UNPers have a case

UNP grassroots supporters are a hugely disgruntled lot these days. It is the constant lament by party back benchers in parliament that their members have been left in the lurch following the tie up with the SLFP in the formation of the Unity Government. This step-motherly treatment is most glaring in the area of job allocation, they claim. UNP MPs, particularly in the south, are the most aggrieved in this connection. Many are the southern based MPs who have brought this matter to the fore, both in parliament and TV debates. They insist that it is the SLFP ministers who maintain a monopoly on jobs , while the UNP supporters were being overlooked. The latest to air his grievance in public was Habaraduwa UNP Chief Organiser Chandralal Abeygunawardena.

Addressing a Janahamuwa in his electorate on Tuesday he said UNPers who had manned polling booths for the last 22 years (when the party was in the Opposition) were still without jobs and five of his supporters who were assaulted during the last Presidential election were languishing at home. Rubbing it in, he said that the six persons who carried out the assault had found employment at the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation, in a clear reference to the patronage extended by his SLFP rival of the same electorate who was the Minister under whose purview the CPC came until the changes effected during the recent Cabinet reshuffle. The UNPer warned that if this state of affairs were to continue a massive explosion in the Grand Old Party could not be avoided.

Many UNPers, including ministers, no doubt would empathise with Abeygunawardena, who as grassroots politicians have to look into the interests of their party supporters. But from what has transpired over the past two and half years UNP supporters have been given the cold shoulder in the dispensing of jobs in the state sector, particularly in institutions coming under Ministries such as Transport, Petroleum Resources and Power and Energy, all job providing milch cows, which are manned by SLFP Ministers (Even Ports is now in the hands of a SLFP Minister).

Adding to the woes of the UNP grassroots organsiers is the fact that all Provincial Council (barring the North and East) are in the hands of the SLFP, with Local Councils now functioning under Special Commissioners, which anyway, are today filled to the brim with Rajapaksa supporters, thus cutting off any prospective employment opportunities for UNP grassroots supporters in these bodies as well.

The grouse of the UNP supporters is all the more telling given that it was the party grassroots machinery which put its shoulder to the wheel in ensuring that the Common Candidate prevailed on January 8 with many party workmen subject to assault as highlighted by the Habaraduwa party organiser. On the other hand what may be rankling to likes of Abeygunawardena and other UNP grassroots organsiers is the scenario where the SLFP Ministers who now continue to dispense largesse to their supporters are the very people who were firmly behind Mahinda Rajapaksa at both the Presidential and parliamentary elections and those enjoying their patronage were the very ones who did everything to wreck the chances of the Common Candidate at the polls attacking UNP supporters and even setting fire to the stages of the CC.

Be that as it may, it is time UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe took stock of the situation and apply remedial measures before things deteriorate further leading to an implosion within the party, that could cause irreversible damage. To begin with, it is the UNP which enjoys the majority in the House and it could well have gone its own way in forming it's own government as happened both in 1994 and 2001 with the support of other parties (or by inveigling some SLFPers into its fold). In such an event there would not have been the present unrest within the ranks of the UNP supporters who would have been ladled with the gravy, with the government comprising an exclusive UNP led Cabinet.

True, by taking steps to form a Unity Government the Premier, while ensuring stability in the regime, also succeeded in preventing a massive backlash by UNP supporters who had been languishing in the Opposition for two decades, against their SLFP counterparts, as as been the trend in this country with regime changes. But it is now time to address the grievances of the UNP supporters who made so much sacrifices and deprived of employment opportunities all those years.

The present arrangement in governance cannot continue forever. One day there would necessarily have to be a parting of ways. Already, members of both the UNP and the SLFP are talking of forming their own governments in the not too distant future. From the looks of things the SLFP has already gained a head start in this regard by keeping its supporters happy with the provision of jobs. The UNP too should think ahead likewise to the day when it will have to form a government of its own. 


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