Change UNP; Change the Nation

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This is not the type of the post I thought I would make. Politicians don’t SWOT analysis their parties on the net. Barack Obama discusses everything under the sun, but not the Democratic Party issues.

Ajith P. Perera too is very much a part of United National Party. So everyone expects Ajith P. Perera to debug the system before opening his mind in public.

On the other hand, what the heck? This is the age of openness. UNP itself stands on the very pillars of democracy and pluralism. It encourages, not suppresses dissent views. Thus I guess a dosage of straight talk does no harm. Not even at a point Ajith P. Perera is standing for public office. (I am waiting for my number to make the big announcement!)

Added to that some readers, most long term supporters of UNP, have raised genuine concerns about the future of UNP. I have an obligation to answer them.

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Is there anything wrong with UNP?

UNP has not shown a creditable performance in a series of recent elections. This will positively change in the forthcoming Western Provincial Council elections, but I will come to that later. For the moment let us only focus on past performance.

It is easy to provide excuses. SLFP shamelessly abuse public resources in its election campaigns; state media offers virtually no space for opposition while private media is threatened to follow suit; some self-concerned UNPers have already crossed the floor to badmouth their former colleagues. The list is endless.

In spite of all that, we cannot solely blame external factors for our poor performance. The genuine UNP supporters like to see the dawn of another JRJ or Premadasa era. When they see we don’t deliver, they feel annoyed. I do not blame them. We are not perfect. We need to find what’s wrong and address.

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Where we have gone wrong?

The opinions vary.

A large section seems to think that UNP should blindly support Kurakkan uncle’s war agenda to earn its popularity. I vehemently disagree.

Firstly, why UNP, the only political party with a clear stance on the ethnic issue follow others’ formulae? UNP fervently opposes terrorism of any kind, but simultaneously believes the long term solution to ethnic issue can only be political. ‘Military solution’ is an oxymoron. War victories by the current regime will only be meaningful if supplemented with corrective measures to age old Tamil grievances. Otherwise, terrorism will soon raise its ugly head behind another acronym. Elimination of JVP in 1971 in a genocidal manner did not prevent Sinhala youth taking arms two decades later. Why should that change for Tamil youth? As long as breeding grounds exist, procreate the mosquitoes.

Secondly, the extended intentions of war agenda are dangerous and damaging to the nation in the long run. The war is not just to eliminate LTTE (if so, UNP finds no problem backing it) but also a long list that includes human rights of the Tamils in North and East; Tamil political parties first and the entire opposition later; any dissent voices including those of journalists and eventually the very foundation of democracy. All what Kurakkan uncle wants it to create Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe type dictatorship and continue the legacy of feudal rulers.

Sorry, No. Whatever the name, UNP has no intention of blindly supporting such a feudal dictatorship. We stand for democracy and not feudalism.

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The policies of United National Party are crystal clear. They remain largely unchanged from the D. S. Senanayake days and will not change in the foreseeable future. Let me repeat in a nutshell and as I understand.

1. Unity and Equality: United National Party, as its name rightly suggests, is the party of united nationalistic political forces. UNP believes in equality. We do not think one’s ethnicity, race, gender, religion or any other attribute should stand in the way him/her enjoying citizens’ rights and privileges. We believe the country belongs to all Sri Lankans, and not to one ethnic or religious group.

2. Devolution of Power: UNP believes in an undivided (Eksath) Lanka; but not necessarily a system that concentrates power in Colombo. We have seen the flaws of such Colombo-centric governance and introduced Provincial Councils as a solution, which SLFP and JVP initially rejected, but now faithfully follow. We believe in devolving power, not only to Tamils in North but to Sinhalese in Hambanthota as well, instead of accumulating it in the hands of dictators. We believe empowering people not only at regional level but every stratum.

3. Economy: We believe in free markets; liberalization and globalization. We do not espouse unrealistic socialist dreams. We trust the private sector for its abilities. We do not equate suppressing the private sector to nation building. Economy has always thrived under previous UNP governments and there is no doubt it will continue to do so under a future UNP government.

4. Poverty Alleviation: Nobody understands the necessity of poverty alleviation than the UNP. We do not think poverty can be eliminated by redistributing public wealth. UNP had once spearheaded the most effective poverty alleviation program in Sri Lanka, under President Premadasa. What we look for is that. Beat poverty by creating more and more employment opportunities. Let poor stand on their own feet.

5. Employment Generation: UNP strongly believes more and more employment opportunities are the only way towards prosperity. It plans to achieve full employment by developing the private sector and not fattening the already overloaded government structure. To stimulate private sector growth UNP will also give utmost importance to infrastructure building. These may not be the highest priorities in populist agendas but we think in long term and not just the next six years.

I guess all UNP lovers should be proud that in spite of the immense pressure that we still stick to our original principles. We have no intention of changing these policies to enter the populist game.

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If not policies, what can be the problem?

As I understand UNP faces serious organizational issues. That happens not just in political parties, but they are more vulnerable. SLFP underwent a similar period when in opposition. It won only 8 seats in 1977 election under the leadership of Sirima Bandaranaike. It could not come out of that misery for 17 long years. However, under the new popular leadership of Chandrika Bandaranaike, it did not take long for SLFP to regain the lost steam.

The poor performance at the recent Provincial Council elections was nothing but a symptom of poor organization. While working in the Eastern and Sabaragamuwa Provinces I have witnessed this firsthand. I visited many areas untouched till then. Given time limitations, even I could not visit so many areas. We surely need more man power. Strong and committed organisaers at ground level was the need of the hour of UNP at the Provincial Council elections. We could have obviously done much better with a stronger organization.

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So, what is the solution?

Fortunately we see the remedial measures are already on the way and an improvement of the situation. Western Provincial Council will be the Waterloo for SLFP. UNP is geared to easily win all three districts. We have a solid unbeatable organization in most areas. The challenge is only to repeat that victory at the next Provincial council elections, to be followed by the General Election.

What UNP seriously need are true leaders who can make that victory happen. Fortunately we see many dynamic leaders emerging from the Western Province. This phenomenon needs to be replicated in the other parts of the country. That needs Change; stating from the Change in the way we act.

Barack Obama could make that Change within a period of one year. What made the ‘One woman race’ to end with a first American-African in White House was his sheer determination and organization. I see the same happening in the UNP now.

We are ready to Change the nation. Before that we need to Change UNP.

Let us start with the Western Province.

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Barack Obama: The ugly American?

November 4, 2008. Perhaps a day we will one day be describing to our grandchildren as the most historic turning point of the century, if not of the modern world.

Today the voters in USA (out of the only 20% ‘black’ and more than 50% ‘white’) will make the first Black President in the entire history of the country.

Barack Obama is not just black. He is the most un-American American we knew. Americans in our perception were white. (Well, there were blacks, but they were only driving taxis and mostly working as detectives – not running the country) Americans in our perception did not have Kenyan grandmothers or Indonesian step fathers, let alone Muslim middle names. Obama changed that all.

I think the even more significant factor than his color is his exposure to the developing world. Come on which American President ever went to school in a developing Asian nation?

The demarcation was so obvious. McCain stood for everything ‘white’ – pro-war, pro-Christian, pro-rich, anti-abortion, anti-gay rights. These were the very causes that would have made him President without contest three or four decades ago.

Sorry McCain old boy, America has changed. It has changed for good.

When the majority of voters select Barack Obama today to lead the most powerful nation in the world, they would do so not because of his color, his ethnicity or his religion. They would elect him because he is the one who represents their dreams. He is the one who can make a change. May not be economically – but more importantly in our perceptions. Obama might not change USA. But he will paint the world differently.

I congratulate the first world’s President of the United States.

(PS. ‘The Ugly American’ is a metaphor popularized by the 1958 political novel by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer, of the same name. Ironically, the “ugly American” of the book title actually refers to one of the heroes, a plain-looking engineer named Homer Atkins, who lives with the local people, comes to understand their needs, and gives genuinely useful assistance with small-scale projects such as the development of a simple bicycle-powered water pump. Is there anything better to describe Obama?)

Barack Obama leading: Hours to go before having a BLACK president in WHITE House

IT IS impossible to forecast how important any presidency will be. Back in 2000 America stood tall as the undisputed superpower, at peace with a generally admiring world. The main argument was over what to do with the federal government’s huge budget surplus. Nobody foresaw the seismic events of the next eight years. When Americans go to the polls next week the mood will be very different. The United States is unhappy, divided and foundering both at home and abroad. Its self-belief and values are under attack.

For all the shortcomings of the campaign, both John McCain and Barack Obama offer hope of national redemption. Now America has to choose between them. The Economist does not have a vote, but if it did, it would cast it for Mr Obama. We do so wholeheartedly: the Democratic candidate has clearly shown that he offers the better chance of restoring America’s self-confidence. But we acknowledge it is a gamble. Given Mr Obama’s inexperience, the lack of clarity about some of his beliefs and the prospect of a stridently Democratic Congress, voting for him is a risk. Yet it is one America should take, given the steep road ahead.

The immediate focus, which has dominated the campaign, looks daunting enough: repairing America’s economy and its international reputation. The financial crisis is far from finished. The United States is at the start of a painful recession. Some form of further fiscal stimulus is needed, though estimates of the budget deficit next year already spiral above $1 trillion. Some 50m Americans have negligible health-care cover. Abroad, even though troops are dying in two countries, the cack-handed way in which George Bush has prosecuted his war on terror has left America less feared by its enemies and less admired by its friends than it once was.

Yet there are also longer-term challenges, worth stressing if only because they have been so ignored on the campaign. Jump forward to 2017, when the next president will hope to relinquish office. A combination of demography and the rising costs of America’s huge entitlement programmes—Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—will be starting to bankrupt the country. Abroad a greater task is already evident: welding the new emerging powers to the West. That is not just a matter of handling the rise of India and China, drawing them into global efforts, such as curbs on climate change; it means reselling economic and political freedom to a world that too quickly associates American capitalism with Lehman Brothers and American justice with Guantánamo Bay. This will take patience, fortitude, salesmanship and strategy.

At the beginning of this election year, there were strong arguments against putting another Republican in the White House. A spell in opposition seemed apt punishment for the incompetence, cronyism and extremism of the Bush presidency. Conservative America also needs to recover its vim. Somehow Ronald Reagan’s party of western individualism and limited government has ended up not just increasing the size of the state but turning it into a tool of southern-fried moralism.

The selection of Mr McCain as the Republicans’ candidate was a powerful reason to reconsider. Mr McCain has his faults: he is an instinctive politician, quick to judge and with a sharp temper. And his age has long been a concern (how many global companies in distress would bring in a new 72-year-old boss?). Yet he has bravely taken unpopular positions—for free trade, immigration reform, the surge in Iraq, tackling climate change and campaign-finance reform. A western Republican in the Reagan mould, he has a long record of working with both Democrats and America’s allies.

That, however, was Senator McCain; the Candidate McCain of the past six months has too often seemed the victim of political sorcery, his good features magically inverted, his bad ones exaggerated. The fiscal conservative who once tackled Mr Bush over his unaffordable tax cuts now proposes not just to keep the cuts, but to deepen them. The man who denounced the religious right as “agents of intolerance” now embraces theocratic culture warriors. The campaigner against ethanol subsidies (who had a better record on global warming than most Democrats) came out in favour of a petrol-tax holiday. It has not all disappeared: his support for free trade has never wavered. Yet rather than heading towards the centre after he won the nomination, Mr McCain moved to the right.

Meanwhile his temperament, always perhaps his weak spot, has been found wanting. Sometimes the seat-of-the-pants method still works: his gut reaction over Georgia—to warn Russia off immediately—was the right one. Yet on the great issue of the campaign, the financial crisis, he has seemed all at sea, emitting panic and indecision. Mr McCain has never been particularly interested in economics, but, unlike Mr Obama, he has made little effort to catch up or to bring in good advisers (Doug Holtz-Eakin being the impressive exception).

The choice of Sarah Palin epitomised the sloppiness. It is not just that she is an unconvincing stand-in, nor even that she seems to have been chosen partly for her views on divisive social issues, notably abortion. Mr McCain made his most important appointment having met her just twice.

Ironically, given that he first won over so many independents by speaking his mind, the case for Mr McCain comes down to a piece of artifice: vote for him on the assumption that he does not believe a word of what he has been saying. Once he reaches the White House, runs this argument, he will put Mrs Palin back in her box, throw away his unrealistic tax plan and begin negotiations with the Democratic Congress. That is plausible; but it is a long way from the convincing case that Mr McCain could have made. Had he become president in 2000 instead of Mr Bush, the world might have had fewer problems. But this time it is beset by problems, and Mr McCain has not proved that he knows how to deal with them.

Is Mr Obama any better? Most of the hoopla about him has been about what he is, rather than what he would do. His identity is not as irrelevant as it sounds. Merely by becoming president, he would dispel many of the myths built up about America: it would be far harder for the spreaders of hate in the Islamic world to denounce the Great Satan if it were led by a black man whose middle name is Hussein; and far harder for autocrats around the world to claim that American democracy is a sham. America’s allies would rally to him: the global electoral college on our website shows a landslide in his favour. At home he would salve, if not close, the ugly racial wound left by America’s history and lessen the tendency of American blacks to blame all their problems on racism.

So Mr Obama’s star quality will be useful to him as president. But that alone is not enough to earn him the job. Charisma will not fix Medicare nor deal with Iran. Can he govern well? Two doubts present themselves: his lack of executive experience; and the suspicion that he is too far to the left.

There is no getting around the fact that Mr Obama’s résumé is thin for the world’s biggest job. But the exceptionally assured way in which he has run his campaign is a considerable comfort. It is not just that he has more than held his own against Mr McCain in the debates. A man who started with no money and few supporters has out-thought, out-organised and outfought the two mightiest machines in American politics—the Clintons and the conservative right.

Political fire, far from rattling Mr Obama, seems to bring out the best in him: the furore about his (admittedly ghastly) preacher prompted one of the most thoughtful speeches of the campaign. On the financial crisis his performance has been as assured as Mr McCain’s has been febrile. He seems a quick learner and has built up an impressive team of advisers, drawing in seasoned hands like Paul Volcker, Robert Rubin and Larry Summers. Of course, Mr Obama will make mistakes; but this is a man who listens, learns and manages well.

It is hard too nowadays to depict him as soft when it comes to dealing with America’s enemies. Part of Mr Obama’s original appeal to the Democratic left was his keenness to get American troops out of Iraq; but since the primaries he has moved to the centre, pragmatically saying the troops will leave only when the conditions are right. His determination to focus American power on Afghanistan, Pakistan and proliferation was prescient. He is keener to talk to Iran than Mr McCain is— but that makes sense, providing certain conditions are met.

Our main doubts about Mr Obama have to do with the damage a muddle-headed Democratic Congress might try to do to the economy. Despite the protectionist rhetoric that still sometimes seeps into his speeches, Mr Obama would not sponsor a China-bashing bill. But what happens if one appears out of Congress? Worryingly, he has a poor record of defying his party’s baronies, especially the unions. His advisers insist that Mr Obama is too clever to usher in a new age of over-regulation, that he will stop such nonsense getting out of Congress, that he is a political chameleon who would move to the centre in Washington. But the risk remains that on economic matters the centre that Mr Obama moves to would be that of his party, not that of the country as a whole.

So Mr Obama in that respect is a gamble. But the same goes for Mr McCain on at least as many counts, not least the possibility of President Palin. And this cannot be another election where the choice is based merely on fear. In terms of painting a brighter future for America and the world, Mr Obama has produced the more compelling and detailed portrait. He has campaigned with more style, intelligence and discipline than his opponent. Whether he can fulfil his immense potential remains to be seen. But Mr Obama deserves the presidency.

http://www.economist.com/world/international/displaystory.cfm?source=most_commented&story_id=12516666

Obama is back! Wins in Mississippi primary

Barack Obama has beaten rival Hillary Clinton to win the Democratic primary election in the state of Mississippi.

Obama polled strongly among African-American voters, winning 59% of the vote to Mrs Clinton’s 39% with most of the votes counted.

The result is not decisive but boosts his lead in terms of delegates at the August convention where the party will choose its White House candidate.

The positions now stand at:

BARACK OBAMA: 1,579 delegates
Total states won: 25

HILLARY CLINTON: 1,473 delagates
Total states won: 16

Delegates needed to secure nomination: 2,025.
Source: AP at 1215 GMT 11 March

(News from news.bbc.co.uk and the video shows Obama’s historical speech in 2004 at Democratic National Convention)