22 March, 2023


Ranil Just Mummified Himself & Embalmed The UNP, So What Should A Democratic Opposition Do? 

By Dayan Jayatilleka 

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

With the decision of the UNP to retain Ranil Wickremesinghe, who failed to be -re-elected in his hometown, Colombo, and led his party to a situation of zero-representation in the parliament, as the leader of the UNP, was the second of the “double-tap” that finished off the UNP. The first shot to the head was administered by the voters, not least UNP voters. 

This move wrecks whatever prospects the UNP had. Those residual prospects of renewal lay entirely in the immediate (long overdue) appointment of Ruwan Wijewardene or Navin Dissanayake as leader. 

However, Ranil fans still say that “…Ranil Wickremesinghe almost won a Presidential election in 2005, coming on a completely pro-devolution platform, save for an LTTE-led voting boycott.” 

That bedrock argument for his continuing in politics and as UNP leader is wholly ridiculous. The LTTE boycotted the entire election, not just one candidate. Why didn’t the boycott destroy Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Presidential run as it did Ranil’s? Because Mahinda didn’t stupidly build his campaign on expectations of the LTTE vote. Then again, why didn’t Ranil win in 1999 when the LTTE didn’t boycott but tilted to him against CBK? Because he, unlike CBK was perceived by the voter, as tilting to the LTTE. Therefore, whether the LTTE boycotted (2005) or supported (1999) Ranil, he lost. That’s a ‘jinx’—of structural un-electability.

The new Opposition must opt for a strategy that can encompass the middle classes and the working people, the have-nots, not trade-off one for the other or privilege the middle-class over the masses. “…The millions of small people—the workers and the peasants—are the hardcore of our society. They are the very foundations of our country.” (Ranasinghe Premadasa, Gam Udawa, June 23rd 1987) This is what the Biden candidacy did, building on and broadening the appeal and catalytic contribution of the Sanders campaign. 

The new opposition must be a force of and for all the people; the whole of society; the 99%, not the 1%. It must be the camp of the citizenry. 

The SJB must establish itself as a camp of the progressive center; one which is capable of recovering voters who were lost by the UNP, attracting voters who opted massively for Gotabaya Rajapaksa (2019) and the Mahinda-led SLPP (2020), while appealing to new voters.

The UNP of the last quarter-century does not belong in the same camp as it classically did. This point is not original to me. It was first made by Dr Sarath Amunugama in the 1990s, underscoring the abandonment of DS Senanayake’s welfarism and agrarianism by Ranil Wickremesinghe’s UNP. It was made consistently by a second generation UNPer, former head of the UNP’s youth and student wings, Imtiaz Bakeer Markar. It was made by President JR Jayewardene’s grandson Pradip in newspaper interviews explaining his resignation from JRJ’s party. 

I too made the point at the precise moment of the deviation by Mr. Wickremesinghe. I had no personal motivation because I had supported him from 1994-1996, when he had declared publicly that he stood for social democracy (in an interview with me in the Sunday Observer) and the Premadasa development philosophy. I broke with him exactly when he made the turn which placed him and his party in a global camp in a manner that was unprecedented, and signed up to an agreement that shifted the party drastically in local politics. He enrolled the UNP in the International Democratic Union, founded by the US Republicans and the British Conservatives, while signing up to the Liam Fox agreement which displaced the party’s position on the LTTE and the unitary state. 

The UNP before that, including under Ranil, may not have been a progressive party. I certainly did not regard it as such which I why I declined President Premadasa’s kind invitation to enter Parliament through the national list and take a portfolio. I was and remain a Premadasaist, not a UNPer, just as later, I supported Mahinda and the JO, but never joined either the SLFP or the SLPP.  However, the UNP did have a progressive aspect and progressive interludes, especially during the Premadasa Presidency. Even during the quarter-century of Ranil Wickremesinghe, the UNP retained progressive elements, the most progressive of which was Sajith Premadasa, whom I supported publicly from 2010.

However bitter the pill, the thinking of the new Opposition must be a shift to progressive realism.

It is profoundly counterproductive to the SJB and the anti-regime democratic struggle for it to be regarded as in the same camp as the UNP of the last quarter century, though it must certainly be regarded as the inheritor of the positive aspects of the UNP before that, going right back to its inception in 1946, while eschewing those abidingly reactionary, elitist, anti-national aspects that wiped it out in 1956, 1970 and almost destroyed it physically in 1988 before Premadasa rescued it against impossible odds. 

Simply put, it is negative for the SJB to regard itself as belonging to the same camp as (a) the UNP of the ‘long downswing’ of the past quarter-century under Ranil and (b) those aspects of the UNP that made it turn Sri Lanka into a country of two civil wars and foreign intervention, described by candidate Ranasinghe Premadasa as ‘a torch ablaze at both ends’ which he was bequeathed.         

If the SJB is perceived as belonging to the camp of the UNP or on a continuum with it, by which I mean the Ranilist UNP as well as the negative policies of before, that Ranasinghe Premadasa abandoned or rectified, it will be unable to lead a democratic camp that attracts voters from both sides, or more accurately from all points of the compass.    

The camp the SJB must be at the helm and the center of is the Citizens Camp; the camp that represents the pressing concerns and the interests of the citizenry; the camp that can be credibly expected to uplift the quality of life of the citizenry at large and strive for “the public good”. (Premadasa, Gam Udawa, June 24th 1986) 

What is necessary is the creation of a broad camp of which the enemy is despotism, proto-fascism, militarism, ultranationalism and xenophobia, i.e., the dictatorial Far-Right. 

The camp of democracy must of necessity identify and accommodate the positive aspects of the Mahinda years and achievement as part of a broad national democratic narrative that cuts across parties, bringing together the development paradigm and ‘multiethnic democracy’ of Ranasinghe Premadasa and the positive contributions in domestic and foreign policy of an array of national leaders and figures, including the Bandaranaikes, Vijaya Kumaratunga and Lakshman Kadirgamar, in an ideological constellation.

A touchstone of the new opposition must be Ranasinghe Premadasa. How to classify Premadasa, where to locate his progressivism, I leave the readers to judge from his deeds—Janasaviya, the Housing Program, Free School Uniforms, the Presidential Task Force on Land redistribution, the Sevana Sarana Foster parents scheme—and his stated, overarching goal, to “transform the have-nots into haves” and” “to correct this imbalance between power and people”. (Harare, Zimbabwe, 3.9. 1986). 

The question is sometimes asked by the neoliberals, how the “SJB’s version of patriotism, social-democratic approach, and peasant heartland politics, and centre-space are going to be different from SLPP…” Surely it is equally important to know how the SJB’s version of development, democracy, devolution and foreign policy are going to be different from the UNP, and especially the UNP of the last quarter century under Ranil’s leadership? Evidently not for some, but almost certainly for the voters.

Anyway, the answer to the Ranilist neoliberal query is easy. Even at its best, the JO-SLPP under Mahinda, and before the cave-in to the Gotabaya Alt-Right, the SLPP was never primarily about the people, especially the have-nots. It was about the nation, or the people (only) as the nation, which is lop-sided, ‘de-centered’. Under the hegemony of the Gotabaya faction and line, the SLPP has not dissented from the equation of the nation with the state and the state with the military, and thus the nation with the military. 

If MR was ‘Country First’, GR is ‘Military First’, while the Premadasa line of both father and son, is ‘People First’ or ‘Citizenry First’. MR was more a democrat than not, while Gotabaya is uncommitted and unmoored to democracy. Sajith and the SJB are deeply and consistently committed to pluralist democracy. The SLPP is ambiguous about devolution while GR is opposed, but Sajith’s SJB is committed to the 13th amendment, no less, no more. The SLPP has back-peddled on pluralism and doesn’t attack chauvinism except of the minority variant, while Sajith and the SJB attack extremism and racism from all quarters.  

If there is a GR Lite in the Opposition, it sure isn’t Sajith Premadasa.      

The SJB must not regard itself as being in the old camp of the UNP and/or the center-right, any more than Buddhism was in the old camp of Brahminism/Hinduism and Christianity was in the old camp of the Jewish faith.  

What is needed is a new camp that represents a new ‘national popular’ synthesis; a new yet organic ontology of a “people-nation”.  

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Latest comments

  • 10

    Dayan Jayathilke,

    “Ranil Wickremesinghe almost won a Presidential election in 2005, coming on a completely pro-devolution platform, save for an LTTE-led voting boycott’

    It is not a ridiculous argument ,but a valid straightforward sensible argument.

    What is ridiculous and illogical is your counter claim as to “why Ranil did not win in 1999”

    As a political scientist you should know at least how to debate logically.

    • 2

      I don’t agree with you on this point. Sri lankan Tamils in the North East is less than 10% usually voting rate is less than 60%. You should not forget that not all should go to Ranil. 2019/20 election results clearly showed that Tamils vote is necessary to decide the winning the election. Further even if Ranil won that election Ranil can’t do anything to solve the problem as he couldn’t do anything during 2015 to 2020.
      Dayan is not bothered about finding a solution to the Tamil problem. He is bothered about the dangers of Gotabaya Rajapakse for Sinhala community and Sri lanka. For example, in order to take revenge another Sinhala (Harin Fernando) Gotabaya exposed the war crimes and human rights violations during the war and he sent a message to those Sinhala people who voted for Sajith and UNP who are against to Rajapakse family.

      • 5

        You may be correct about what DJ seems to be bothered about.
        Those who know him for donkey’s years know what he is always bothered about: number one.

      • 1

        Ajith, you are wrong. Tamil votes were/are NOT relevant in deciding who wins. In 2005, 2010 (twice), 2019, 2020 Tamils totally opposed Rajapaksas but they won landslides.

        Only exception is 2015 when Sirisena won with Tamil votes despite the Sinhala majority rejecting him. In all other elections since 1947 the winner won regardless of Tamil support or not.

        2005 was an interesting case. MR led RW by 180,000 votes. Even if Jaffna people voted, it’s very unlikely the lead would have flipped in RW’s favour. Remember MR did not win zero percentage of Tamil votes. He won some Tamil votes so the difference would not reduce much.

        Vanni could not vote anyway as it was under LTTE control. After the 2004 election debacle in Vanni, it was closed for voting in 2005.

        If Tamils voted in large numbers that would trigger a voting frenzy from Sinhalese offsetting any advantage RW would have had anyway. This happened in 1982. Sinhala people were told on the election day that Tamils are voting in droves to the SLFP candidate (which was true) and that Tamil people’s choice would win (not true) unless Sinhalas counter Tamil voting. You know the result.

        This is same in USA. The US majority is told that the African American minority is voting in droves to the Democratic candidate. Then the white majority votes for any fool Republics field.

      • 2

        “That bedrock argument for his continuing in politics and as UNP leader is wholly ridiculous. The LTTE boycotted the entire election, not just one candidate. Why didn’t the boycott destroy Mahinda Rajapaksa’s”
        Not that I am a great fan of Tamil, but the above “argument” is specious. As usual, Dr.DJ ignores facts. The fact was that few in the North would have voted for Mahinda the Sinhala Buddhist champion even then. Ranil lost many times more votes than Mahinda.

      • 3


        I do not know why you wanted to defend Dayan on his foolish statement just to vilify Ranil.

        The issue is whether Ranil would have won in the 2005 Presidential election if LTTE had not prevented voters from voting in areas controlled by them.

        It is not about whether Ranil would have done this or that.

        It is only about whether Ranil would have won or not.

        The actual votes obtained by Mahinda Rajapakse in the 2005 Presidential election was was 50.29% 4,887,152 and Ranil Wicramasinghe obtained 48.43% and 4,706,366 votes.

        The margin of victory was 180,176 votes – a very narrow margin.

        The context is important.

        Arrangements were made for voters in the LTTE controlled areas to vote.

        During this period talks were being conducted between Government and LTTE at different world capitals.

        The government had agreed to consider Federal option.

        Tamils were overwhelmingly in support of Ranil.

        Tamils all over the country and even Tamils in the in army controlled areas in Northern and Eastern Provinces voted in large numbers for Ranil.

        The voters in the cleared areas also would have voted for Ranil is a reasonable assumption.

        Ranil would have easily won in the 2005 Presidential election.

        • 3

          I am not defending Dayan or Ranil or Mahinda. They are the same.
          Please read what I said about Dayan

          “Further Dayan is not bothered about finding a solution to the Tamil problem.”

  • 4

    I am of the view that Ranil Wickremasinghe will bounce back. Every one is now frustrated with Rajapaksas militarizarion and with the judicial decisions together with the manner of releasing the hardcore convicts in contrast to democratic norms.

    • 4

      Not “everyone”.

      It is true most people irrespective of ethnicity are frustrated with Rajapaksas.

      But come the next election TNA will restart their Tamil grievances, Sinhala colonization and other racist nonsense which will galvanize Sinhalas into the opposite camp. Basically Rajapaksas election campaign is run very well by the TNA (and Shivajilingam, Vigneswaran and Ponnambalam)!

      Political cohabitation of Tamil racism and Sinhala racism!

  • 8

    SriKrish, that 2005 election ( 15 years ago) was not about Ranil. The whole country was frustrated with the egocentric, big talking, but essentially empty and meaningless rule of Chandrika, another creation of our buffoon making culture .Ranil votes were anti Chandrika votes. No normal person will endorse our 5th lane Oscar Wilde (without the talent)

    Whether you like it or not, MR offered a new way, he defeated the LTTE which both Chandrika and Ranil said we could not do, and also performed better than both of them where the economy was concerned.The country’s thinking has now changed, We are no longer tied to Bandaranaykes and Wickramasinghes . That mental slavery is gone.

    Both Chandrika and Ranil were masters at confounding their stupid followers with their economic jargon ( neither in actual fact is an economist-Chandrika says she has a PhD and Ranil says he reads books in the night !) Both are only confidence tricksters.

    By the way, in the UNP it is the leader who appoints his successor , not the party ! And Ranil is a democrat !

    However the theory of Buffoon making continues.

    MR was better than both Chandrika and Ranil, but he also cannot escape the country and the culture.The very air we breathe is buffoon making. So only another buffoon, but different.( buffoon also means, rogue, incompetent, silly, selfish, half baked)

    This country is a joke.

  • 2

    (1) Want to be a credible opposition with 13th Amendment?? say no more Dayan.

    (2) No Presidential position (in the future) & Parliamentary Westminster style democracy with some upgrades/No PC’ and 13th amendments talks ever.

    (3) Green credentials for a sustainable development model

    (4) Compulsory military service for all

    (5) No ghetto parties (make them all illegal immidiately) and a Malaysian style National Security Act for racists who ever open their mouth.

    (6) Removal of Indian embassy from Jaffna + Create an embassy street in Colombo and relocate all the embassies together in one area including relocating the US and Indian embassy away from the Presidential residence and an important prime land that we need for more important SL needs. Easy to keep an eye on embassy activities/security too and out of sight from the SL citizens main activity areas please.

    Given these will not be covered in the upcoming constitutional revisions then UNP has a chance to win the hearts and minds not just as a credible opposition but a contender for GOSL too.

    • 2

      You got a point. If Rajapaksas are totally desperate (in 2015 they were not as they had some understanding with Sirisena like Putin-Medvedev-Putin deal) they will simply promise to get rid of 13A (may be they actually will get rid of it as they have 2/3). That will guarantee them a massive election win in 2024 and 2025.

      Game over.

      Dayan wants to eat the cake and have the cake too! Pie in the sky!

  • 2


    You cannot eat the cake and have the cake too.

    Decide which one you want more – keep 13A or get rid of Rajapaksas. You cannot both keep 13A and get rid of Rajapaksas at the same time. Pick one at the expense of the other. If you burden SJB and/or UNP with the 13A, they will sink (not swim) giving Rajapaksas another easy win.

    You know your middle class argument always fails. In SL people don’t vote by economic classes anymore (unless you want to resurrect Philip Gunawardhane which is also against your wishes). That is Karl-Marxstan.

  • 5

    Dayan is just trying to justify his position with Sajith as an advisor. Advisor for What? What was his job description or TOR.

  • 1

    A corrected version of my above comment.

    Dayan was recently appointed by Sajith Premadasa as his International Advisor,

    As an international expert Dayan would not have accepted this assignment without a TOR.

    Was this article written in terms of his TOR or was it his personal view and has no connection at all with his assignment,

  • 0

    (7) Start discussions on changing this Tea business. The hill country should put to better use/Tourism in bio diversity and re wilding some of the landscape.

    (8) Talk about population growth and family planning at school levels and community level. we may need a separate department take up this task.

    (9) We do not discuss India/China/East/West and none of our National parties should ever base their policies on these basis…..that will be traitorous/treachery/un patriotic.

    (10) Our national policy should be ours and not blessed by others (we do not bless others foreign and national policies because we have no right to do so) and should be centred around what is best for our Nation of people and that is what leadership/visionary all about. (Neutrality also means we are not part of others military ventures/insecurities) is what UN is all about..magic word is “Sovereignty”.

    (11) Common memorial for all Mother Lankan children died since Independence..we should not be ashamed to say it out loud this should remind us our past ignorant journey and foreign blunders post colonial times.

  • 0

    (12) We are open to all the Nation to work with us and be part of our success. We have space for other nations children to come and make a living as required based on our Technological/Labour needs just as Singapore/Malaysia etc.

    (13) Please discuss the current UNP Manifesto in your articles in a structured way please. The shadow cabinet/MP’s thoughts and contributions to the Nation Building program…(one does not need to wait until the Election Day). Ask them to give weekly reports of their action list/surgery work load/mile stones/progress report/issues delivering the daily service during their appointed/elected work scope and tenure please. They should all have respective web sites where they publish MOM, their constituent town hall meetings broadcasted, all their activities listed, their calendar related to next few weeks at a time, parliamentary session attendance, they should also attend as neutral residence to schools and explain how our parliament work in the schools etc, social and volunteer work programs for the community participation, emails all this to their respective constituents, system to expose/audit anyone who play party politics after the election as they need to serve all.

    • 0

      (14) Please ask Hon RW to help educate our masses from North to South in politics without the party politics. People need to learn we have parties for us to serve our Nation only. It is just a mere vehicle not a battle chariot.

  • 1

    (15) We need to educate our politicians only to explain their policies but not spend time personalising/belittle their opposition. Policy comparison and why one offer is better than the other should be a norm? Politicians should encourage their supporters to go and listen to all the parties in their community and evaluate for themselves what is best for them?? never to discuss party politics except for the election time? never set one segment/party supporters on the other as they are the fabric of the nation and unity can only be enhanced and broken?? Elections should be celebration of unity where we get a chance to come up with new ideas to empower us all on a regular interval?? We as a Nation should be known for this “party” time during elections around the world??

    (16) Asking for violence on the opposition/undermine/belittle/not congratulate others victories/not working with opposition thereafter even after elections are lost/spend time undermining through violence and intimidations/thuggery all should stop. Law and order need to be the centre of all this and am sure now our military/police/secret services are capable of talking care of all this without party thugs.

  • 0

    (17) Point (16) is what happened in Jaffna since 1970 to 1977 to 1981…the consequence of misinterpretation as to what is democracy by a bunch of lawyers we know today.
    Our last election was one of the most decent due to pandemic and the turn out was good too.

    (18) Can you write (not high level political philosophies) but how UNP will do differently be it budget spending to environmental planning vs what is our current GOSL doing please?? Not a discussion of what is India/China thinking as their thoughts are nothing to do with us except for economical partnerships we all win as evaluated by “us”. We do not comment on their national policies for a reason..because in none of our business.

    If we have all National parties clear on this vision of not allowing foreigners to have a say in internal affairs we will go a long way to win the hearts and minds of the Majority SL’s.

  • 4

    Dayan J

    What we got at present is a government of the Buddhist monks, by the military, for the corrupt politicians. Voters are mere puppets.

    Don’t think there will be a redemption in the near future.

    • 2

      People in this country managed to get rid of a Government:
      • With stooges of western countries,
      • Traitors,
      • Broad daylight bank robbers,
      • Money launderers,
      • Salesmen who were prepared even to sell the whole country to foreigners, and
      A Government that:
      • Ruined the economy,
      • Ruined the Armed Forces,
      • Ran a Police State from Temple trees that issued orders to police to arrest their political opponents and fabricate evidences.
      • Allowed Wahabi Muslim terrorists to carry out attacks even though they had prior knowledge about the attacks.

      What we got at present is a government of the Buddhist monks, by the military, for the corrupt politicians

      • 2


        And they elected a government of:

        * An American citizen
        * An American first “lady”
        * Sinhala Buddhist ultra racists
        * Rioters
        * Looters
        * A PM who robbed the aid for tsunami reconstruction (Help Hambantota)
        * A president who was accused of war crimes, human rights abuses and journalist killings
        * A totally incompetent government that has issued 5 gazettes in 12 months for rice (yet rice prices are the highest in the world)
        * A president who cannot even run a pradeshiya sabha
        * That manipulates the courts to release all criminals and put innocents behind bars
        * Totally incompetent in managing the COVID-19 crisis

  • 0

    Who the hell is the real male prostitute.

  • 0

    That bedrock argument for his continuing in politics and as UNP leader is wholly ridiculous.
    Even US president lost and he says he will come back in 2024.
    If you’re afraid of losing, then you daren’t win, now and then by losing a clash you find a new way to win.

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