In order to mould a more youthful party, the UNP must strengthen the grassroots base and also empower women politically. The UNP was one of the first parties to propose a higher allocation of nominations for women candidates. It has been able to attract many professional women for the hustings. The credit must go to the UNP leadership for nominating Mrs. Rosy Senanayake as the first ever woman mayor of Colombo, which is a sign of its commitment for the political and social empowerment of women.

The party faces the challenge of getting more youth on board, though this is by no means unique to the UNP. We must remember that both UNP and SLFP Governments have faced youth insurrections in the last 50 years. Addressing their concerns and frustrations is therefore vital, as is repelling their general mistrust of local politics. The healthy participation of youth at elections will be a boon for the country. We hope that parties and voters will give preference to youth, both men and women, at all upcoming polls because they can play a more dynamic role in the political sphere.

A technological focus will be the key to attracting youth. The UNP has always pioneered new technologies as a political party and as a governing force. For example, it was the first to issue e-membership cards to youth members. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has also introduced revolutionary ideas such as providing tablets for schoolchildren. With its centenary just 28 years away, innovation and technology should be a key focus for the UNP.

The UNP has faced many challenges from the very beginning, including stinging defeats, high profile defections and internal revolts, but the party has remained as a cohesive whole even as other parties splintered. In recent times, the formation of the Democratic United National Front (DUNF) by party heavyweights Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake was one of the biggest threats faced by the UNP, but today there is no trace of the DUNF. There is a lesson here for the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna too, which has now realised that personality cults cannot sustain a party, with the debacle of “Kolambata Janabalaya”.

The UNP, and indeed the SLFP, are not parties based on a single person’s personality and ideology which is a factor that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa seemed to have forgotten when he floated the idea of “Kolambata Janabalaya” as a vehicle to boost his son’s political image. For the UNP leadership, it is the party that matters, not individuals. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe amply demonstrated this when he encapsulated his plans for grooming the next level leaders who can take the party victoriously to 2046 and beyond.

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