By Amrit Muttukumaru –
Although Sajith Premadasa emphatically denies any ‘conditions’ attached to his nomination as UNP Presidential candidate, it is pretty clear that irrespective of nomenclature Ranil Wickremesinghe will as per the earlier media report (not denied) “remain the UNP Leader and the Prime Minister”. It is very likely not in his nature to give up these positions without a ‘fight’!
Other ‘conditions’ reported in the media include:
1) “commitment” to “abolish executive presidency”
2) To work on a “power devolution package” to “resolve the Tamil national question”
These two ‘conditions’ beg the question as to why for four and a half years Ranil and his yahapalana government did not honour these undertaking given to the people in the run-up to the 2015 national elections.
In the context of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s ‘stock’ in the country and among the vast majority of the UNP faithful perceived to be currently at an all time low, the sooner Sajith distances himself from Ranil and his cronies in the UNP hierarchy the better it would be for him to get respect and support from the national electorate. Even the support Ranil supposedly gets from the TNA is overrated. For the most part it is dependent on Colombo based lawyer M. A. Sumanthiran who is in the leadership of the TNA. The Sri Lanka Tamils by and large feel let down by the UNP in general and Ranil in particular on whom they placed immense confidence in the run-up to the 2015 national elections which brought the UNP led yahapalana government to power. Despite this, the Sri Lanka Tamil electorate would largely feel more comfortable voting for a UNP presidential candidate rather than a candidate from the SLPP. This is particularly so in the case of UNP’s Sajith Premadasa and SLPP’s Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
It is widely believed that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has held on as UNP leader for the better part of 25 years virtually by force by the brute power given to the leader by the UNP constitution. It is also believed that Ranil for the first time has served almost for the full term as Prime Minister thanks to the 19th Amendment which was controversially conceived and questionably made law under his watch. The 19th Amendment which is essentially a Ranil creation has caused chaos to the decision making process by creating two power centres. The UNP under Ranil’s leadership has lost a record number of nation-wide elections. The UNP under his long period of ‘leadership’ has probably lost thousands of exasperated party faithful.
Ranil’s nationwide known opposition to Sajith’s nomination as UNP presidential candidate is perceived to have disappointed not only most UNPers but also a fair number of ‘floating’ voters seeking an alternative to the ‘Rajapaksa’ juggernaut. Ranil’s opposition to Sajith would have been a source of comfort to the Gotabaya camp. Even a schoolboy would know that Ranil much against his wish was compelled at the last minute to propose Sajith as UNP candidate after realizing the overwhelming support Sajith had attracted at his several rallies. The same applies to Ranil’s cronies who now scream ‘Jayaweva’!
There is even a perception that Ranil would stand to gain more from a Gotabaya presidency rather than one of Sajith. This perception is supported by media reports (not denied) that Ranil who does not have even a ‘snowball’s chance in hell’ to defeat Gotabaya Rajapaksa was seriously considering being the UNP’s Presidential candidate.
Ranil’s opposition is despite the ground reality that Sajith is the only presidential aspirant at present who could pose a real threat to current frontrunner Gotabaya. Under the circumstances, the sooner Sajith distances himself from Ranil and his cronies the better it would be for his campaign. This is not only due to his opposition to Sajith. Other factors include instances of alleged corruption and abuse of power under his watch. In this the egregious Treasury Bond scam stands out for which Ranil has given ample grounds for the popular belief that he bears major responsibility. Sajith too must be mindful that among his frontline supporters are those also allegedly tainted with the very same bond scam. In this the controversial ‘footnotes’ in the Sunil Handunetti led COPE Report stands out.
Would not Sajith lose his competitive edge over Gotabaya if he were to have Ranil and his cronies on his election platforms? Would this not project him as weak and indecisive as compared to Gotabaya’s excellent image in this department? Sajith will also demonstrate he is willing to compromise on anything to merely attain the presidency.
Gotabaya who has serious allegations of corruption and abuse of power against him is also shackled by having to accommodate persons in his camp who have credible allegations against them for large scale abuse of power, corruption and fraud. Prime Minister Ranil and his Yahapalana government (including Sajith) after making damning allegations against the Rajapaksa government in the run-up to the 2015 national elections went into hibernation after gaining power.
Sajith Premadasa is the perfect foil to Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The key strength of Gotabaya is the perception that he is a strong and decisive leader. This stands him in good stead in the crucial area of national security. Sajith who is relatively weak in this respect due to not asserting himself as deputy leader for several years while Ranil was ruining the party could strongly overcome this by consciously distancing his campaign from Ranil and his cronies. In the psyche of the average voter this will be a courageous and bold move given the stranglehold Ranil has on the UNP organization which may even result in Sajith being ‘sacked’ from the UNP. This will stand him in good stead electorally. Just imagine the positive publicity he will get on the eve of the presidential elections!
In the context of Ranil’s ‘stock’ in the country and among the UNP faithful currently perceived to be at an all time low, it would be a ‘smart’ move for Sajith to distance his campaign from Ranil and his cronies’.
If Sajith is ‘sacked’ from the UNP he could contest from an ‘alternate’ entity while still retaining the core of the UNP party hierarchy and voter base. If he wins, he will most likely have the ‘clout’ to get back to the UNP and give Ranil and his cronies a well earned rest from the UNP! Sajith will have to keep in mind and in line some of his new found supporters tainted with alleged wrongdoing. This includes those allegedly tainted with the egregious Treasury Bond Scam.
Sajith’s strengths which should be effectively communicated include (i) Perception that he has a far greater pro-poor image (ii) Perception that on the yardstick of the country’s widespread political corruption and abuse of power he stands relatively tall (iii) Perception that he does not personally have a violence prone background (iv) his people friendly image devoid of arrogance in spite of being the son of a President (v) electoral ‘fatigue’ of the Rajapaksa ‘brand’ particularly since MR is ineligible to contest (vi) questions on the eligibility of Gotabaya to be a candidate.
I guess most people feel it will be a close contest between Gotabaya and Sajith. This writer is of the view that at present the advantage is with Sajith for reasons explained above. The question is – will the Deep State have the final say?
‘Key’ weaknesses of Sajith in relation to his position as a Senior Cabinet Minister and UNP Deputy Leader are (i) no follow-up by the yahapalana government after making damning allegations against the Rajapaksa regime (ii) his deafening silence in the wake of credible allegations of egregious corruption and abuse of power under the yahapalana government (iii) until now doing virtually nothing while Ranil was virtually ruining the UNP. This is why it is crucial that Sajith distances Ranil and his cronies from his campaign.
The bottom line for the country is that irrespective of who becomes Executive President, the prognosis for the country is dire both socially and economically. None of the candidates – Gotabaya, Sajith or other known aspirants have presented a credible plan of action which even if presented would be implemented.
For example, although it is obvious to everyone that a sine qua non for any progress is (i) all citizens being treated equally (ii) the rule of law having no exceptions, none of the aspirants will ‘bite the bullet’ even on these basic parameters. To what extent is the ‘rule of law’ being applied even to Presidential candidates?
What confidence can one have on the observance of the rule of law when high ranking law officers of the state reportedly behave in a manner that beggars belief?
It gives no pleasure to this writer to suggest that Sajith should distance himself from Ranil during the course of his presidential election campaign. Things would have been so different if only Ranil given his family background and education had fulfilled even half the expectations most people had for him.