Towards a new political culture | Daily News

Towards a new political culture

President Maithripala Sirisena is widely reported in the media as having stated that the UNP today was not what it was under its founder leader and first Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake. Not just the President, there would be many old timers who would hold the same view. Many had forgotten the pioneering role the Grand Old Party played in ushering Independence to the country. Even most party diehards would agree that the party had done little in drawing the attention of the present generation to this signal honour. Schoolchildren and others must be educated on this aspect.

Addressing a ceremony at the BMICH on Monday to commemorate four Senanayakes namely D.S., Dudley, R.G. and F.R. who played leading roles in securing Independence in 1948, President Sirisena went on to say that when he joined forces with the UNP in 2014 he was under the firm impression that the party was the same one founded by D.S. Senanayake, but he had learned differently. “The late D.S. Senanayake was patriotic and adopted homegrown agricultural policies. This is why the UNP became a great party. The UNP was built upon the visions of these great men. I hope the UNP would find greatness and become the real party that was founded by these leaders,” he said.

The President’s observation about the current UNP could be equally applied to his own party, the SLFP. He perhaps will be the first to admit the SLFP today is not exactly the same party that was founded by the former Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike who himself broke ranks with the UNP to form the new party. For all intents and purposes the Blues today have merged with the Greens, literally and metaphorically. It (the SLFP/UPFA) is part of the Government headed by the President, with the UNP as a leading partner.

In fact the SLFP, policy-wise, has come a long way since the Bandaranaike days starting from 1956. Upon assuming the Presidency in 1994, former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga lost no time in completely changing the outlook of the party. The concept of privatization, until then a bad word in the SLFP lexicon, was embraced with gusto by CBK who embarked on a programme of deregulation in tune with global trends at the time.

As promised on her campaign trail CBK sought to give the open economy a ‘human face’ whatever that may have meant, and made radical changes to the traditional SLFP way of doing things. Among her first tasks in Office was inviting back to the country the Anglo-Dutch Shell Company which was shown the door in the early sixties, and also the sale of ‘loss making’ state ventures, a course that was unthinkable during the hay-day of the SLFP.

She famously claimed that she, who at one time was a good socialist, would now be a good capitalist, which prompted one of her firebrand MPs Dullas Alahapperuma to remark in Parliament that “aanduwa vamata signal dala dakunata harawanawa” (the Government is signalling to the Left and turning to the Right). Not only that, CBK also profusely apologized to the nation for the Sinhala Only policy that deprived the rural youth a knowledge of English which held the key to the outside world.

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, too, for all his pretensions to being a true blue SLFPer, continued with the status quo and even ventured far afield against the entrenched policies of the party, such as when he attempted to fiddle with the EPF, a project that unfortunately culminated in the death of a youth.

Of course, what President Sirisena truly meant when he alluded to the departure of the UNP from the D.S. policies, no doubt, was the extent to which the party had drifted from the outlook of the early days. However, it must be borne in mind that political parties have to change their vision and mission in tune with the times. Politics is not a static phenomenon anywhere in the world. It is dynamic and vibrant, sometimes even controversial. Indeed, the Greens and Blues are not alone in this respect.

Both major political parties must however address the cancer of corruption. Former President J.R. Jayewardene publicly claimed that the reason he gave thumping salaries to his Ministers was to keep them away from corrupt acts. However, as it transpired, the higher salaries only made our politician greedier that led to them making money through crooked means.

Indeed, many wonder whether the political culture that is prevalent today has deviated widely from the policies and visions of the founding fathers of the various parties. It is through a thorough introspection and a change of this vicious culture where the worship of mammon takes precedence over service to the public that both the UNP and SLFP can do justice to their founder leaders.


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