How to revive the ‘Grand Old Party’

Published : 8:38 am  May 16, 2017 | No comments so far |  | 


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What the next generation of leaders say


The United National Party (UNP), the grand old party was formed six and a half decades ago with the leadership of the late Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake. His son late Dudley Senanayake took over as the party leader after his death. This is despite the expectations of people such as J. R. Jayewardene and Sir John Kothalawala who had prime ministerial ambitions and the striving to hold prominent positions in the party. The first UNP breakaway group, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) emerged in July 1951 when S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike and a few others left the party. In the midst of this situation the leadership actually changed, Dudley resigned from the party leadership and the premiership in the 1950s paving the way for Sir John to take over but made a comeback in 1960. Dudley continued as a leader till 1973. Then it was JR’s turn to become the leader. However the dispute between JR and Dudley almost split the party. In the mid eighties another breakaway group led by Rukman Senanayake left the party and formed the Eksath Lanka Janatha Party (ELJP)   
In 1988 trouble started brewing once again when with Gamini Dissanayake, Lalith Athulathmudali and R. Premadasa were on a race to become Mr Jayewardene’s successor. It was Premadasa who ultimately became Mr. Jayewardene’s successor. The UNP suffered a big blow perhaps the worst in its history, when Lalith and Gamini left the party to form another party, and formed the Democratic United National Front (DUNF).  Gamini returned in 1993 after Mr. Premadasa’s death and was on his way to become the party leader when he was killed by the LTTE. This paved the way for the present leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to take over as the leader. His tenure however was turbulent with a series of electoral losses and a large number of party seniors leaving the party. In spite of all that the party had come back to power after 10 years other than the short stint in power from 2001 to 2004. Mr. Wickremesinghe’s government formed in 2001 was defeated in April 2004. UNP faced a hard time since 2004 when several prominent members started leaving the party from time to time. Today the party is in power and questions are raised on how to consolidate its position. Mr. Wickremesinghe has stated a few times that the time had come for the party to think of future leaders. After these statements the re-organization of the party had come to the focus once again. However new ideas have been mooted this time. One such suggestion is to appoint a CEO.   
Daily Mirror talked to some of the young UNP MPs in order to get insides to their sentiments on the so-called re-organization.   
The majority of young MPs were in favour of appointing a CEO and to modernize the party. There were a few who favoured a change of positions but many of them were non committal on giving a position to Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka. Almost all the young MPs sounded alarmed on the publicity machinery of the UNP which they called a failure, and stressed for some effective mechanism to address the issue.   
Most of the young MPs were of the opinion that grooming of future leaders is a long term issue as the present leader can go on for some more years. Some want a balanced party where both the seniors and the younger ones can play a role, and thereby future leaders could be groomed.   
Following are the sentiments expressed by the young MPs.   


Party will be balanced if both young and the old are given opportunities

Harshana Rajakaruna 

The United National Party (UNP) should move with time and change accordingly. The Party should adopt modern management tactics. A CEO can help the party without a doubt. It will benefit the party.   
There is nothing wrong in giving a position to Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka as he is a capable person. There are equally capable people in the party. Sajith Premadasa is doing a fine job at the grass root level. There are others such as Kabir Hashim, Ravi Karunanayake, Malik Samarawickrama and Lakshman Kiriella who are also very capable. The Field Marshal will boost the party further. The party will be balanced if both young and the old are given opportunities. UNP has that balance at the moment but has potential to increase this further.   
The party appeals to the ordinary people in the same way that it has been, since the beginning. The Party is currently handled according to the needs and aspirations of the grass root level members. However there are some members who have aspirations of gaining employment in the state sector. This has become an issue today as we are governing together with the SLFP. I think there should be a negotiation with the SLFP in this regard.   
I feel that the present leader should lead the party at the 2020 elections and continue from there. He has the capability of leading the party for some more years.   


We must be delivery oriented and reward good performances.

Harsha De Silva

The UNP has never been a party controlled by any family. Based on its multi-ethnic and multi-religious foundation on a democratic structure we have now reached the stage of maturity and modernity. We need to change to adapt to the changing socio-economic, political and technological changes that are taking place in the society. We must be delivery oriented and reward good performances. In order to do that we should have a business-like structure with identified key performance indicators. In such a structure a full time CEO is essential where he or she has the delegated authority to make key decisions within the broad policy direction adopted by the party leadership. These decisions must be just, evidence-based and equitable; sometimes not possible with a purely political decision making context. I am fully supportive of the proposed new structure.   

The present leader should continue further. Ranil Wickremesinghe is a modern leader with a fantastic vision. He should continue to lead, to ensure Sri Lanka is once and for all on a steady path of economic growth. We must get our ‘knowledge-based, highly competitive, social market economy’ implemented. The CEO should be reporting to the leader.   


A major change is needed in the publicity machinery

Ajith P. Perera

The party has not been able to take its message to the people effectively. Besides, people are not informed on the development activities that the government is currently carrying on. The party has not been able to handle the media effectively. For instance the party has not been able to market its successful May Day rally. We brought more than 150,000 people to Colombo on that day but we failed to gain a political mileage from it.   
On that score what the party needs is to change its publicity machinery. Publicity machinery that can handle social media in particular is an essential need. A major change is needed in this aspect.   
I don’t see that the party has a philosophical need. Our party is not pro-western though some people seem to feel like it. It was our party that introduced the open economy in 1977. However the party has moved away from this stance now and had begun to favour a social market economy.   
I don’t think the party should rush to make changes in the positions. The government we have formed will go on till 2020. The country may not face another presidential election and the next general election is due in 2020, if we go on to serve our full term. In such a scenario, the time is not right to think of changing the positions including the leadership.   
What we should do is to put in a strong effort to work for the people within the next three years.   
A number of new ideas have been mooted to modernize the party. One such idea is to appoint a Chief Executive officer. The Party’s constitution has to be amended for such a thing. The best options should be selected and implemented.   


The aspirations of the grass root level members should be fulfilled 

Mujibur Rahaman

The working committee has only had an initial discussion on the re-organization. However decisions are not made yet. The committees have been appointed to look into it. The changes would probably come in July.   
I feel that there should be a broad discussion about the issue. We too are ready to give ideas on party reforms if the matter is discussed with us.   
However my opinion is that the aspirations of the grass root level members should be fulfilled. There should be a proper programme to fulfill these.   
Decisions pertaining to appointing a chief executive officer have to be made by the senior leaders of the party.   
I feel that the present leader should continue for few more years. However I think an effective team of second level leaders will have to be established.   
In addition an able team who should handle publicity should be appointed so that party’s message could be taken to people.   


The party should have a central body which is in charge of publicity

Harin Fernando

The main issue with the party is that the people are not aware what the government has done during the last two years. This has a negative effect on our party. That is what we discussed at the last working committee meeting. If I may give an instance, there was an issue with the tea prices and the players in the industry were affected badly. However the price of tea had gone up to Rs. 100 per kilo compared to Rs. 50 some time back. We as a party had failed to capitalize this situation. Therefore we need some effective strategy to market these achievements.   
This is why we decided that the party should have a central body which is in charge of publicity. We also thought of a structural change.   
These are welcomed always. Having a Chief Executive Officer is also an effective move as it will be give the party a modern face. Political parties in many countries have such non-political positions. Such positions are needed when a party is in power as the political leaders have to spend time running their ministries and concentrate on Parliament. The leader can handover some responsibilities with regard to the party to the Chief Executive officer. It is a good move.   
I don’t think the allegation that the party not having a nationalistic appeal is valid. UNP is not a party that belongs to the stone-age.  We always look at how the world is moving and change accordingly. We have to go on with the technology and other social changes of the world. A political party cannot be run in the traditional way anymore.   
We may have issues with the present leader but he has set the stage for the party to become a modernized entity. He has brought the party back to power.   


A full time CEO can handle the communication

Ruwan Wijewardene 

The Party has to move with the times and should have a new structure. Accordingly having a full time CEO is a very welcome move. Such a re-organization process is needed for the party to win the next elections.   
The party had failed when it comes to communication. People are not aware of the good things which the government has done during the last two years. This is an area which one has to look at, when re-organizing the party. A full time CEO can handle the communication.   
Decisions pertaining to changes in the position should be decided upon by the working committee of the party.   
I don’t think there is a dire need for the change in leadership now. The present leader guided the UNP when it was in the opposition and now when it is governing the country. Accordingly there is no need for an immediate change in the leadership     



Talented people should be recognized

Sujeewa Senasinghe 

The Party must make use of  talented people in the same way that the late President J. R. Jayewardene did in the 1970s. He groomed talented people such as Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake and R. Premadasa.   
Talented people should be recognized right from the grassroots level. This means that able people should be recognized and made use of right from the Pradeshiya Sabha, Provincial Council and from the MP level. There are people who had been working hard for the party and they should be given proper positions.   
Responsible positions should be held by those able and approachable people.   
Appointing a CEO is not the solution to the issue, it is the office-bearers of the party that should be changed.   
The current leader could continue, but proper people should be groomed to take over the party in the long run.