Ranil Must not bid
farewell to politics at this
by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
Ranil Wickremasinghe is an
honourable politician. People with
principled politics are a rare breed in
Sri Lanka fast becoming extinct. Such
politicians usually say what they mean
and mean what they say.
Ranil surrounded by a large group of children who
wanted to greet him individually when he arrived in
Nuwara Eliya to address a propaganda rally during
the Presidential election campaign. [Photo
Courtesy of UNPSriLanka]
They do not for example put down certain things in black and white in their
manifesto and then try to win support from interest groups saying "Dont worry
Such men do not cling to the trappings of office at whatever cost. Politics is very
often a vocation and not a profession for them. Their political masters are the
people who voted them in. If the people disapprove of them - rightly or wrongly -
they simply detach themselves off from pursuing politics actively thereafter.
This is not a case of making a virtue out of necessity. There are many who facing
rejection at the polls revise position in an opportunistic manner to prolong their
politics. There are however a few who prefer to opt out of politics rather than stay
on till they are finally asked to go in the name of God.
Despite the derisive criticism of his detractors to the contrary , Ranil
Wickremasinghe too is a man who will not cling on to power or political positions
stubbornly. When the UNP was defeated in 1994 Ranil was the incumbent premier.
He moved out swiftly from Temple Trees and accepted defeat with grace.
Today he is a defeated Presidential candidate again. He lost in 1999 too. Apart
from 2001 Dec the other Parliamentary elections faced under his leadership were
all unsuccessful for the UNP. Even Provincial and Local Authority polls were not
huge successes.In spite of these electoral reversals there was no demand from
within the party seeking his removal. For one thing there was really no alternative
and also the party subscribed wholly to his policies.
Ranil was unlucky. In 1999 the LTTE screwed his chances by the suicide attack on
Chandrika Kumaratunga who won on the sympathy vote. This time the tigers
destroyed his chances through the enforced boycott in the Tamil dominated
regions. In spite of this the Mahinda Rajapakse majority was only 186, 000 plus.
Mahinda got 50. 3 % to Ranil's 48. 4%.
This time some sections in the party may think Ranil has to go. He himself may be
advised to do so by some.. It is felt that the UNP lost influence among the Sinhala
people due to Ranil's enlightened approach towards the Tigers. But the LTTE
has stabbed Ranil in the back by its enforced boycott. Had the Tamils been
allowed to vote freely Ranil would have been the victor with a 200 - 300, 000
Given this resentment over the LTTE betrayal there is an opinion within the rank
and file that the UNP modify its policies and change its functional style to suit
majoritarian tendencies. Unless Ranil is willing to change himself accordingly he is
likely to be viewed as an impediment. Powerful calls asking him to quit may arise in
the future. Ranil realises this and may want to bow out gracefully.
Instead of waiting for someone else to make the demand Ranil may voluntarily
and sincerely offer to step down. He is expected to do so at the forthcoming party
working committee and Parliamentary Committee meetings. There will no doubt be
an outcry that he should not go. But Ranil is not likely to heed that. He may
relinquish office as both Party leader and Leader of Opposition. Already his friend
and trusted deputy Malik Samarawickrema has quit party chairpersonship. Ranil
may still opt to remain as MP till the next election. If there is no early sign of that
he may think of resigning that too.
Already the minority communities are upset over this proposed change of
leadership. With all his drawbacks the minorities have come to trust Ranil. This
includes the greater part of the Sri Lankan Tamils too who voted for him wherever
they were not restricted. In the Presidential stakes all eleven districts won by Ranil
had substantial concentrations of the ethnic and religious minorities. So great is
the minority discomfiture over Ranil's impending departure that a strong request is
being made for him to remain as leader of the United National Front at least.
When Sir John Kotalawela was defeated in 1956 he remained as a
"Parliamentarian in absentia" till 1960 and then quit politics. He remained aloof
from the party and did not involve himself in any way. When Dudley Senanayake
resigned due to health reasons and the Hartal fall out in 1953 he quit politics for a
while. He then returned to politics in 1957 and led the UNP to victory twice. After
the 1970 defeat Dudley let JR Jayewardene become opposition leader while
retaining party leadership. In another recent example Chandrika Kumaratunga
went into self - exile in 1988 after her husband Vijayas murder but returned in the
nineties to resume politcs and achieve remarkable success.
What Ranil will do remains unclear for now? Will he continue politics in a
secondary capacity or maintain a detached interest or quit outright remains to be
seen. Let it not be forgotten that Ranil Wickremasinghe is not a spent force. He is
still a political force to be reckoned with. His electoral defeat was not a total
washout. It was a narrow defeat. Also it was not a defeat of his political strategy
Weerawansa may be crowing that the poll has proved that the minority votes are
not needed for victory. There are many takers for this claim. In fact the UNP may
allow itself be stampeded into such a mindset.
What the likes of Weerawansa forget is that had the principal minority in the
Country been allowed to vote freely and fairly the result would have been
different. In that sense Mahinda's victory was in a sense due to the LTTE. The
Sinhala extremists like the JVP and JHU have together with the LTTE Tamil
extremists succeeded in making Mahinda win. What this election has proved is
that when a Sinhala candidate pandering to extremist views is challenged by a
Sinhala moderate the minority communities must stand by the latter unitedly and
vote in large numbers.
The LTTE betrayal must surely rankle in Ranil's mind. It was he who de-
proscribed them and signed a ceasefire proffering many advantages and
legitimacy. If the ceasefire had not strengthened the tigers in Government
controlled areas like Jaffna the LTTE may not have succeeded in its boycott to
this extent. Yet the tigers condemned Ranil and got him defeated. What may be
more hurting is the news trickling down about an alleged SP Thamilselvan - Tiran
Alles "deal" that caused the LTTE to enforce a boycott to let Mahinda win.
However much the LTTE betrayal rankles the uppermost concern for Ranil must
be the rejection by the majority of Sinhala voters. An unscientific estimate states
that Mahinda got 61% of the Sinhala Buddhist vote.Despite this his small majority
was due to the minority vote going in large numbers to Ranil. But for Ranil the fact
that he failed to get the majority votes must be painful. Ranil was deprived of
those votes mainly due to the unfair and unfounded charge that he had made a
sordid deal with the LTTE to sell out the Sinhalese and divide Sri Lanka. He was
portrayed as a traitor and called a latter day Don Juan Dharmapala.
Apart from this emotional aspect there is a pragmatic one too. Even if the minority
votes help someone to win such victory alone is not enough to achieve a solution
to the ethnic problem. For a lasting settlement the majority of the majority
community must support it too. This was denied Ranil. Against such a backdrop
Ranil may very well feel that he has been rejected by the Sinhala - Buddhist
majority for the wrong reason. This heartburn may compel him to drop out of
politics altogether . Sir John Kotalawela too had that frame of mind.
It was the ceasefire brought about by Ranil that helped the Country to get out from
economic doldrums. During his short tenure as "effective" Prime Minister from
2001 Dec - 2003 Nov the long neglected North and East achieved a 12 % and 10
% percent economic growth respectively. The rest of the Country too grew. After
his government was dismissed the economic situation has deterorated under
Premier Rajapakse.The GDP growth rate declined from 6.6% to 5.2%. The budget
deficit went up from 7.3% to 8.2%. The trade deficit increased from $ 1.3 billion to
$2.2 billion. The current account deficit increased from $ 71 million to $ 648
million. Foreign aid utilisation came down from 27% to 18% .
The crux of the matter was that Ranil's economic and ethnic conflict resolution
policies were the best possible for Sri Lanka under the present circumstances. A
Country divided already in a "de - facto" manner would have been reunited "de-
jure" through the exploration of a federal solution. Instead of welcoming the man
with such policies he was condemned as a traitor. His real and perceived
personality traits were harped upon as deficiencies. Wearing a shawl, grinning
broadly and being easily accessible to the so called common man and not the
ability of good governance was projected as being the qualifications necessary to
be President. The man who will surely plunge this Country into ruin if he follows his
"chinthana" has been preferred for his unprincipled populism as opposed to the
man of real substance.
In such a situation one fully understands Ranil's desire to step down. He does not
want further embarassment from sections of the party clamouring for his removal
in the future. After all people like Ranil do not need politics as a career to oil their
palms or fatten their purses. He is perhaps one of the last in the dwindling tribe of
This column however wishes to make an appeal that Ranil Wickremasinghe should
not quit politics. He must even review any decision he may have taken to step
down from party and opposition leadership. His quitting now along with
Kumaratunga also going will create a tremendous void in Sri Lankan politics. This
will seriously undermine the rational element in Sinhala political leadership. The
vacuum will be filled by the irrational element of Sinhala political leadership. The
time has not come for Ranil to bid farewell.
The Mahinda victory is only Pyrrhic. Instead of throwing in the towel like a
gentleman Ranil should take firm hold of the party reins like a street - fighter
politico. After doing an intensive postmortem on the elections Ranils should devise
new strategies and tactics while retaining the core values of his political
This column would urge the UNP to prevail upon Ranil to continue in office and
continue to support him. The only change that Ranil must do is cultivate a people
friendly image and appeal to the rural masses without compromising on principles.
This writer has no doubt that it will only be a matter of time before the Sinhala
people realise their folly in rejecting him. There will be clamouring for him to
return to leadership one day. The very same Kumaratunga who dismissed his
government in 2004 on spurious charges faced up to her enormous blunder in
2005. Likewise the time is not far when the Sinhala electorate regrets its mistake
in spurning dull yet solid gold for bright, worthless copper.
Until then let Ranil bide his time. He owes this to the Country, nation, party and
above all himself. Being a Royalist Ranil may think of learning or departing. But
Ramil must not depart because the voters havent learnt yet. They will learn. Until
then do not depart but follow the Thomian motto of be thou forever.."Esto
Perpetua " Ranil! [Morning Leader - Nov 23, 2005]