By Shyamon Jayasinghe –
“Take him with his deficiencies…he is the best political leader we have today. The fact of his lapses only points to the fact that we are all in an imperfect world. Take him out of the scene and Sri Lanka will be the poorer for that.”
Ranil Wickremesinghe, the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, is the most unfairly maligned political leader in Sri Lanka. At the same time, he is the most underestimated or underrated. Ranil is also the least flamboyant of leaders. He goes about in his normal shirt and trouser unless on special occasions where he puts on a simple coat and tie. He wears no satakaya because he isn’t interested in trying to act. He is no actor and it is unlikely he would ever be a stage or movie star.
Such characters don’t typically gather charisma-that mystical appeal quality that Max Weber introduced to our vocabulary about authority and leadership. This has been one of the common criticisms of Ranil’s leadership all through the years. On the other hand, charisma is not a stable basis of authority for any leader fo it is derived out of a public subjective faith on the leader. Maybe the leader is inspiring and such faith rests on this inspiring quality. Historically, it is shown to be a fragile basis and once – charismatic leaders soon lose hold on the public imagination. The consequence is that the charisma fades away and the leader has little else to lean on to keep his herd of followers. Weber argued that a process he described as routinisation is the only way a charismatic political or religious leader can continue to have a following and he cited the example of Prophet Muhammed. The prophet’s teachings became institutionalised or ‘routinised’ and his commands became law cemented by tradition and custom. Hence, Islam survived and prospered.
Legal-Rational Style of Leadership
It is no easy task to ensure such phenomenon in the field of competitive politics.
The once charismatic political leader will have to lean back on having his authority being given the aura of legitimacy. Max Weber described this as another style in leadership and he called it the legal-rational style of leadership based on commonly acceptable law. In practical terms it is a democratisation of leadership.The former charismatic leader is now the head of a democratic process.
Ranil Wickremesinghe can be defined as having a leadership style based on a rational-legal order. He has always prided himself as a democrat and has never behaved undemocratically in his five stages of Prime Ministership. As a veteran in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Union our Prime Minister is known to have earned considerable goodwill, respect and trust internationally.
When he was unfairly, illegally and absurdly removed during the infamous 52-days Ranil did not resort to extra-legal means; nor did he encourage moves toward that. He simply sat pretty in Temple Trees, used the telephone to contact world leaders, pressed parliament to intervene. The move succeeded and Ranil got back gracefully. This was one of Ranil’s supreme moments and it demonstrated how he had simply outclassed his political enemies who were running hither and tether like cats on the hot tin roof. It also showed that there isn’t anybody among our parliamentary leaders today who can outclass Ranil Wickremesinghe. Take him with his deficiencies…he is the best political leader we have today. The fact of his lapses only points to the fact that we are all in an imperfect world. Take him out of the scene and Sri Lanka will be the poorer for that.
Of course, he is full of political cunning; but that is no disqualification. Machiavelli, in his famous book “The Prince,” stated that a political leader must be a fox and Ranil is just that. He is a master on the chessboard and can outbeat anyone. This is how he kept his Grand Old party together for twenty years in Opposition when Mahinda Rajapaksa, the then Executive President-cum dictator, tried hard to manipulate defections. Anton Balasingham explained why the LTTE deprived Ranil of an election victory and the reason he gave was because they considered Ranil as “a cunning fox.” The 19th Amendment was another of his brilliant strokes. He knew that the incumbent of President’s office could not be trusted and also that a full scale change of constitution is going to take time. This Amendment was, therefore, brought in as a halfway solution to clip the Executive President’s powers without recourse to a referendum. This move saved democracy for Sri Lanka during the constitutional coup.
It is generally recognised that Ranil is a visionary guy who can see far ahead about the island’s needs and who could, accordingly, recognise the need to carve future paths. His projects ‘Gamperaliya,’ and ‘Enterprise Sri Lanka,’ now launched, have the potential to be harbingers of economic revival at grassroots level. On the eve of his birthday he commenced work in building the largest yet FDI project namely, the oil refinery in Hambantota. He is the only leader who has been talking economics when most guys are busy paddling racist, sectarian and tribalist issues. Even in his worst of times while in Opposition it was Ranil Wickremesinghe who never resorted to racism or communalism to regain political strength.
The Opposition has been trying hard to paint Ranil Wickremesinghe as a corrupt person and made a huge issue over the bond case. But the Presidential Commission did not implicate the latter in any corrupt deal. Ranil’s integrity remains untarnished. Over his forty years of politics Ranil Wickremesinghe has had nor corruption allegations. Ranil hails from a family that gave away much of their land to the Kelaniya Rajamahavihara and other temples. They are a family that never robbed. This contrasts with another political family that used taxpayer money to build a memorial for their pater.