Ranil Wickremesinghe is your ultimate survivor. He has delayed the inevitable for over a decade.
Wickremesinghe has earned a reputation as a master manipulator for his own survival. Although a serial loser of elections he has cleverly manipulated party stalwarts and the rank and file after every election defeat to divert pressure for his removal as the leader.
Sajith Premadasa for all his bravado simply lacks what it takes to turn his words into deed. What Premadasa had managed more successfully to do instead is to effectively put his foot in his mouth. The man is nothing more than a damp squib.
Clearly, Premadasa missed the wood from the trees when he meekly accepted to share the post of Deputy Leader with Karu Jayasuriya. What Premadasa simply did not comprehend was that large scale support for him to take over as leader of the United National Party had nothing to do with anybody liking his face. This was not about personalities. It was about change. Sajith Premadasa simply did not get it. Ranil Wickremesinghe had to go for change to come about. It was fundamentally irrelevant who replaced him. It was just that Premadasa seemed the more obvious choice.
But change, is the one thing Ranil Wickremesinghe is determined not to allow to happen – any time soon. At last Wednesday’s Working Committee meeting Wickremesinghe once more proved to be the Machiavellian politician that he is. There is no doubt that Wickremesinghe – unless physically thrown out – is intent on remaining as leader of the UNP.
Having long befriended members of the privately owned press – Wickremesinghe has his own stooges in place. Members of the wild asses he zealously coverts using them with callous disregard for media freedoms as and when required.
It was only in May last year that Wickremesinghe was forced to deal with a strident call within the party to delegate and transfer some duties to “younger blood” and in that context he said he was nominating Sajith Premadasa to take over the post of ‘Assistant Leader’.
A post vacated by Rukman Senanayake – who resigned in disgust after having not been nominated to parliament despite being on the National List of the UNP.
Sajith Premadasa at this stage spoke out. He said he did not wish to accept the post of Assistant Leader – he saw no need to confine himself to being a mere Assistant Leader under the present constitution of the UNP – Premadasa articulated that he would prefer for all hierarchical changes to be put to the vote – which would then make the filling of senior posts including that of the leader of the party “competitive.”
Wickremesinghe then performed his age old trick. He appointed yet another committee to consider proposals to the changes in the party constitution.
“Why should I confine myself to being a mere Assistant Leader when I can compete for the top slot?” Sajith was later heard telling a confidant at the time making us all believe he was indeed a chip off the old block in terms of his late father Ranasinghe Premadasa whose political ambitions finally got him the presidency in the face of overwhelming odds.
Ten months later, Sajith Premadasa ate humble pie. Ranil Wickremesinghe is chortling. Ranasinghe Premadasa? May he rest in peace.
The issue is this. The current status of the UNP is that the party is in a shambles. The situation is desperate. Take Johnston Fernando, an ardent supporter of Ranil Wickremesinghe. He left the party and supported the President lock, stock and barrel. And at the last general election he came number one in his district! Ranil has ruined the party.
Ask any man on the street what direction they see the UNP heading. They reply, “Presently, on a downward trend. It is hard not to be pessimistic”.
Ranil had to go. But he did not. The question that begs asking is this. Can any UNPer today say with confidence that in the event of another election Ranil Wickremesinghe could be a serious contender to Mahinda Rajapaksa? What indeed does that predict for the future of this country and its tired masses?
At the last presidential election campaign Ranil Wickremesinghe was the sole decision maker. No UNP candidate decided on the manifesto. In fact, as far as the presidential manifesto, those within the party had no idea who even drew it up. They were never consulted.
When it comes to crucial issues, Wickremesinghe simply asks the Working Committee to delegate authority to him. They simply raise their hands and the authority is vested in him.
Unfortunately within the UNP there is an unspoken rule not to question the leadership. The party goes with the leader’s wishes, because power is so absolutely concentrated in his hands. “If you cross his path, the consequences will be dire…” party members said, citing Rukman Senanayake as a case in point.
The main problems within the UNP is a lack of accountability, transparency, democracy and too much power concentrated when it comes to making appointments. Wickremesinghe can kick out any organiser he wants, and effectively end his or her political career.
Malik Samarawickrema, Sagala Ratnayake, to some extent Lalin Fernando, Ananda Athukorala and Eran Wickremaratne are believed to be Wickremesinghe’s sole advisors, with him sometimes bouncing ideas off Dinesh Weerakkody too.
In this context most of the decision making process within the UNP is very ad hoc and personalised. The decision making process is done by what within the UNP is termed Ranil’s “Kitchen Cabinet.”
The Political Affairs Committee, Working Committee and the Executive Committee are reduced to being mere round table discussions rubber stamping Wickremesinghe’s decisions. As such the decisions of these committees aren’t questioned until times of electoral defeat. It is only then — at times like these that party members and provincial councilors have a greater tendency to raise issues.
The entire process is decided upon at the convenience of the party leader. He decides when, how and who to consult, and gets it rubber stamped.
Wickremesinghe has through the years countenanced corruption, violence and abuse of power in order to further his own political career, or because he has been too weak to stand up against the perpetrators of these acts. His own populist use of religion and culture is a matter of public record. His supporters (the precious few that remain) describe him as a gentleman politician. Aside from the sexist and class based worldview embedded in such a description, the public need no reminding that there are no “gentlemen” in Sri Lanka’s political firmament today.
“Gentlemen” like Wickremesinghe cling to power-without-responsibility, thereby holding the country to ransom and allowing others to plunder and pillage. All he is interested in is maintaining his creature comforts and status as Leader of the Opposition. He has long been bankrupt as a politician because politics is about engagement with people on their own terms.
Wickremesinghe like most politically corrupt Sri Lankan politicians is far from squeaky clean.
Millions by way of campaign funds have been personally handed over to him – millions of rupees – and in one instance over one billion rupees by way of campaign funds remain unaccounted for.
Just as much as President Rajapaksa sees himself as a monarch and ruler of all he surveys, so too does RW positioning himself as perennially waiting in the wings to accede to the throne.
Wickremesinghe speaks of democracy and the right of all peoples of this country to elect their leaders without fear or favour, yet his stranglehold on the UNP is disgustingly feudal and undemocratic. He demands fundamental human rights for others, to serve his political ends, but refuses to hear the message repeated so many times by a public that rejects his elitism and lack of basic empathy with the common man.
His time as Leader of the Opposition is up, as all but he can see. And that group of eunuchs who call themselves the Working Committee. Wickremesinghe’s term should have been over a long time ago. It is Wickremesinghe who stands guilty for the mess we’re in right now because of his political ineptitude (to mention nothing of the other acts of omission and commission that can be laid at his door) which has allowed successive ruling dynasties to ride rough shod over democratic values and principles of good governance.
Now that this dispensation has fine-tuned family-oligarchy to its zenith, Wickremesinghe’s continued (non)leadership is essential to the Rajapaksas. Alas, not only do they deserve each other, they reproduce in each other a shared agenda that has little room for altruism or public well being.
One reading of the past election result is that people who did not support the Rajapaksa regime preferred not to vote rather than endorse Wickremesinghe or his party, upon which he has imposed his stamp of petty irrelevance. Wickremesinghe does not present a viable alternative to the UPFA so much as a bankrupt and lost-cause non-option against which staying at home on election day seems less futile.
The tragedy for Ranil and for the UNP, and perhaps for the country, is that he is unelectable. As for Sajith Premadasa… he has effectively committed political suicide.