By Rasika Jayakody –
Even though the top-tier of the United National Front (UNF) have pledged their full support to UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, there is some noise among certain sections of the grassroots layer of the party to change the party leadership before the next Parliamentary elections.
I am no big fan of Ranil Wickremesinghe and am a firm believer that the current UNP leader is a man of many weaknesses. His greatest liability is a close circle of friends he has surrounded himself with, much to the detriment of the UNP and its supporters. Many talented grassroots level leaders of the party were sidelined or booted out to make way for Wickremesinghe’s favourites and that, in return, crippled the party’s electoral machinery in more ways than one. Even during the last three and a half years of the unity government, critical decisions relating to the country’s economy and future were often made in consultation with Wickremesinghe’s close friends who were divorced from reality and failed to understand even the fundamentals of electoral politics. Some of his choices for key positions in the government, including that of Arjuna Mahendran, sent the people’s fervent aspirations for good governance and transparency down a precipice.
This criticism of Wickremesinghe, however, does not lend any legitimacy to the lunatic conduct of President Maithripala Sirisena who summarily dismissed Wickremesinghe and appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister through a spate of illegal and unconstitutional actions. Sirisena should be blamed squarely for the current morass the country finds itself in, and should be held accountable for all his misdeeds. Sirisena’s unconstitutional actions and his brazen demonstrations of executive power over the past four weeks, have done far greater damage to the country and its system of governance than Wickremesinghe’s kitchen cabinet can ever imagine.
Calls to change the UNP leadership find resonance with sentiments expressed by the Sirisena- Rajapaksa camp. Sirisena, addressing a UPFA rally near the Parliament complex earlier this month, said he attempted twice to replace Wickremesinghe with Karu Jayasuriya and Sajith Premadasa, who had flatly turned down the offers to assume premiership through the back-door. Even now, having caused irreparable damage to the Parliamentary democracy of Sri Lanka, Sirisena claims he is ready to appoint any UNP MP as the Prime Minister, with the exception of Ranil Wickremesinghe.
It is clear that Sirisena’s animosity towards Wickremesinghe is not rooted in matters of principle and integrity. Sirisena has explained in several public statements his resentment towards Wickremesinghe lies in lifestyle choices and the inability to cope with unbridgeable cultural differences. As much as you cannot take the Colombo out of Wickremesinghe, the petty villager of Polonnaruwa can’t be taken out of President Sirisena. It is Sirisena’s inevitable personality clash with Wickremesinghe that finds expression in the current political crisis leading the country into an inescapable chasm.
The solution to the current political crisis is not to pander to Sirisena’s inferiority complex by forcing a leadership change in the UNP at this point in time. All MPs should extend unwavering support to Wickremesinghe to reclaim his rightful place and Sirisena should be forced to work with the UNP leader until the next Presidential election. As I have explained in a previous article, only a Presidential election can resolve the current political crisis and Sirisena should seek a fresh mandate from the people for his course of action.
Any attempt to replace Wickremesinghe with another parliamentarian of the same party will lend legitimacy to Sirisena’s unconstitutional and arbitrary actions that led the country down a disastrous path. It will betray the spirit of the pro-democratic struggle sparked by the current turmoil. Wickremesinghe, albeit undeservedly, has become the face of the struggle and his reinstatement is a key component of the restoration of constitutional democracy in Sri Lanka. ‘Undeservedly’, however, remains the keyword.
Matters pertaining to the UNP’s leadership and the party’s internal democracy should be resolved after Wickremesinghe’s reinstatement, and Sirisena, a man who grossly and grotesquely violated the Constitution, should not have a say in those matters. A Presidential election will also be a solution to those calling for drastic internal reforms within the UNP whose leadership remains unchanged for nearly 25 years. If Wickremesinghe wins the Presidential election, he will not have to explain reasons for his existence in the party, and if he loses, he will not be there to explain it.