23 May, 2022


Ranil Held The Key

By Krishantha Prasad Cooray

Krishantha Cooray

Krishantha Cooray

Victory never falls from the sky. In politics victories are produced when the conditions for meaningful and effective struggle mature and more importantly those who struggle are empowered by single minded determination, unity of purpose, coherence, coordination and synergy in action, and visionary leadership. It is said and not without cause that victory begets a thousand fathers and that defeat is always a foundling. Indeed victory is not only fathered severally it is interpreted severally as well. The result of the Presidential Election held on the 8thof January 2015 is no exception.

It can be argued that corruption, wastage, abuse of state power, political patronage, absence of law and order and all the other factors that had seen discontent rise after the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009 were not attributes specific to the Rajapaksa regime. However, a lot that was forgiven, ignored or even considered inevitable due to the war were expected to be rectified in the post-war scenario. This did not happen. Instead it was perceived that not only was there an absolute disinterest in reining in corruption and wastage, these things were encouraged and worse, indulged in, by the then incumbent. Arrogance and cronyism pervaded all spheres.

Ranil WThe fact that the executive presidency was useful in executing the military offensive against the LTTE dulled the objections, but the treatment of Sarath Fonseka after his failed bid to oust Rajapaksa, the removal of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake, the 18th Amendment and a myriad of other moves clearly showed that it had outlived its usefulness.

It was clear that the entire system needed to be overhauled. In political terms this had to begin with constitutional reform. For that, Mahinda Rajapaksa had to be defeated since it was apparent by this time that no reform was possible unless this was done. He was standing in the way of the re-democratization that the country sorely needed. He had to be removed.

The discontent was a necessary but not sufficient condition to orchestrate regime change. Where was the single-minded determination to come from? How could a diverse group of actors be united for a purpose? How could coherence be brought about? How about synergy in action? Where was the visionary leadership to come from? These were questions that had to be answered.

There are various theories about how Maithripala Sirisena came to be made the common presidential candidate. Let’s leave those aside. The truth is that a lot had to happen before coming up with a credible candidate.

In the early days, long before it became a Rajapaksa-Sirisena battle, there were a number of people who worked tirelessly to prepare the ground. The late Ven Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero led a group of concerned citizens, some prominent and some not, in developing an idea around which key sections of the opposition could unite. What came out of that exercise was a concept, not a personality. The presidency and not the president was the main issue. In his last days Sobitha Thero in fact reiterated this fact and this might have been why President Sirisena pledged at the late Thero’s funeral to complete the undone task of abolishing the executive presidency.

People started supporting Ven Sobitha Thero. The idea of abolishing the executive presidency was clear, logical and by that time seen as something that had to be done. Important organizations such as the Bar Association took up the cry. Professionals and academics became vocal. One of the key change-factors was that these groups gave confidence to ordinary people and in particular activists from all sections of society to add their voices to the struggle. Senior politicians of the caliber of Karu Jayasuriya also helped bring key political actors and organizations from all communities on to the same political platform, principally around the concept that Sobitha Thero championed, the abolishing of the executive presidency. He tirelessly worked towards keeping them together. That’s how momentum was generated.

For all this, the go-ahead had to come from the main opposition party. No candidate however popular or credible in terms of possessing necessary attributes that were in concert with the political objective of democratizing could hope to oust Mahinda Rajapaksa without a strong, widespread network and a well-oiled political machine.

Ranil Wickremesinghe was not only a credible candidate but an alternative could have no chance without his endorsement. In other words, he held the key to the door that had to be opened for there to be a credible campaign.

It was not easy. There were many in the UNP who wanted him to contest. A close finish in 2005, a disaster in 2010 added to two decades without a UNPer in the driving seat had generated a lot of frustration. Many felt that this was the UNP’s moment. Many felt that Ranil Wickremesinghe could do it. Perhaps he might have been able to, but this was a political moment whose gravity could not be underestimated. It was going to be an uphill battle, a David vs Goliath encounter. The concept that had been turned into a winning brand, needed a brand ambassador who could undermine the competitor by wresting away his loyalists. It was thus that Maithripala Sirisena’s name came to be proposed.

In this exercise, a lot of credit is due to former President Chandrika Kumaratunga. As a patron of the SLFP, a former president, a staunch critic of Mahinda Rajapaksa and a person with a strong personality, she alone, perhaps, had what it took to persuade Maithripala Sirisena to break ranks with the man he would have to contest against heavy odds.

Clearly, it would have to be a brave man that could accept the challenge, especially since the repercussions of possible defeat were obvious and clearly foreboding. Maithripala Sirisena may have been the name that could go along with the concept that civil society had developed, but he had the courage to make the run worthwhile.

There were others who played key roles. In addition to Sobitha Thero, Chandrika Kumaratunga and Karu Jayasuriya , special mention should be made of Ven Athuraliye Rathana Thero of the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU). It was the rejection of his ‘Pivithuru Hetak’ proposal by Mahinda Rajapaksa that paved the way for that party to leave the Government. Rathana Thero and party leader Champika Ranawaka had the voices that could articulate best the concept that the opposition had developed. They left the ruling coalition impoverished ideologically and in terms of oratorical edge. They addressed the Rajapaksa constituency best and helped swing the floating vote towards the Sirisena campaign.

Similarly, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), although it did not back the Opposition candidate, played a key role in mobilizing support against the regime first by not fielding a candidate and secondly by supporting the idea of abolishing the executive presidency and as importantly the re-establishment of good governance. Anura Kumara Dissanayake and the JVP operated separately but towards the same objective of defeating Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The Tamil National Alliance and the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress as well as other political groups bolstered the Opposition campaign by getting the anti-Rajapaksa voters to the polling booths on the 8th of January. Their contribution cannot be underestimated. They were an integral part of what had snowballed into a national movement for democracy.

For all this, the role of the UNP and in particular Ranil Wickremesinghe, as we mentioned, was the most important factor in the 8th of January result. Ranil Wickremesinghe had to convince his party that the country should come first not only in rhetoric but by concrete action. He had to convince his party that the long term interest of the country can only be served by creating a level-playing field. He had to convince his party that things were so bad that they could not take any chances and that Maithripala Sirisena, since he could draw a sizeable chunk of the SLFP vote, had a better chance. He had to convince his party that Maithripala Sirisena needed the fullest support of the UNP and that the national interest called for the UNP to extend him that support. This is where Ranil Wickremesinghe demonstrated best the qualities of determination, political maturity and leadership. He united the party to back a winning idea. He gave coherence to a campaign that may very well have floundered without the backing of a national party with a nation-wide network and campaign machine. He helped coordinate what might otherwise have been a bits and pieces campaign. He brought about synergy. He could do all this because he had visionary leadership qualities which today even his one-time detractors would not hesitate to acknowledge.

In these efforts, he was ably supported by his General Secretary Kabir Hashim. Indeed, Hashim came to the forefront because his predecessor Tissa Attanayake had crossed over to the enemy camp in the eleventh hour. That move actually boomeranged on the Rajapaksa campaign, for Hashim proved he was far more effective and efficient at mobilizing the party’s grassroots and putting the party machinery in top gear. Party seniors such as Ravi Karunanayake, Lakshman Kiriella, Mangala Samaraweera, Thalatha Athukorale, Vajira Abeywardena, Wijedasa Rajapaksha, and new faces with strong professional credentials like Eran Wickramaratne and Harsha De Silva were voices of reason that helped convince the party’s rank and file that the decision to support Maithripala Sirisena made sense. They gave coherence to the Opposition campaign.

A couple of examples might help demonstrate the considerable commitment, skill and courage of a number of key players in the election drama that culminated in Maithripala Sirisena being elected President.

Just before election day a document was discovered detailing military deployment on the day of the election. Maithripala Sirisena, Ranil Wickremesinghe, Chandrika Kumaratunga, Karu Jayasuriya, Champika Ranawaka, Sarath Fonseka, Anura Kumara Dissanayake, M. Sumanthiran, Wijedasa Rajapaksa and J.C. Weliamuna met with the Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya. Deshapriya immediately wrote to the General Secretaries of the SLFP and the SLFP-led coalition, the UPFA as well as the service commanders and the IGP regarding this. That was principled civil service at its highest. His resolve was complemented by that of Sobitha Thero who said that if the will of the people is hijacked he would walk to the Elections Commission and was prepared to die because ‘guns can take a life but cannot destroy an idea’. The JVP also issued a statement saying that they will mobilize the entire rank and file of the party to protect the vote. These moves no doubt dissuaded those who sought to overturn a people’s verdict through extra-constitutional measures.

Deshapriya, in fact, was a hero in his own right. Heading a commission that had been shackled by the repealing of the 17th Amendment, he compensated with courage and skill, mobilizing his department and employees to ensure that wrongdoing was kept to a minimum.

On election day the state-owned Rupavahini telecasted a false and clearly mischievous ‘news’ item claiming that the UNP’s Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa had crossed over to the Rajapaksa camp. Deshapriya personally went to the Rupavahini Corporation and demanded a correction. That was going the extra mile, something that few civil servants have had the courage to do when it comes to elections or anything else.

The ruling party also circulated a rumour in the Jaffna Peninsula that the election was going to be postponed. Another duty conscious officer, Deputy Elections Commissioner Achchudan took all necessary steps to inform the people that this was an absolute lie and that the election will indeed be held. A senior ‘legal brain’ in the Rajapaksa camp took up the legality or otherwise of Achchudan’s intervention with the Elections Commissioner but Deshapriya stood his ground. All credit to him.

The media, by and large, continued to support Rajapaksa, for reasons of loyalty perhaps but probably out of concern regarding possible and unsavoury repercussions. When Maithripala Sirisena invited the editors of newspapers and other media heads for a ‘suhada hamuwa’ or ‘friendly meeting’, only two editors turned up. That should indicate in what kind of hostile media environment the Sirisena campaign had to operate.

Finally, when it was becoming clear that Maithripala Sirisena was going to win the election, Mahinda Rajapaksa summoned the Attorney General, the Chief Justice, the Army Commander and the IGP, inquiring if Emergency could be imposed to stop the counting. Perhaps he wanted to find a way to complete the last two years of his terms. The Attorney General, after consulting seniors in the Department said ‘no’. The IGP echoed his sentiments. By and large saner counsel prevailed among these key individuals. In any event, by this time and as indicated by the results of the postal vote, the lower ranks of all state institutions had overwhelmingly determined that they would no longer bend to any pressure ‘from the top’ regardless of who would give the orders.

This is why the 8th of January result, all things considered, was a people’s victory. Many played important roles, as detailed above. Ranil Wickremesinghe, more than anyone else, held the political trumps and he played them in Maithripala Sirisena’s favour. He was from beginning to end the leader of the struggle.

For all that, however, the true owner of this unprecedented victory for democracy and good governance, is the ordinary voter whose dissatisfaction with the previous regime was the impetus in the first instance for Ven Sobitha Thero to launch this campaign. They were the manifestations of the maturing of conditions for meaningful and effective political struggle. It was the bedrock that is the people’s will that everything else was built upon. It was their sentiments that made everything else possible, including Ranil Wickremesinghe’s effective and critical interventions.

The ordinary voter made a statement. The ordinary voter gave a mandate. Rest assured, the ordinary voter will continue to be the main protagonist in seeing that the mandate is implemented to the letter, regardless of personalities that may have to be sidelined or might fall along the way.

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Latest comments

  • 7

    Great article. People, with time ( hopefully ) will realise Ranil’s importance/intelligence..

  • 7

    Krishantha Cooray,

    Most of what you say in this article is true excepting giving much more credit to Ranil than he deserves.

    I do not for a moment believe that Ranil was the person that you describe him to be. He was silent most of the time during the tenure of Mahinda Rajapaksa. He never squeaked up when there was so much to squeak about during that infamous times. What concerned most to people at the time was the increasingly Mafia like governance style of the Rajapaksas. Secondly it was the rampant corruption that was practiced by all those in power. The people were alienated, powerless and fearful to confront the authorities. Through all this Ranil was as silent as a rat. Only persons like AKD and Ranjan Ramanayake who took the fight to the governing clan in the parliament.

    In actual fact Ranil was never a unifying force within his party. Look at the number of UNP MPs who crossed over to the Mahinda Camp. And the crowning glory for the Rajapaksas was the purchase of Tissa Attanayaka from the UNP camp. All politicians within UNP felt that there was no leadership and were adrift. No wonder they were easy to bait by the corrupt Rajapaksas. If it is me, I will not give any credit for Ranil for the defeat of the Rajapaksa mafia.

    • 2

      BBS Rep,

      “Most of what you say in this article is true excepting giving much more credit to Ranil than he deserves. “

      Yes, a kasippukaraya like you do not understand the value of a gem like RW. It is buffaloes like Gnanasaraya that you worship as gods.

      • 4

        Sure the people will realize it soon.

        Right at the moment, RW is the most intelligent politician we have in the country. Just look at the way he is getting on with the problems of the day, without making any kind of personal attacks. Current situation is like living on a glued rode. However, he has to be very patient. He is no way impatient compared to other senior politicians. What he makes clear it to respect law and order than anything else.
        I am bit sad his govt is not taking due action against Hirunika – if the law maker was remanded at least for few days going through all the evidences collected, that could send a message across the nation, RW s acts are equal to all and sundry. May be i am wrong here not knwoing the truths related to the mediation of Hirunika. But her unethical actions damaged UNP right at this critical juncture of lanken politics.

  • 5

    “This is why the 8th of January result, all things considered, was a people’s victory. Many played important roles, as detailed above. Ranil Wickremesinghe, more than anyone else, held the political trumps and he played them in Maithripala Sirisena’s favour. He was from beginning to end the leader of the struggle.”

    How true? The Tsar Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias was from the beginning to end the inspiration of the struggle of the Bolsheviks!

  • 8

    Krishantha, how do you see what is happening now with MS at the helm?

    Does Ranil still “hold the key”, or is your title with “held” (instead of “holds”) the operative word?

    You also say that “For all that, however, the true owner of this unprecedented victory for democracy and good governance, is the ordinary voter whose dissatisfaction with the previous regime was the impetus in the first instance for Ven Sobitha Thero to launch this campaign”.

    It appears that “the ordinary voter” is slowly but surely getting disgruntled with the way MS is behaving, but unfortunately for us all the Ven, Sobitha is no more.

    So if Ranil still “holds” that “key”, it’s about time he does something about the current state of affairs, don’t you think?

  • 6

    The sun rises because of Ranil ! Actually Ranil’s career is a tragedy for the UNP and more tragic for Sri Lanka.

    If Mr. Cooray wants to cozy up to Ranil he should go direct to him without writing such abject nonsense.

  • 2

    Cooray after being dumped by Sira & company from the telecom cozying up to Ranil…….
    saner counsel prevailed then BUT does it now is the question?

    The key Ranil held OVER THE TIME IS lost.
    FIND IT COORAY !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Now its Home and Home.
    Ranil & George Surrows (soros) VS CBK, Prez, Mangy & SAPRI.
    Thilanga VS Arjuna………
    Hiru-nicker VS Moniker………….
    Ranil was as silent as a rat. Only COOLIES like AKD and Ranjan Ramanayake who took the fight to the governing clan in the parliament.
    AKD has now experienced a frog in his throat.
    The Presidential Liar has again postphoned the Provincial Council Elections

    The political games the Yahapalanaya play……

  • 2

    Thought provoking article. Harry Hatton is obviously a MR stooge or a person who has some issue with RW or Krishantha Cooray.

    Enjoyed reading a well written article.

  • 6

    Ranil Wickremasinghe is the hope of Sri Lanka. This is Lanka’s last chance

    • 2

      You are wrong.
      Sri Lankan people of all race religion and caste are the hope of Sri Lanka.
      The country had and still has a great potential….only if ….

  • 4

    Very accurate narration of the sequence of events leading up to regime change and thereafter. Thank you Krishantha. Every letter you wrote too played a part post-revolution activities.

  • 3

    Splendid article. I don’t know why newspapers are not publishing these articles. Colombotelegraph is the only website that entertains meaningful articles like this.

    Ranil is the only leader who can take Sri Lanka to the next level but unfortunately he seems to lack good administrators.
    Although Ranil has made a sacrifice Sirisena is a bad choice. He does not have any charisma or vision. In the last few months he has behaved like an idiot. His family is getting too involved.

    Sri Lanka needs a strong opposition otherwise Maithripala might end up like Mahinda Rajapaksa.

    • 0

      If as you say, he is the leader – why cant make changes in the adminstration ?

      If MY3 was not the suitable candidate – who could according to you drive away Rajaakshe ?

      Charisma is not written in genetic code -just listen to MY3 s sinhala speeches – he focuses on every aspects. I think UNP should be grateful to MY3. And MY3 and all should be grateful to UNP for their sacrifices.

      If opposition led by UNP had created joint opposition, during the previous regime, Rajapakshe woud not have gone that far abusing all the ministries.
      There UNP leader is accountable for his behaviours. At the time, former CJ was brutally sent home, UNP was dead silent. They could lead street protests to a manner people did in arab coutnries. There, RW was like a dead man.
      All in all, if MY3 or any others did not risk their life, UNP would not have come out of the deep well they had been sinking last year.

      Many leaders in Europe are not English educated. Each of them appoint their own interpreters. So why not MY3 follows the same path. He has enough expeirience in lanken politics. He would not stay silent, as had been the case with MaharRaja who looted the nation.
      Today s situation is not compraable to previous governments. Grand parties have come together to build up a national govt. Mostly, they have to respect the views of the other before getting them passed – it is not an easy task at all. The move will be a snail one – we know the facts..

  • 3

    Thank you Krishantha Cooray for a good article. You have put things in perspective. Today Maithripala has forgotten all the key players most importantly CBK. I think she played a bigger role than Ranil. I agree with most of what you say but the truth is if not for Ranil we could have had a better candidate than maithripla. CBK or Karu Jayasuriya would have been a better option for the country.

    However I agree that Ranil is now our only hope but his no 2 Sajith is a disaster and his no 3 is even a bigger disaster.

    • 3

      I dont think I can agree with you here. I think MY3 has not forgotten anything yet. It is just that he cant involve himself in today s rule since he has agreed with RW allow him to rule the nation -by giving parliamentary politics a chance. Today s politics you cant compare it with that of MR regime.

      CBK and Golden son of the nation in all times, late Rev Sobitha thero sacrificed it for the nation. They both had no chance at all, but they managed to topple the last regime ina very smart manner. There they did not have a big choice than to go for a candidate who could defeat Minimaru Rajapakshes. To that moment, CBK or any other leaders and their charactors were brutally assasinated by Rajapakshe media men: Going back to the days of ITN run by that one eyed man Hudson and his voccabulary abused for attacking people – remember ? Hudson should be given no freedom to roam today, if RW is revengeful person compared to Rajapakshes. The manner Rajapakshe treated CBK was beyond all ethics and morals. That is the typical nature of rascals and uneducated leaders.
      And most of all peoples hearts were abused – grabbed – made them intoxicated – by repeatedly reciting their war victory – eating the full cake ONLY by Rajaakshe men.Even today, you would see, how stupid those masses are before Rajapakshe- to me all is like North korean leader is respected by those men and women in NKOREA. CBK, RW and all other senior politicians were painted as they are powerless leaders that betrayed the nation not once several dozens of times. None of the kind information are facts. Rajapakshes could paint black as white – they are wrong by their birth. Except for Chamal Rajapkashe, I cant respect any of the Rajapakshes among them.

  • 5

    RW would move earth and heaven for and on behalf of the country, for the development of the country, its people, its systems and its future. In the true sense of the word he is a statesman of international caliber. All around the world Arab Springs were fought with blood and failure but Sri Lanka could set a shining example to the entire world how a country could step out even from a dictatorship peacefully and most importantly showing to the entire world how to maintain that change and how to march and marshal a country for progress after the change. Post budget the dead spirits of MR did everything to create havoc and anarchy in the country but RW was masterful to tame the trade union wave in favour of the government. True RW had to change his budgetary income calculations a bit but it is worth the sacrifice in that it enabled his government to march forward. He would definitely explore alternatives while the trade unionists were given a lesson on how to sharpen their teeth to protect their rights and also how to protect a government that protects their rights. This type of mature politics only exists in the realm of great politicians like RW. Indeed he would rise not with a single country but with other countries in the region as well because his reach, address, concepts and methods spreads beyond native boarders.

    • 2

      But the problem is world bodies would not consider the current regime as an able regime – because

      A)A half the ministries and rulers were the high men of the previous regime
      B)Regime was changed but nothing changed in the phripheral adminstrations
      C) Police functions in compliant with Police commission but most of the them in higher positions are not changed their corrupted attitudes
      D) Bribary COmmission interviews each and every alleged men -sharks and sprats but nothing sofar is tangible any convictions are made
      E) Law and order is still far from tangible enforcement – not even murderers are arrested by police
      Eg. Sportlers murder is now become a murder – but alleged men are roaming around
      F)No such accoutnablity and transparency are guranteed as promised in the eleciton days
      G) JVP -one supportive fraction that worked die hard to chase away dictator Rajaakshe – are not happy to this date with the performance of current regime

      So the world bodies would not invest in srilanka even today. They will shy away from the situation. Even if RW works diehard to make wonders, it can take years acutally. So many obstacles are standing on his way.

  • 2

    A very good article. A case for RW is beautifully presented. Enjoyed reading it.

  • 3

    Krishantha Cooray what I have read and heard about you is all very positive but by trying to give too much credit to Ranil you will lose your credibility. Ranil is a very self centered man and I am sure the writer knows it only too well.
    Thank you for your article.

  • 1

    Thanks Krishantha for reminding us about how things were an year ago. I hope Maithri will also remember how he became President. It is an interesting article which will help people to understand how Mahinda was defeated.

  • 0

    Great article. Whether we like it or not we only have RW but he will have to take some important decisions otherwise what happened in 2002 will happen again. If he is to be a success he should first have the courage to sack Ravi Karu who will otherwise be the downfall of this government.

  • 1

    This article is one of the best articles I have read in the recent past. I don’t entirely agree with some points raised, but I appreciate the writer for presenting some important points.

    Ranil is the only hope we have, but he will have to take some strong decisions this year. If he wants to start well the first thing he should do is to sack Ravi K . Unfortunately Ranil does not have the guts to change Ravi K.

    He does not have much support so I can’t understand why the prime minister is tolerating him.

  • 0

    This is the second article I read about RW written by the same author and your points are very much appreciated.
    However, Ranil will be judged by the decisions he takes this year. Until and unless Ravi Karu is dismissed as finance minister the government will not be able to deliver anything economically.

    Why is Ranil not making use of people like, Eran Wickremaratne, Harsha Desilva and the popular personalities like Ranjan and Sujeeva?

    Ranil should develop a new team otherwise he will find it difficult to succeed.

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