What Ranil should learn from Chandrika

Ranil-WickramasingheAt the time the then joint opposition started their campaign last year, the UNP despite being by far the biggest opposition party was regarded only as the first among equals in the opposition line up. But after winning, they have managed to maneuver themselves into a dominant position in the new government. That was something they did well. But where they have not fared too well is in not being able to rein in the lunatic fringe of the opposition coalition they led. If the UNP has any ambitions of ruling this country beyond the 100 day honeymoon period, then they will have to rein in the adventurers, radicals and anarchists who are in partnership with them. They should halt the present trend of heads of institutions being removed through trade union action. The UNP actually started this trend because they played the lead role in removing the Chief Justice Mohan Peiris through a combination of street action and executive fiat.

 

But all know that when an establishment party like the UNP or SLFP steps outside the law in certain exceptional circumstances, that will not necessarily become the norm. One example is that in the late 1980s, the then UNP government took draconian measures to quell the JVP but the moment the JVP was crushed, things returned to normal. But what the UNP did with regard to the chief justice is now spreading to other institutions like the University Grants Commission where the Chairperson Prof. Kshanika Hirimburegama, who did not hide her allegiance to Mahinda Rajapaksa, was forced to resign largely due to trade union action by the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations. In the removal of the chief justice, whose initial appointment had provoked questions of independence, it was the Bar Association that took the lead. Then there are demonstrators outside the Bribery Commission demanding the resignation of its Chairman because they don’t like the way he is going about his work.

 

If one allows trade unions or organized demonstrators to determine who remains as the head of a particular institution, no government will be able to rule the country. The UNP government will do well to realize that bodies like FUTA, and the JVP and JHU who have been at the forefront of calling for the resignation of the heads of certain institutions like the chief justice, the heads of the Bribery Commission and the UGC, are not conservatives but radicals.

 

In the late 1990s, there was an attempt by postal trade unions to oust the then head of the postal department. But to Chandrika Kumaratunga’s credit she steadfastly refused to fall in line with the trade unions. She knew that if such a demand is granted in one institution, it will spread to other institutions as well and result in all government institutions being controlled not by the government but by trade unions. So Chandrika flatly refused to sack the postal dept. boss and doggedly stuck to her guns despite what became the longest postal strike in history lasting over one month. Unless the UNP government takes control and puts a stop to this removal of heads of institutions, they will soon be overwhelmed by forces like the JVP which have very few votes but have organized groups everywhere. The last thing that any government needs is institutional heads living in fear of trade unions. Such officials will be motivated not to do the bidding of the government that appointed them but the bidding of the trade unions that will decide whether they remain in that position or not.