By H. L. D. Mahindapala –
A common snide remark in the days gone by used to say derisively that if there is a traffic jam somewhere there is a cop in the middle of it. It means that an incompetent cop without any sense of direction had caused an unwanted and avoidable problem to the public. In contemporary times it can be said, without fear of being contradicted, that if there is a political jam you can be sure that Ranil Wickremesinghe is in the middle of it. You can also be sure that Ranil has been the cause of it partly because he has shown no sense of direction in handling the grave national issues.
Whether it is his disastrous Ceasefire Agreement with Prabhakaran, or whether it is burning of the CBK-Neelan agreement in Parliament, or whether it is the kurundu polu attack on marchers against him in Matara, whether it is the undermining the integrity of sacred traditions of the Parliament, or whether it is biggest bank heist in the history of Sri Lanka, Ranil was in the centre of it. He has never been able to rise above his self-serving politics of plotting and kuth-thufying, pitting one against another, which has resulted eventually in dragging the nation down to its current perilous chaos.
The nation which ended one of the longest running wars in Asia is still running desperately in search peace, stability and security. When he took over in 2015 there was hope. He promised to make a “difference”. Today there is only despair without the “difference” promised.. Like most of our semi-literate and crass politicians he is under the delusion that the worst thing that can happen to the nation is for him to lose his grip on power, particularly the UNP leadership that keeps him going in politics. He sees himself as the solution when in reality he has been the incorrigible problem.
Take the current crisis in the UNP which is still running in search of a candidate for the coming presidential election. With only a few days to go for the declaration of the election date Ranil’s party is still twisting in the wind without a presidential candidate. As opposed to this, the main contender in the opposition has already declared his candidacy. But the UNP, the oldest Party in the nation, is still teetering without naming a candidate. Why? The answer is well known: Ranil wants to be nominated as the candidate of the UNP which has declared its preference to Sajith Premadasa in so many clear ways. It is Ranil who is in the middle of this political jam. His capacity to create problems is far greater than his capacity to solve any of them.
The last remaining card for Ranil is to nominate Karu as the UNP candidate. This will put Sajith in a dilemma. He can oppose Ranil but it will be difficult to oppose Karu as he has a better image than Ranil in the electorate. In the meantime, the media is having field day dramatising the rivalries between the two.
With Ranil cornered by the forces raging against him he has withdrawn into an ominous silence. The Premadasa camp is ever ready with sound bites to dig their teeth into Ranil’s flesh. The rising popular waves within the UNP — and outside it too — have signalled, quite unambiguously, that Ranil has been the Jonah of the UNP. Judgmental opinion believes that Ranil has lost the popular vote of winning even the job of cleaning the toilet at Siri Kotha because no one can rely on him to clean the droppings into it. They seem to think that Ranil survives by stirring toilets. Perhaps, the most remarkable feature is that, after all these years, the top ranks in the UNP hierarchy have abandoned him. Never before has he been in this situation where he has been publicly exposed as a loser by those at the top and at the bottom of the UNP.
There are, of course, some die-hard loyalists who are struggling to save him from his impending fall from grace by applying some fresh paint on his ageing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde face. The chances of these loyal desperadoes succeeding are as great as any Pamankada or Alimankada cosmetician trying to lift the image of a pig by applying lipstick on its snout. The visible anger and reaction of a critical section of the UNP leadership indicates clearly that Ranil’s stature as a leader has lost all credibility. The disillusionment with Ranil is almost universal. It has come to a point where some of traditional Colombo 7 fashionistas, parading in public cat walks, have come out condemning him as a “pig-headed” loser.
All political metrics indicate that the time for applying cosmetics is over for Ranil. The time has come for him, after his long innings at the UNP crease, to stand down honourably and admit that he has failed to score the winning innings expected of captain. He has been a perennial failure which has been forecast at birth by naming him as a loser: Run- NIL. The problem with him is that he refuses to admit that he is a spent force. He has never shown a capacity to score a century for his team and win the hearts and minds of the spectators. If the UNPers don’t bowl Ranil out the people will whip his bails out if he steps out to bat in the coming presidential pitch. (Note for the readers: Please don’t remove the ‘i” even accidentally and substitute an ‘l” in the word “bails”’)
Right now Ranil is playing the most despicable role in his career. He is like the dog in the manger. As they say in Sinhalese:”Balla piduru kanneth naha, kana gonata then-neth naha. It is in this dizzying climate that the NGOs from Meethotamulla, including Jehan Perera, have rushed to back him. Ranil is banking on the depleted cadres of the civil society, (some have abandoned him publicly disillusioned by his role as the scheming fixer of the biggest heist in the history of banking), depleted TNA, depleted Champika, depleted Muslims (his own Muslim chairman is against him), and, of course, the JVP, the usual gang of losers in politics. .
His unprincipled and self-centred politics is revealed in his choice of presidential candidates. Twice he had gone all out to back two complete outsiders: Sarath Fonseka and Maithripala Sirisena. .On both occasions he confessed publicly that he has no chance of winning the presidential race. He opted for them because they had better chances of winning than him. Almost the identical conditions prevail now. So on the principle that he supported Sarath and Maithripala he should go for Sajith. But he is blocking Sajith’s path assuming that he has a better chance of winning than his deputy.
If there was a chance it was in riding the anti-Rajapaksa wave in 2015. Since then his chances have declined dramatically. In 2019 the electoral pendulum has swung back considerably to the Rajapaksas. This then is the most favourable moment to back the most favoured candidate, Sajith, though Karu Jayasuriya his flapping his wings on the sidelines. Instead Ranil is striving to push his candidature at a time when his image has dropped to the level of the dust under the heel of Arjuna Mahendra’s polished boots in Singapore.
With his back to the human wall, put up by Malik, Mangala and Ranil, is playing his usual game of appointing committees, planting anti-Sajith stories in the media, promoting rival candidates within the UNP to degrade the potential of Sajith and, most of all dragging the date of announcing the presidential candidate and holding out until the eleventh hour to present a fait accompli to Sajith. Timing is of the essence now and Ranil is aiming to cut off any time for manoeuvrability within the Party for Sajith to mount a counter attack to Ranil’s nominee, which is most likely to be himself, or Karu Jayasuriya.
However, the latest comments leaked to media confirm that both are digging their heels in. Neither is willing to yield to the other. Ranil is making a bid to denigrate Sajith’s image, having failed to tempt him with bogus offers, as before, to keep him out of his way. Deceived by the previous feint offers that took him nowhere Sajith seems to be determined not to give in this time.
Ranil, however, knows that if he gives in he will have no future in politics. The nation and the Party will look up to President Sajith Premadasa as the leader reducing the power of Ranil to be of any significance in national and party politics. He will no longer be the indispensable force in national politics or to the Party if the President is Sajith. This inevitability would clip the wings of Ranil. The big stick used by him to determine politics in the big league will be whittled down to a toothpick. Ranil’s manoeuvres are to save his leadership role at any cost.. It is not a move to save the nation, or the party. It is Ranil trying his best to save Ranil.
Ranil is banking mainly on five political sources in his presidential race. He hopes to win the support (1) of the divided Party (1) the TNA (3) the Muslims (4) the civil society and (5) the JVP. His latest tactic is to challenge Sajith to prove that he can win over these groups. In other words, he is telling Sajith: “These are my people. How are you going to win them to your side?” Ranil’s question is a direct threat to undercut Sajith’s image and chances to win the backing of the pro-UNP minorities. Ranil is saying that he has the cards up his sleeve to defeat him. .
Clearly, Sajith is doomed mainly because Ranil is not likely to throw his full weight behind Sajith, even if the latter wins the nomination. Ranil will front up in public pretending to support Sajith. But Ranil’s tendency so far has been to undercut Sajith and prevent him rising to a position of commanding power that would undermine his own leadership. Sajith is a Deputy Leader by name. On par with Sajith is Ravi Karunanayake –Ranil’s doppelganger–as an Additional Leader with equal claims for the leadership in the event of Ranil moving out.
Besides, the bleeding personal struggle for power within the Party has gone far deep into the body politic of the UNP that it will be almost impossible to stop the internal haemorrhaging in time to present a credible image of unity before the election. Whether both can sell a winning image, plastered with band-aids, to the voters is questionable. The bitter division, fought openly in public, will only add to the deepening crisis within the Yahapalanaya regime led by Ranil.
Both know that a divided UNP will kill the chances of either of them winning the election. The other most likely option is to present Karu Jayasuriya as the compromise candidate. He is waiting in the wings hoping that a last minute compromise would throw him into the ring. But internal bleeding has eroded the integrity and credibility needed to present the UNP as a viable force to govern the country. Its stature has dropped to almost the same level as it was in 1956 in the Sinhala-Buddhist electorate. It has to lean heavily on the minorities to save its respectability and future as a political party.
Ranil has fallen almost to the same level as West-leaning Sir John Kotelawela, one of the despised figures of the time. Ranil’s chances of rising from the stinking Meethotamulla politics of the UNP under his stewardship is nil, even with the backing of the five forces which are no longer formidable as it was in 2015. Besides, the anti- Rajapaksa pendulum of 2015 has swung back considerably to give the Rajapaksas a lead in the race to the next presidency. If the dictum that it is not the oppositions that win but it is the governments that lose is valid then the chances of the UNP winning either the presidential or the parliamentary elections are zilch.
The incremental decline and fall of Ranil has one good silver lining: he will be thrown out of politics for good and. history will write him off as morally corrupt pimp of the West who dragged the Grand Old Party, the Parliament and the people to lowest moral level in the post-independent era. He will never rise again. It will be good riddance of bad rubbish that ruined the nation throughout his failed career.
The knell of parting day will toll for Ranil on election night. But how many mourners will be there to follow him to his political grave?