Colombo Telegraph

WikiLeaks: Ranil Is A Perennial Loser As Well As A Perennial Survivor – US

“In the wake of the United National Party’s (UNP) defeat at the November 17 presidential polls, some members of Sri Lanka’s oldest political party are questioning once again whether Ranil Wickremesinghe, who led the party to defeat in 13 of the last 14 electoral contests, should continue as head. A group of 30 ‘reformist’ MPs is pushing Karu Jayasuriya, the UNP’s avuncular Deputy Leader, to replace Wickremesinghe. However, in addition to being a perennial loser, Wickremesinghe is also a perennial survivor, and we expect this latest challenge to his authority, like others before it, will eventually fade away.” the US Embassy Colombo informed Washington.

Ranil

The Colombo Telegraph found the related leaked cable from the WikiLeaks database. The cable is classified as “CONFIDENTIAL” and discuses the UNP’s internal crisis after the 2005 Presidential elections. The cable is signed by the US Ambassador to Colombo Jeffrey J. Lunstead on December 25, 2005.

The ambassador wrote; “The defeat of Ranil Wickremesinghe in the November 17 presidential election marks the United National Party’s (UNP) thirteenth loss in fourteen electoral contests (at the local, provincial and national levels) under Wickremesinghe’s leadership. With so many losses in such a comparatively short time, some UNP stalwarts are once again reassessing Wickremesinghe’s suitability as leader of Sri Lanka’s oldest democratic party. These ‘reformist’ MPs argue that the time for a change is now–before local body elections (due in late March) or general elections (which the President may call at any time). As a result, the party is in ‘a terrible dilemma’ with an ugly ‘internecine’ battle brewing within, according to one such reformer, Sajith Premadasa, UNP MP from Hambantota and son of the late President Ranasinghe Premadasa, who was assassinated by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 1993. Morale in the party is at an all-time low, he asserted; another MP described the UNP rank-and-file as dispirited and ‘frustrated.’ A businessman close to the UNP told poloff recently that even dyed-in-the-wool Wickremesinghe supporters were beginning to question the wisdom of keeping Wickremesinghe on as party leader.”

“For the anti-Wickremesinghe faction, the LTTE boycott of the election is not an adequate excuse for their candidate’s defeat; the UNP must improve its standing among Sinhalese voters if it hopes to regain the leadership of the nation. These reformists complain that Wickremesinghe, who is perceived as an aloof, westernized intellectual, is “difficult to market” to the rural Sinhalese Buddhist south.” the ambassador further wrote.

Quoting Basil Rajapaksa and Dulles Alahapperuma the ambassador wrote; “The victorious SLFP, meanwhile, is almost gleeful about the UNP’s ‘terrible dilemma.’ Basil Rajapaksa, the president’s brother and campaign advisor, told us that the UNP once again sorely misjudged the popular rural pulse, offering a new welfare program that farmers feared would threaten their existing ‘Samurdhi’ payments. SLFP MP and presidential advisor Dulles Alahapperuma indicated to poloff recently that his party does not expect Wickremesinghe to budge–and hopes that some of the disgruntled rebel UNP MPs could then be lured to cross the aisle and join the government. If enough of them did so, Alahapperuma speculated, Rajapaksa might be able to obtain a parliamentary majority without calling general elections. (Note: As reported Ref B, Rajapaksa told the Ambassador on November 26 that a number of senior UNPers had wanted to cross over after the election but were turned down because they wanted Cabinet posts.) Alahapperuma added that Rajapaksa will likely put off parliamentary elections for the time being anyway, since the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), whose support provided a critical boost to Rajapaksa’s presidential campaign, is expected to demand 55 parliamentary seats (up from its current total of 39) as the price of its support.”

We give below the relevant part of the cable;

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 COLOMBO 002141 

SIPDIS 

STATE FOR SA/INS
USPACOM FOR FPA 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/20/2015
TAGS: PGOV CE
SUBJECT: OPPOSITION POST-MORTEM OF ELECTORAL DEFEAT:  SOME
MPS SEES PARTY LEADER AS DEAD WEIGHT 

REF: A. COLOMBO 1988 

     ¶B. COLOMBO 2003 

Classified By: DCM James F. Entwistle.  Reason:  1.4 (B, D). 

-------
SUMMARY
-------- 

¶1.  (C)  In the wake of the United National Party's (UNP)
defeat at the November 17 presidential polls, some members of
Sri Lanka's oldest political party are questioning once again
whether Ranil Wickremesinghe, who led the party to defeat in
13 of the last 14 electoral contests, should continue as
head.  A group of 30 "reformist" MPs is pushing Karu
Jayasuriya, the UNP's avuncular Deputy Leader, to replace
Wickremesinghe.  However, in addition to being a perennial
loser, Wickremesinghe is also a perennial survivor, and we
expect this latest challenge to his authority, like others
before it, will eventually fade away.  End summary. 

--------------------------
SEE RANIL RUN AND LOSE--
AND RUN AND LOSE AGAIN
--------------------------- 

¶2.  (C) The defeat of Ranil Wickremesinghe in the November 17
presidential election marks the United National Party's (UNP)
thirteenth loss in fourteen electoral contests (at the local,
provincial and national levels) under Wickremesinghe's
leadership.  With so many losses in such a comparatively
short time, some UNP stalwarts are once again reassessing
Wickremesinghe's suitability as leader of Sri Lanka's oldest
democratic party.  These "reformist" MPs argue that the time
for a change is now--before local body elections (due in late
March) or general elections (which the President may call at
any time).  As a result, the party is in "a terrible dilemma"
with an ugly "internecine" battle brewing within, according
to one such reformer, Sajith Premadasa, UNP MP from
Hambantota and son of the late President Ranasinghe
Premadasa, who was assassinated by the Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 1993.  Morale in the party is at an
all-time low, he asserted; another MP described the UNP
rank-and-file as dispirited and "frustrated."  A businessman
close to the UNP told poloff recently that even
dyed-in-the-wool Wickremesinghe supporters were beginning to
question the wisdom of keeping Wickremesinghe on as party
leader. 

¶3.  (C)  For the anti-Wickremesinghe faction, the LTTE
boycott of the election is not an adequate excuse for their
candidate's defeat; the UNP must improve its standing among
Sinhalese voters if it hopes to regain the leadership of the
nation.  These reformists complain that Wickremesinghe, who
is perceived as an aloof, westernized intellectual, is
"difficult to market" to the rural Sinhalese Buddhist south.
Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, UNP MP from Kalutara, observed to
poloff that Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) candidate Mahinda
Rajapaksa won 60 percent of the Sinhalese vote despite the
fact that much of his party's machinery--including incumbent
president Chandrika Kumaratunga--was turned against him.  "In
our case, we were all working together" and still could not
win, he lamented.  Wickremesinghe is undoubtedly smart and
can speak well in diplomatic, parliamentary and/or academic
circles, but lacks the common, glad-handing,
"man-of-the-people" touch that worked so well for Rajapaksa
during the election, Senaratne continued.  On the campaign
trail, Rajapaksa spoke like a villager, dressed like a
villager and talked about the concerns of villagers, whereas
the UNP leader appeared too affluent, wore too many suits,
spoke too much English and had too many Christian relatives
to prevail at the polls, Senaratne observed.  (Comment:
Rajapaksa's own potential vulnerabilities on many of the same
scores--that he is just as affluent as his opponent, has
several siblings living in the U.S., as well as a Catholic
wife--were never played up in the campaign.)   Kabir Hashim,
UNP MP from Kegalle, commented to poloff in a separate
meeting that with Wickremesinghe at the helm, "we've been
tagged as a bourgeois party." 

------------------------------------
REFORMIST REBELLION OR RANIL REDUX?
------------------------------------
¶4.  (C)  Senaratne reported that a group of about 30
"reformist" UNP MPs plan to confront Wickremesinghe soon with
a request that he convene a meeting of all MPs to discuss
next steps for the party.  At that meeting, Senaratne said,
the MPs will propose that Wickremesinghe continue as
Opposition Leader but give de facto leadership of the party
to his deputy Karu Jayasuriya, who is perceived as more
popular with voters.  In addition, the rebel MPs plan to
recommend that hidebound party institutions be democratized,
e.g., that the 55-member working committee of the party be
elected, rather than appointed by Wickremesinghe.  Besides
the 30 MPs, Senaratne estimated that another 10 or so may
back the plan, giving the reformists a clear majority of the
67 UNP MPs.  He added that Wickremesinghe could always return
as the party's candidate in the 2011 presidential
election--it is just important that right now the UNP show a
fresh face.
¶5.  (C)  Others in the party are less sure that
Wickremesinghe, who has faced previous challenges to his
leadership, will fold that easily.  Hashim expressed
confidence that Wickremesinghe will weather this storm as
calmly and successfully as he did an earlier attempt to dump
him--again, in favor of the more personable Jayasuriya--after
the UNP defeat in the 2004 general elections.  Rebels
Senaratne and Premadasa predicted that Wickremesinghe will
attempt to wait out the challenge--trying to appease the
reformers by promising to take their concerns to heart but
then never actually doing anything--a tactic that both
conceded has worked before for him and could work again.
This time, however, Senaratne cautioned, "sentiments (against
Wickremesinghe) are harder." 

¶6.  (C)  The victorious SLFP, meanwhile, is almost gleeful
about the UNP's "terrible dilemma."  Basil Rajapaksa, the
president's brother and campaign advisor, told us that the
UNP once again sorely misjudged the popular rural pulse,
offering a new welfare program that farmers feared would
threaten their existing "Samurdhi" payments.  SLFP MP and
presidential advisor Dulles Alahapperuma indicated to poloff
recently that his party does not expect Wickremesinghe to
budge--and hopes that some of the disgruntled rebel UNP MPs
could then be lured to cross the aisle and join the
government.  If enough of them did so, Alahapperuma
speculated, Rajapaksa might be able to obtain a parliamentary
majority without calling general elections.  (Note:  As
reported Ref B, Rajapaksa told the Ambassador on November 26
that a number of senior UNPers had wanted to cross over after
the election but were turned down because they wanted Cabinet
posts.)  Alahapperuma added that Rajapaksa will likely put
off parliamentary elections for the time being anyway, since
the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), whose support provided a
critical boost to Rajapaksa's presidential campaign, is
expected to demand 55 parliamentary seats (up from its
current total of 39) as the price of its support.
LUNSTEAD

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