Reforming the UNP

5 December 2006

It’s better to reform an existing party than to establish a new one. The political reality is that a new right-wing democratic third party would never win a popular election in this country, perhaps not for decades to come. So which of the two main parties is the best candidate for reformation? Anybody who is a regular reader of this blog would know that my personal choice would be the most right-wing/capitalist party: the UNP.

Politician-wise, I don’t see a big difference between the UNP and the present incarnation of Sri Lanka’s political left: the UPFA. But policy-wise the UNP has demonstrated a higher level of resistance against socialism and various other extremist ideologies in recent years (with the blaring exception of the Premadasa administration).

Ten years ago I would not have endorsed this position; not only did two successive UNP administrations fail miserably to diffuse the then growing ethnic problem, the Premadasa administration strayed so far from democracy that I was at the time forced to support an opposition that embraced socialism — an ideology I oppose on moral grounds.

However the party seems to have made progress in recent years. If the party could go from political thuggery, suppression of free expression and the disregard of the Tamil minority, to what it demonstrated during the brief Ranil Wicremasinghe administration–a greater observance of property rights and other democratic norms and a willingness to compromise for the sake of reconciliation between Sinhalese and Tamils–then it seems logical to assume that it may be the best candidate for further metamorphosis.

The topic of United National Party reforms have been mentioned often in the media without much reference to WHAT the reforms are going to be and what they are aiming to achieve. In this regard, my position is set against the common assumption. It is true that the UNP is less successful in appealing to the more “local” voter segments than its competitor. It has been suggested that the UNP should become more nationalist and “cultural”. I believe the party leader even attempted this with references to ancient Sri Lankan kings during his last campaign’s speeches. But this is contrary to the essence of the UNP. The UNP should maintain and strengthen its identity as a right wing party with a Western/globalized outlook and democratic/capitalist ideals. Let the other side appeal to “our” or “local” values and resort to western-bashing. Both major parties must not represent the same end of the political/social spectrum. Lack of balanced political polarization can lead to totalitarianism.

Instead, the UNP must make reforms in the ways it reaches voters. Its platform should be primarily economic and it should make voters aware of this fact AND the reasons for it. A good early-twenty-first-century Sri Lankan political party will define the following platform priorities: the economy, peace, national defense and the maintenance of law, order and political freedoms, in that order. Preservation of culture, religion, language or anything along those lines should be left to civil organizations. Governments meddle in such affairs often with grave consequences. The following should be explained to voters (though I doubt any politician ever will): of all people, do not look to politicians for moral leadership. I have a problem when the same politicians who support brothels ban TV shows to preserve my “culture”. I have a problem when the same politicians who can’t balance their own budget preach economics and force me to practice thrift by forcibly placing a part of my earnings in a heavily inflation-eroded retirement fund (which they then dip into for financing government projects). Until the day good leaders arrive, politicians must be administrators at most.