By Rathindra Kuruwita
Tamil National Alliance (TNA) is a political party which has just sought international assistance to resolve domestic issues. The United National Party (UNP) is just shaking off its pro-LTTE image due to the political work carried out by MP Sajith Premadasa. Therefore holding a rally in Jaffna with the TNA is harmful to the UNP,” said Kurunegala UNP MP Ashoka Abeysinghe, speaking to LAKBIMAnEWS.
Abeysinghe is echoing the views of a substantial section of the UNP who feel the decision taken by the UNP to hold a May Day rally with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) will be frowned upon by the Sinhala Buddhist voters, and will be used by the government to brand the UNP as a pro-LTTE entity once again.
Govt. begins its attack
The government has already begun an attack the UNP’s decision to hold the May Day rally in Jaffna. Several ministers have equated the rally as an attempt by the UNP to revitalize the LTTE and as a subjugation of the UNP to the will of the Tamil diaspora. However on the other hand, the UNP MPs have been warned that their security might be compromised by LTTE elements if they attend the rally in Jaffna. It is however surprising that no one has questioned this obvious contradiction – if the UNP is following a pro-LTTE agenda why will an attempt on UNPers lives be made?
However as the UNP rebels point out, the decision to hold a rally with the TNA in Jaffna is being viewed by many as an obvious sign of UNP’s weakness of trying to gain political mileage. “The people are saying that the UNP is doing this because we can’t muster enough supporters to hold a decent rally,” Abeysinghe said. He added that the decision to hold the rally in Jaffna with the TNA has not been taken after consulting the elected representatives of the UNP.
Prior to taking such a serious decision with possible political implications, the Working Committee (WC) should have discussed the matter with the party membership, Abeysinghe opined. The exclusion of the elected representatives from the party’s decision making process is the main reason the UNP has made a number of political blunders in the recent past.
decision by the WC
“One would assume that the leadership would understand the importance of discussion and consensus. However the arbitrary decision to hold a May Day rally in Jaffna shows that the UNP leadership has not learnt a lesson. What this will do is to further alienate the Sinhala Buddhists from the party,” he said.
Although the UNP WC is the party’s ultimate decision making body, it has little representation from among the elected members of legislative bodies. In previous reports LAKBIMAnEWS has pointed out that Ranil Wickremesinghe had directly appointed 56 members to the 94 strong UNP WC, and that out of the WC less than 10 are current MPs.
“The manner in which the Working Committee was appointed is wrong. It now consists almost exclusively of Ranil Wickremesinghe supporters — and most of them are well past their retirement age, and who would back him regardless of what happens to the party. This is a scary prospect, and that’s why many elected representatives are against the WC. Some are very vocal about it and Wickremesinghe wants to stop such criticism because he sees that the common UNPer is agreeing with this view,” said Southern Provincial Councillor, Maithri Gunaratne.
Despite all this, it is doubtful that the joint May Day rally held in Jaffna will break the isolation of the city to a degree that would open the peninsular to opposition political parties. The liberating potential of this exercise should not be forgotten by the opponents of Wickremesinghe; nevertheless it’s ironic that this attempt to democraticize the public sphere has been taken at the expense of inner party democracy within the UNP.
A section of the UNP is holding a Ranasinghe Premadasa commemoration on the same day as the official May Day rally in Jaffna. Is this an attempt at a confrontation with the UNP leadership?
This is not an attempt to go against the party leadership or to hold an alternative May Day rally. President Premadasa was killed in a bomb blast in 1993 while he was attending a May Day rally, and since then the UNP has been holding an annual memorial in his memory on May 1.
But earlier this was held in the morning. This time the memorial is held in the evening along with a procession?
Yes, but this time a large number of civil society organizations affiliated to the party and UNPers asked us to hold the event in the evening. Since there will be a large number of people attending, we decided to gather near the Sugathadasa Stadium and proceed to the Premadasa memorial in Armour Street. After offering flowers, we will walk to Hulftsdorp.
The official UNP May Day will be held in Jaffna and that is the UNP WC’s decision. As UNPers we respect that, but we will attend the Premadasa memorial, and I believe many elected representatives will be with us on May 1.
There are rumours that disciplinary action will be taken against the MPs who attend the memorial?
Well, I don’t think there is any reason to do so, since this is not an event held in defiance of the leadership. But then again I am not afraid of Wickremesinghe’s disciplinary inquiries that have been so common that no one knows how many inquiries are going on.
Don’t you think that the rally in Jaffna will greatly benefit the people of Jaffna who have been suppressed by the government?
Yes, but what you should remember is that the TNA, which is an opposition political party has the power in the peninsula. This rally will benefit the TNA greatly because they get a chance to show their strength.
However this might reinforce the view that we are a pro-LTTE entity and further alienate the Sinhala Buddhists from the UNP. What we have to realize is that right now we cannot win an election only with the UNP votes. We need to win over the ‘floating votes’ and sections of the Sri Lankan Freedom Party who are disgruntled with the Rajapaksas. We should focus on winning these over.