With regard to the UNP performance over the election, there were two schools of thought that seem at first sight distinct. The first is that it shows the enduring genius of Ranil Wickremesinghe, who managed to turn what would have been certain defeat for himself into a campaign to confirm his control of his party. He was thus claimed to have got rid of his only serious rival in the party, S B Dissanayake, and also a potential articulate irritant in the form of Johnston Fernando. Now that the General did so much worse than he himself did in 2005, the argument is that the forces of civilization will once more rally to the once and future King.

This perspective has been strengthened by photographs of him after the results were declared, in which he is grinning like a cat that has secured the cream for himself. Certainly his prompt endorsement of the election, and his distancing the UNP from the attempt to cry fraud, shows someone who is determined now to make a fresh start.

The alternative view is that he was dragooned into an alliance that he had initially flirted with in the hope of dividing the coalition that had defeated him so narrowly in 2005. Unfortunately for him, too many of his natural constituents, the urban elite, got carried away by the hype about the General being a candidate who would eradicate corruption and unite the country. On this reading, the brilliant propagandist skills of his new confidante, Mangala Samaraweera, proved too successful and, before Ranil knew where he was, he found himself sidelined. The result was the destruction of the image of the UNP, as standing for stability and pluralism and sophisticated capitalism, that had held sway for so long. 

This perspective is supported by the decimation of the opposition vote in the south. It will be very hard to put together again if the General Election is held soon, and certainly many party workers, who found the campaign dominated by the JVP in rural areas, will have no inclination to fling themselves into a hopeless fray. Besides, this little exercise has injected new life into the JVP, which would otherwise have found it difficult in an election to cross the 5% threshold, except in Hambantota, and might have ended up with just a single seat. Now they will do better and, if not as well as they themselves had anticipated when they thought General Fonseka a serious candidate, what they gain will be at UNP expense.

I have no idea whether either of these interpretations is accurate, but on general principles I would suggest that, as always, the truth lies somewhere in between. Mr Wickremesinghe I believe initially flirted with the idea in terms of generating a third force, but then he himself got carried away by the idea that the candidacy could be serious. He was helped in this by the belief, strengthened when the General came out into the open as it were after his momentous trip to America, that this was what the West wanted. The somewhat plaintive pleas that the General was the key to the restoration of GSP+ were in line with the claim, after Karu Jayasuriya had arranged a massive crowd to greet him when he got back after President Kumaratunga had taken unto herself three crucial ministries in his cabinet, that George Bush, who had entertained him at the White House, would not allow him to be permanently deprived.

The claim then, now being advanced by his advocates, that he did not fling himself wholeheartedly into the campaign, and indeed may not have voted for the General himself, seems to be farfetched. After all the shadowy James McGrath, who has emerged in both Britain and Australia as the mastermind behind the campaign, comes from the Liberal Party of Australia, Ranil’s fellows in the International Democratic Union, the world association of Conservative Parties (the Australian Liberal Party, I hasten to add, is not a Liberal Party in any known sense of the term). I may be wrong, but it is likely that it was Ranil who brought him down, and certainly from his perspective anything that tied the General to the West was to be encouraged, what with the JVP otherwise steering the candidacy away from charges of war crimes and other aberrations that the UNP section of the campaign might have relished as being in line with Western predilections.

Ironically, the American partner for the IDU is the Republican Party, and one would like to think Barack Obama would be horrified at the United States being presented as advocates for regime change on authoritarian lines. But the sad truth is that President Obama has probably no idea as to what is going on in Sri Lanka, and that machines once set in motion tend to take on a life of their own.

Thus, while the thesis that the General is a brilliant creation of Robert Blake seems absurd, there is no doubt that Colombo at any rate believed that the American President was personally committed to the downfall of President Rajapakse. This was encouraged by the gossip in Colombo’s drawing rooms and by those who regard themselves as the standard bearers of Western values talking about dysfunction and breakdown, just as another of them had claimed that ‘All is darkness’ when Ambassador Jayatilleka and the rest of the team saw off the Western assault on Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.  

 I would suggest then that, right until the results were declared, Ranil Wickremesinghe thought it possible that the General might win and also that, if he lost narrowly, it would be possible to march in procession the office of the Election Commissioner, claiming that the election had been fraudulent. Whether Ranil would have permitted the General to play the Cory Aquino part, or demanded it for himself, will always however remain a matter for speculation, since the people of Sri Lanka made it so emphatically clear that they wanted continuity and stability.

I don’t suppose he needed to be told by the Western powers he had been counting on that the game was up. He knows when to cut his losses, and move into another incarnation, the good sport who accepts the democratic will of the people and begins gearing himself up for the next challenge. People will accordingly forget the responsibility he bears for the Fonseka phenomenon, and instead reflect on how much better suited he is to be Leader of the Opposition.  

So the ‘Poda, poda’ enthusiast will vanish, and the urbane cynic will return, to take his rightful place at the heart of Colombo society, which for one brief shining moment mistook a goose for a swan. No doubt most of those who followed Mr Wickremesinghe into the Fonseka camp will sooner or later return to base. The election will be held, and the UNP can soon go back to its campaign of attrition, to effect regime change through crossovers rather than the full frontal assault an election entailed.

And we will be no nearer than before to the type of opposition we need, one that will support the government when national security is under threat, but which will critique on the basis of principle, rather than personal advantage, policies and practices that are not in the best interests of the nation. Sadly, the UNP will continue unaware of the difference.

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