19 October, 2019

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Ranil Really Is Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Best Friend

By Kath Noble

Kath Noble

Everybody knows about the crisis in the UNP. Of the many elections there have been in Sri Lanka in the last two decades, it has lost all but one. This includes four presidential elections and four out of five parliamentary elections. And it will have the opportunity to lose a few more in September, as the Eastern, North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provinces go to the polls.

In the last general election, it could secure only 29% of the popular vote, worse than either of the two major parties have fared in a very long time.

The main reason for its failure was identified last year in a survey by the Centre for Policy Alternatives. It found that less than 20% of Sinhalese support the UNP. And although the party does rather better than the SLFP with minorities, it has to compete with ITAK, which is backed by more than 50% of Tamils, the CWC with about 30% of Up Country Tamils and the SLMC and NUA, which together have the backing of some 35% of Muslims. Meanwhile, the SLFP is the preferred party of nearly 75% of Sinhalese – Sinhalese being nearly 75% of the population, this alone gives it a good shot at 55% of the popular vote.

To have any hope of ending its losing streak, the UNP needs to rebuild its base among Sinhalese.

Ranil Really Is Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Best Friend

Some analysts argue that the SLFP’s popularity is due to the war victory, so we shouldn’t be surprised by the number or scale of its electoral successes, which have given Mahinda Rajapaksa amongst other things a two thirds majority in Parliament – a feat that was supposedly impossible with proportional representation. That a more balanced distribution of power would be good for the country is widely accepted. They suggest that things will get back to ‘normal’ in a while, even if no action is taken. In other words, there is no cause for concern. However, such confidence in the automatic revival of the Opposition is misplaced. Voters are more discerning than they think. Having ended a war is no guarantee of support, as Winston Churchill found out within months of Hitler’s death – the British public acknowledged his brilliant wartime leadership and were grateful, but many of them preferred to have somebody else in charge of the recovery. Sri Lankans would have done the same if the UNP had presented them with an attractive alternative.

The fact that in the most recent local election – more than two and a half years after the end of the war – the UNP lost strongholds like Kandy that it had held for over five decades demonstrates that there is every reason to worry.

The problem, which I find it hard to believe anybody can fail to see, is Ranil Wickremasinghe.

Ranil really is Mahinda Rajapaksa’s best friend. He is irreversibly associated with two policies that much of the Sri Lankan public – certainly the vast majority of Sinhalese – regard as anathema. Also, Ranil doesn’t seem to have changed his mind about them. These are his enthusiasm for appeasement and his commitment to neo-liberal economics. And Ranil isn’t just keen on these policies. He is a radical adherent. His Regaining Sri Lanka programme envisaged a sharp reduction in the role of the state in pretty much every sector, no matter how cherished. And he wasn’t just willing to do whatever it took to do a deal with the LTTE, he went so far as to ridicule the Government’s military campaign almost until it reached the banks of Nanthikadal.

He has not admitted that he was wrong. Indeed, he often sounds as though he would do it all again if he had the chance.

In addition to being a liability with voters, Ranil is not even able to hang onto the few members his party does manage to get elected. Dozens of his MPs have crossed over to the Government, especially in the last seven years. Of course this is the result of the smart manoeuvring of Mahinda Rajapaksa, but the Opposition too has to be smart. There’s nothing wrong with the Government making use of MPs’ interest in ministerial positions to boost its numbers – this is politics. (Of course it would be good to set a constitutional limit to the number of ministers an administration can appoint.) But Ranil should be able to take advantage too. He should be capitalising on the growing dissatisfaction within the SLFP at the dominance of Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family and their plans for his succession.

I can’t think of many other democratic countries in which the same person has been in charge of a major party for as long as Ranil Wickremasinghe. In the UK, Tony Blair took over as party leader just a couple of months before Ranil became leader of the UNP. Even though he won three successive terms for the British Labour Party, in 1997, 2001 and 2005, he was still compelled to hand over power to a successor after ten years as Prime Minister. Meanwhile, the British Conservative Party changed its leader four times until it found David Cameron, who finally defeated Labour in 2010. Imagine their fate if they had stuck with John Major! It is standard practice to bring in new faces – and hopefully also new ideas and new energy – from time to time, even when things are going well. Ranil has been party leader for 18 years, almost all of which have been spent out of office, yet still nobody has been able to replace him.

In the circumstances, it is quite ridiculous for the UNP to accuse Mahinda Rajapaksa of clinging onto power, when he has only been in charge for seven years. The worst dictatorship in Sri Lanka is to be found in the UNP.

This is exactly the argument made by those who have crossed over.

The struggle to eject Ranil has been going on for most of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s time in office. And it has occasionally looked pretty serious – recall the awful death of Rienzie Algama, who set himself on fire outside Sirikotha in July 2010.

Ranil’s eventual agreement to initiate an annual secret ballot to select the party’s key office-bearers seemed to offer some hope of change. However, the constituency was only the Working Committee, and Ranil easily won the first round in December 2011 – he beat Karu Jayasuriya by 72 votes to 24. (Polling all party members would obviously give a much better idea of the mood in the country than asking a group of people who are either directly appointed by Ranil or indirectly depend on him.) That there were many in the party who were desperately unhappy with the result was made clear by the violence that engulfed Sirikotha soon after it was declared.

Now this violence is being used as a pretext to undo even this very small reform, with the Working Committee announcing last week that the party leader will henceforth be chosen for terms of not one but six years. They say this is essential for party unity.

Frankly, why does the party need to be united in defeat?

In any case, party unity is overrated. Plenty of leaders, from Margaret Thatcher to Mahinda Rajapaksa, and even leaders of the UNP in its more dynamic era, have won elections despite vicious infighting – it can even bring out the best in them.

Six year terms will enable Ranil to stay on until 2018. That is until after the next general election.

This must be music to the ears of Mahinda Rajapaksa. His strategy is clear – he intends to make the UNP face one election after another in the next few years, to keep its members obsessed with party unity. They will think twice about agitating against their leader if they are constantly in campaign mode. And they won’t have the spirit to resist Ranil when they are continually reminded of what bad shape the party is in, courtesy their regular election defeats. Because Mahinda Rajapaksa would love nothing better than to compete with Ranil for the presidency again – his unprecedented third term. He wants to ensure that the UNP never recovers from its crisis.

The UNP can’t play somebody else’s game. It must forget about the Eastern, North Central and Sabaragamuwa Provinces, which are not very important in comparison with what is at stake in Colombo, and instead refocus its efforts on choosing the most suitable leader and working out a new and more appealing programme for the next general election.

* Kath Noble is a British journalist working in South Asia. Email-  kathnoble99@gmail.com

Related posts;

What is Wrong With Ranil? Did The UNP Win Because Of John’s Charisma Or John’s Smile ?

The UNP’s Leadership Struggle; Ranil,Sinhala-Buddhist Racism and Rosy

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Latest comments

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    You will get answeres to all your moans and growls from the following and how will you answer it?

    Whywhy, Why don’t you try to see the ground reality? During the time of giants like NM Perera, JRJ had not created executive residency. Those were the times when democracy did exist in the country barring may be a minor incident or two. The general fabric of democracy was intact and functioning. Everybody had the assurance and confidence that if they can garner majority opinion they could form a government. That was why and how JRJ could resign to face by elections and formed a government. However today there is an irreparable and irredeemable rupture in the very democratic structure which was created and catalyzed by former CJ Sarath N De Silva. That corrupt maggot colluded with uneducated MARA and misconfigured, tampered with and mutilated the law and caused two of the tree foundation pillars of democracy to conspire and collude to cause the disintegration of the very democratic system itself and gave politically motivated perverted series of judgments most critical one of which is for a people’s representative elected from one party can legally without any shame cross over to the ruling party. That was where the whole dam of checks and balances of democracy got breached and the whole system trained out. MARA used millions and millions of tax payers’ money and other funds earned through illegal and corrupt means to trap and entice opposition politicians failing which he also used numerous other methods including threats, intimidations, cooked up lawsuits, corruption charges etc. During all of these corrupt maneuvers the president enjoys his immunity, impunity, privileges, support of politicized state, legal, law enforcement, police, military, paramilitary and underworld gangs. He uses unqualified, untethered, absolute and unquestioned power and authority. No individual, collection, institution or establishment exists on this land that is capable of questioning, criticizing or taking punitive, redress or naming and shaming measures against the president. These are absolute, proven and stark realities that we all can observe. So given the backdrop of this scenario how on earth is the opposition leader expected to take a different set of actions other than the ones he is already taking? He has no media coverage because all the media has been silenced and made to sing to the king for supper, all the key institutions of the entire system has been usurped by MARA goons and minions, the courts and the police would never implement the law of the land, there is a vast massive amount of injustice, malpractice, corruption and crimes under the very eye and supervision of law enforcing authorities! Paid or turned lackeys of MARA have been infiltrated into UNP but the leader cannot take actions because it has other harmful attached consequences and reactions. If they are fired they get a court determination which would become another precedent like those delivered by maggot Sarath Silva. It has been built into the daily schedule of Sirasa and other state media to attack, mud sling and propagate utter falsehoods against Ranil! So when gullible laymen hear and see these misrepresentations they are nonplused as to what is true or false. No wonder silly brainless people like whywhy are surfacing from all over after witnessing all these falsehoods and failing to see the underlying reality. Another reason for this ignorance is the willful destruction of the education system of the country by the regime. Whey there are wise, decent and educated people like Ranil despots find it hard to survive whereas when you have lot of whywhys it is very easy to maintain the status quo with all the conflicts, fights, infights, quarrels and chaos.

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    Mr whywhy, you are most welcome. Now we meet at the stratum of real world situation and are facing a common problem, a common enemy in MARA and his rogue regime. No more balls disputes too because I have now withdrawn that comment too and we now have got balls to transend our minor disagreements towards meeting the broader challenge of stoping a brakeless despot. After weilding the sword against a quasai enemy but truly one of us I need some break to gather momentum orientation and unison. You and I took only a couple of ours to sort out the problems, but see how may years have gone by and still Sajith and his lackeys and goons are revolting against their own party leader! We will meet again!

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      Yes Silva,looking forward to see you back soon.Bye for now.

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        Whywhy, as Silva has said, I too am no beneficiary of Ranil. I simply do so for mysake and the country. I am glad after all the brickbats thrown by you at each other, there is still sanity prevailing in the end. That should be the spirit. I believe this has been the most fruitfull exchange of views that I witnessed in this forum CT. Congratulations to you both. Believe me this country is in for a pleasant surprise at the right time and not at the upcoming PC elections. Therefore please bide time till then and enjoy the vitriolics of MR.

        As for Sajith may I add the following. Sajith returned from the UK after being there for studies somewhere around 87/88. He was planted at Hamabanthota to do a study on Elephants as the public was told and was on a very low key. R. Premadasa never showed much liking to bring him into politics nor did he ever dote on him as he did to the daughter Dulanjalee. It is not because that he loved Sajith less but because he wanted to protect Sajith his life. It is no secret that R. Premadasa’s comrade in crime was his right hand man Sirisena Cooray. Yet he never trusted Sirisena Cooray being given the PM’s post as then it was one step away for Sirisena Cooraay to climb to the top dispensing RP. So RP appointed DBW instead. Sirisena Cooray was biding time like the hyena waiting for it’s prey. Had RP brought Sajith up in politics as MR has done to Namal, Sajith would have definitely fallen prey to Sirisena Cooray’s ploys. It is because RP loved Sajith that he was kept out, till RP consolidated himself, but it was never to be and Sajith turned up as a Politician from Hambanthota which he was nursing away from the public grace. Thereafter Sajith has been pumped with finances by many a Business Organisations here and abroad expecting him to take the leadership of the UNP and then the country, to contract business. This is what that is not possible with Ranil as he is honest and can not be swayed with support of funds to the party. Whywhy at least now do you realise, why we support Ranil who is the only person who can salvage this country and not anyone else as it would be the same as now with MR?

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    Very true Gamini! There is a hidden hand behind as to who and why Sajith is being provided with funds the source of which Sajith has never revealed and as you said that may be the motive and the source- the corrupt business and political tycoons in the country. Sajith has never ever showed any political maturity, wisdom, charisma, shrewdness, integrity, flexibility and humbleness that is required from a decent politician. Sajith has always been a bone of contention, mischief-maker, liability, energy and unity dissipater, a distraction, an underminer and an upsetter of the whole apple-cart! His sole political game plan is to form a group of corrupt, perverted, conspiratory and selfish dissenters colluding with and supported by corrupt media and the regime, make UNP get defeated in every election and in every political move it makes under Ranil, then adduce that defeat as Ranil’s failure and hope that someday everybody would believe his fallacy and he would be chosen as the leader and enthroned as the President of the country with unlimited untethered powers to do whatever he likes to do! Here it is worthy of reminding ourselves the story of the monkey who got hold of the barber’s shaving blade (knife)! We can well recall what R Premadasa did to this country and UNP by wielding power which he was not suitable to possess and exercise. The executive presidency in Sri Lanka was created after studying and deriving concepts from American, French and British systems of government and also incorporating some features from previous constitutions of Sri Lanka. As it stands today executive presidency of Sri Lanka may be the strongest in the world. JR Jayawardena has said, “I am the first elected Executive President, Head of the State, Head of the Government. It is an office of power and thus of responsibility. Since many others will succeed me, I wish, during my term of office, to create precedents that are worthy of following. First, I will always act through the cabinet and parliament, preserving the parliamentary system as it existed, without diminution of their powers.” (Now look at the precedents Rajapakshas have created!) During his time JR felt the need for a strong executive to usher the country towards developed state. He used the office and power reasonably and in an acceptable manner with restraint. But after him the presidency has done nothing for the promotion of the country, its governance, welfare of its people or arriving at critical and revolutionary political decisions. After JR no wise, shrewd and decent entity has occupied EP. DB Wijethunga’s brief stay was an exception. MR has signified the culmination of destructive implementation of EP like an 18th century pirate! It needs no rocket science to foretell the destiny of a country and its people when they hand in their sovereignty to an unsuitable unqualified and unacceptable person family or cult. JRJ and DBW have proved its viability; Rajapakshas its destructiveness. Like the old saying goes, “growing tree can be predicted by the looks of its sides (hadena gaha depathten dane)”, RP’s, CB’s and MARA’s ignoble, over-ambitious, shortsighted and unstatesmanlike telltale signs pre-president and on-president states have proved million times that a pirate like Sajith is not whatsoever suitable to a position of power and that except for a balanced, intelligent and restrained character like JRJ or Ranil this EP must not be given to anyone else. In fact it is time for Sri Lanka to abolish this post and adopt a more moderate system of government.

    Our friend whywhy felt Ranil was not doing enough against the regime compared to JRJ those days. Yes we too would like if Ranil would do more and topple this government the earliest. But the reality and circumstances are very different and the implications are varied. One has to have a good look at the present constitution, the provisions of the EP and his powers. Today the EP alone without the legislature could govern the country where the latter is maintained just to maintain majority and opinion and rowdy power within the parliament! In a country where such EP’s powers is further enhanced by white van killer squads, presidential sibling commanding the army, parliamentary proceedings dominated by yet another MARA sibling, Navy maneuvered by a MARA son, the air force, police occupied by MARA goons and minions, top rung of judiciary occupied by MARA servants and with all the other paramilitaries, robbing plundering bribing raping and anti-social cults and gangs we the ordinary civilians and those with some sense of the realities and problems like whywhy are not doing enough to support Ranil. I propose we give every bit of our support and solidarity to Ranil where in fact the ultimate winner would be the ordinary people of this country if and when Ranil forms a government because his path is the democratic path, abolition or curtailing the powers of EP, reinstatement of destroyed democratic intuitions, freeing this country from the grip of exploiters and power struggle, restoration of law and order-simply put returning every bit of our democratic rights and institutions back to where it was before MARA destroyed them! Whywhy-whywhy includes all the others critical of Rani-this is an SOS from the dying people and very soil of Sri Lanka, its forests, rivers, tanks and dams, the threatened fauna and flora of the wet lands and the very air threatened with destruction pollution and extinction, the ancient historical monuments, temples, and reassure troves including the country’s very museum are appealing for survival; MARA is going to make this land a toxic industrial wasteland of the world; let this message and appeal be brought to every nook and corner of the country and the world, a full-fledged despot and a familial rule is in the offing, some of the privileged may temporarily benefit from their affiliations and links to the regime but in the end if not them their children or grandchildren may have to bear the consequences; history and future of Sri Lanka is not just a business of several years of selfish enjoyment at the expense of the suffering masses, rather it is many many thousand years, millions of years and we are directly responsible for determining its destiny!

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    Unfortunately many here tend to be personal and vituperative. However, the facts are Ranil W has prevented a proper opposition keeping the President in check. After so many defeats the UNP needs new blood however Sajith P is not the man! That is my opinion. Sarath F neither he will be where the cure is worse than the disease. Eran W talks sense, Mangala S seems to get things done he is the only Politician with the b…s (funnily) to critcize the President, none of the others dare. Karu J is too old he is good to have like a bottle of good wine. The country needs a Statesperson the problem though is to get elected one needs to lie through their teeth. I am Sinhalese, agnostic but mumbo jumbo needs to be trotted out to attract the 70 odd % Bauddhayas. The current lot need their powers curtailed they need to be held accountable and responsible, education budget needs to be doubled roads need to be halved (easy commissions) an alternative to agriculture as a means of employment is required/ look at dextrous requisite Industry …..

    oh yeah give me the country for 5 years. Laws will be enforced not selectively professionals will be appointed to manage on a transparent selection process they will be accountable to the public Government will get out of business State employment reduced Armed forsec will be made highly efficient but significantly reduced in number. The most aesthetic bases will be converted to revenue earners not cost drivers. Conservation of the environment will take priority, sustainability will be key. The stock market manipultors will be jailed all 7 of them. Land laws will be made clear no permit lands, land reforms abolished, any member of the public will be ellowed to examine police records and statements recorded. Trade unions have to be recognized but labour will be on a hire and fire basis. No one gets rdi of employees with essential skills and good attitude. There will be just 12 Ministers and any decision they make has to be made public ie on a web. 4 times a year they will have to defend their expenditure to the public and answer all questions sent in in writing. If they do not perform they will resigne ofr fired.
    Utopia but it is all possible

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    I feel that some of the monitors of this comment blog have lowered the standards here with foul and bad language as they display their hatred for the writer as they do not agree with the message that is not to their liking written about a Political party and their leaders. I am sure in a democratic society what the writer has stated can be right or wrong for the reader to debate and make their comments in a intelligent way.

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    Kath, frustrating as this may be, or frustrated as you possibly are, getting rid of RW isn’t the biggest issue @ the moment. There is really no strong alternative within the UNP. As such, RW is indeed our best choice. You gotta remember he hasn’t really ‘lost’ all the recent elections- the last presidential election when MR came into power, was in fact won by RW -except that MR’s brother and some biz. folk without any scruples paid the LTTE not to let Jafna vote! These are facts!

    Bottom line, we need the boy in place, we need to get a strong team to support him, not the sort of folk who are merely biding time to come into power and out-do the current rouges. in record time…

    What MR has in place, is a family/ extended family doing all what’s required to secure the ‘royal family’ and their cronies plunder whatever is left, purely riding on the so-called ‘war victory’. MR’s family rule has to be undone one by one, starting with some bureaucratic who recently openly said he’s got no fear or respect for the ‘rule of law’.

    Perhaps some of them brothers can go back to the USA and live happily as they once did. LEave us to get this country back on track?!

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