By H. L. D. Mahindapala –
The long-drawn and futile battle of Ranil Wickremesinghe to deny Sajith Premadasa, his deputy, the rightful place in the presidential race finally ended yesterday. Ranil fired all his ammunition to eliminate Sajith. But Sajith fought back strategically to outwit Ranil and end the 27-year-old reign of a cardboard leader who led the UNP to nowhere. The inner struggle for power was between the popular will of the UNP represented by Sajith and Ranil’s one-man will backed by the Working Committee packed with his henchmen. In the end the popular will won. Sajith’s victory will mark the end of Ranil and the beginning of a new era for the UNP. After President Ranasinghe Premadasa who reinvigorated the UNP with the grass root forces the UNP fell into the hands of D. B. (Deaf and Blind) Wijetunga. UNP never recovered as a viable political entity in the post-Premadasa era which was dominated by Ranil.
Two factors led to the steady decline of the UNP after President Premadasa: 1. the LTTE decimated the promising leaders like Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake; 2. the misguided and the failed leadership of Ranil Wickremesinghe who thought he could swim upstream running counter to centuries of Sinhala-Buddhist history. The only right decision he made in his entire career was to back President Premadasa. But in his mulish way he decided to go against the Sajith wave rolling in. When the formidable forces within the UNP and outside were militating against Ranil’s kleptocratic kakistocracy — and swinging as an unstoppable wave towards Sajith — his moral, political and pragmatic duty should have been to bow out gracefully. Instead he waited till he was kicked out of the presidential race once again. As usual, he never could read the signs of the times.
Sadly, he will carry to his grave the disgraceful record of being rejected by his own Party not once, not twice, but three times. For the third time the UNP has rejected him as their preferred candidate to lead the Party to fight the big political battle for the Presidency. In doing so – once again — the UNPers have agreed that he was a born loser who could never win the trust of the people to be their leader. In the past they kept him as the leader of the Party partly because there was no one in the bankrupt UNP to give better leadership and partly because he had manipulated the party machine to beat any opposition and hang on to power. So they gave him chance after chance to prove that he can deliver. But he failed.
His desperation to hang on to power is pathetic. Even when the tide was going against him for the third time his last move was to lay down conditions, hoping to retain power by curtailing those of Sajith. But it was a futile counter move. Sajith refused to yield to Ranil’s underhand conditions to retain his grip on power. Ranil should know that two tigers can’t hunt in the same mountain. In any case, surrender was inevitable because as Presidential candidate, or in the event of his becoming President, Sajith will have greater power than Ranil as the leader of the UNP. From now on Ranil will have to play only the second fiddle. From now on Sajith will have the upper hand. He will play the role of the maestro conducting the UNP orchestra.
Furthermore, the political forces that matter will turn to Sajith, if he wins the presidency, and not to the leader of the UNP. Sajith as President will command greater power than Ranil as the Party leader. Besides, there is the possibility of the Party sticking to the constitution of the Party and granting the Party leadership to Sajith. However, if Ranil retains the party leadership he will, in his usual crafty ways, try to create two centers of loyalty. But he will lose hands down to Sajith who will invariably be the central magnet of political power.
Ranil’s last resort will be to win the Premiership at the parliamentary elections. He will then use his newly gained constitutional powers granted to the Premier’s office as a foil to the President. But the chances of Ranil winning a majority in Parliament are as likely as him winning the presidency in the next election. The mathematical calculations that go to decide a parliamentary election are totally different from that of a presidential election. According to statistical analyses, Mahinda Rajapaksa has a lead over Ranil as of now.
As things stands now, Ranil is doomed. He has lost his chance in the Presidential election. And his chances of winning the Premiership are zilch. He must recognize even at this late stage that his used by date is over. The Party had given him enough chances to prove himself as a leader. The UNP has been very patient and generous to him. But what has he given the UNP, except defeat and ignominy?
Sajith’s victory is more than a personal victory over a crafty manipulator who had tried to undercut him all the way. His victory is symbolic representing that of the new generation of UNPers. They are tired of the old generation led by Ranil. The wave that swept the rank and file and lifted Sajith into leadership indicates a total rejection of the old leadership. Ranil’s in particular. The voting public was not so much against the UNP as against the Ranil. The coming of Sajith has washed away some of the sins committed by Ranil. The disillusioned pro-UNPers can now go to the polls with some hope.
Though Sajith has leapt over the head of Ranil into the highest seat the Party can offer he remains as an untested, unknown and unpredictable quantity. He is yet to prove his caliber and mettle in the larger arena of global and local politics. He is yet to prove that he can throw out a David Gladstone, the meddlesome British High Commissioner who poked his unwanted finger in the domestic politics. Despite the fact that he has been a part of the UNP apparatus that committed some of the biggest crimes of times he seems to be a better alternative to Ranil. He can be classified as the best of the bad lot. He seems to be keeping a safe distance away from the pro-West, pro-Indian line almost akin to that of his father. Part of the appeal in Sajith personality – his policies are yet to be spelt out – is his closeness to the grass roots. His housing programs are reminiscent of his father delivering goods and services to the villages and the grass-roots. Sajith’s affinity with the people and the sangha is viewed by the Sinhala-Buddhist electorate as being more genuine than the thick pirith noola tied in Ranil’s hand. One of the biggest failures in Ranil’s politics has been his failure to raise his image above the level of a hollow man with his head filled with straw. He has been a fake and – poor fellow! – he will continue to look like a fake Sinhala-Buddhist even if he shaves his head and comes out in public wearing yellow robes.
Kabir Hashim, the Chairman of the UNP, has exposed Ranil’s fake politics in his latest interview with the Sunday Observer (22/9/2019) As everyone knows, Ranil’s cheap trick has been to appoint committees whenever he is confronted with a problem. His latest was to appoint a committee of four leading UNPers to decide on who should be chosen as the leader when the answer was so obvious even to a blind man’s dog. Kabir’s comments, by implication, pours scorn on Ranil’s fake move to find a leader on the recommendation of his hand-picked committee.
So asked him: What is the update on the committee appointed to select the UNF candidate, in which you are also a member?
A. “I think that committee is a red herring. The Prime Minister never called up the committee report. I have prepared a report. Myself and Minister Ranjith Maddumabandara spoke to the minority parties and UNP MPs. We have also got data and information on the best course of action for the UNP at the upcoming election, and we have been ready with the report.
The Prime Minister has nominated Rajitha Senaratne and Dinesh Weerakkody to represent him in the committee. At yesterday’s party leaders meeting at Temple Trees, the committee report was not even referred to.
The report was to be a collective effort. It should have been made together but the others were not attending the meetings so we made a report on our own. It was finalised after a series of discussions with our alliance members, all UNP MPs, and after weighing in the information and data of the current political scenario”.
This comment of the Chairman of the UNP exposes Ranil as a fraud and a fake. Kabir laments that the whole exercise of appointing committee was a waste of time. It was futile exercise which served no one, least of Ranil. It was not even referred to in the end, says Kabir. Committees are appointed by Ranil as dilatory tactics or to divert attention. He has no intention of reading the reports, or following it up, or taking action on them. He uses them to bury the issues which he has no intention of solving or dealing with them. He hopes everyone will forget it and save him from facing the issues as a leader should. He has been surviving in politics by appointing committees to dodge issues. How can a leader who appoints committees to solve problems dismiss them without even reading, or studying, or making any references to them when it comes to decision-making? How can one respect a leader who appoints committees to deceive the people? The people saw through him and never trusted him.
Sajith, on the contrary, seems to be a man of action. He can’t go wrong if he is capable of taking the Party and the administration to the people. And also if he is committed to the work ethic of his father. President Premadasa had to face the revolt of the Kurunduwatte cricket-playing gang in the cooked up impeachment saga. The impeachment even accused him of being insane. The English-speaking elite, thriving in the middle class, was against him. Premadasa came from the football-playing Kehelwatte gang,
Sajith has been spared this class/caste distinction. He was supported by a cross-section of the UNPers drawn from the top to the bottom. He represents the generational change. The passing of the baton, though reluctantly by Ranil. Hopefully it will also represent a change in direction. Hopefully the winds of change will help to bring the Party back to the people, the way his father did.