So, Prime Minister Tony Blair, after months of vacillation, finally made up his mind. On Thursday, he announced his decision to step down as Prime Minister. His resignation is, however, not entirely voluntary. He had been under pressure from his party for sometime to step down.
His ten-year tenure has been quite eventful. Having become Prime Minister at the age of 43, he was responsible for what is termed `fostering peace in Northern Ireland` and building the British economy to the present level. He brought unemployment down and created conditions for the British economy to thrive. Many were his achievements as a young premier. Transforming the old-style Labour Party into a modern political entity capable of scoring an electoral hat-trick was one of the biggest achievements he could preen himself on.
The first sign of his trouble began to appear the day he blindly followed the US to an internecine war in Iraq. He had his own party opposing his decision, while the Conservatives supported him to the hilt to go to war. His opponents, no doubt, did so in good faith but their support did Blair more harm than good, as we can now see.
It never rains but it pours. His downhill journey in politics was given a fresh impetus by the deterioration of the situation in Iraq, where the British troops were dying, and the allegations such as political honours for cash, which even led to his being questioned and some of his personal papers seized by the police. The Bush-Blair duo may have thought that the hanging of Saddam Hussein would give them a turbo boost to get out of the mire they had got into in Iraq. But, they were mistaken. That killing didn`t generate enough momentum to propel them to safety in politics. Their troops have got bogged down and US Congress wants them brought back home. Saddam must be guffawing wherever he may be.
If Blair had stepped down earlier, he would have been remembered more for his achievements than his mistakes. As one commentator has put it, in twenty years time if one shouts `Blair`, one will get `Iraq` as the echo. In other words, his military miscalculations will overshadow his achievements. That is the problem of being a war time leader. When one retires, it is said, one should have others ask `why?` instead of `why not?` It is unfortunate that Blair failed to give up premiership while his popularity was at the zenith.
However, the fact remains that he has done so albeit belatedly. What would his counterparts here do under such circumstances? They would never resign. Instead, they would get those who call for their resignation ousted. (Mr. Gordon Brown is lucky that he is not in this country. Else, before the Prime Minister, he would have been made to resign.) Remember President J. R. Jayewardene had obtained undated resignation letters from his MPs.
Of the post 1977 leaders, JRJ toyed with the idea of running for a third term by amending the Constitution but his Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa scuttled his plan. However, JRJ spent his retirement gracefully without being a burden on either his party on the country. Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike remained Prime Minister well past the retirement age until her death. (President D. B. Wijetunge was a different leader. Having been appointed President after the assassination of President Premadasa, he considered the presidency, a hot potato and was more than happy to let go of it, when his term came to an end.) President Chandrika Kumaratunga had to be retired by a Supreme Court order. She is still flaunting her raja yoga (ascendancy indicated in the horoscope) and promising a come back. What a battle the SLFP had to fight to wrest the party leadership from her!
Blair has had to go in spite of having helped a limping party win three consecutive elections. But, here the UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has lost many an election but he stays put! Instead, his detractors are being made to leave. (Don`t tell that to Blair lest he should want to take a leaf out of his book and withdraw his resignation!)
At a time when a great hue and cry is being made about the recent debate in the British Parliament on Sri Lanka, let our politicians take note of how Prime Minister Blair has handled an extremely difficult situation like a statesman in the interest of his party as well as that of his country without cutting a pathetic figure.
He is worthy of emulation.