The resignation of Ravi Karunanayke from the position of Foreign Minister will have far reaching implications for the UNP. This is not just some provincial politician who can be replaced by the next person on the list. Ravi K was the Assistant Leader of the UNP and it was no secret that he had ambitions of leading the party one day. He was in direct competition with Sajith Premadasa to succeed RW. Ravi K was one of the key figures in the UNP when it was in the opposition. He had been cultivating Ven Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera for years and his perseverance paid off when Ven. Sobitha who had been a key figure in the Sinhala nationalist camp became the principal Buddhist figure in the yahapalana campaign. It is doubtful whether the yahapalana campaign would have suceded without Ven. Sobitha to give it a veneer of acceptability among the Buddhist population or at least to reassure Buddhists that they would not be sold down the river by the alliance which included the TNA and the Muslim political parties.
Thus if not for Ravi K’s cultivation of Ven Sobitha thera, the yahapalana victory itself may not have been possible. Then there was the fact that he did help the UNP with funds when it was in opposition. It was through a political party and a symbol owned by him that both Sarath Fonseka and Maithripala Sirisena contested the 2010 and 2015 Presidential elections. It was also he who dissuaded Ranil Wickremesinghe from contesting the 2015 presidential election so as to make way to Sirisena to step in. Thus Ravi’s contribution to the yahapalana campaign was even greater than that of Mangala Samaraweera. In terms of the yahapalana cabal, he ranks among the top leaders along with the likes of Sirisena, Chandrika Kumaratunga, Ranil Wickremesinghe, Mangala Samaraweera, Champika Ranawaka and Dr Rajitha Senaratne. Within the UNP, he was one of the top three with RW and Sajith. Ousting such a person from cabinet is going to have its consequences. Combined with all of the above, was also the most important fact that he was one of the few accessible Ministers in the yahapalana government.
Azath Salley has been saying all along that Ravi K was the only Minister in the government who would always personally answer the phone and that even if he was not able to take the call immediately, he would ring back however busy he was. After Ravi K’s resignation last Thursday, UNP backbencher Nalin Bandara said much the same thing. Thus his absence in the cabinet and in the Finance Ministry will be a heavy blow to the entire UNP. If there was dissension and unrest among the UNP backbenchers and the rank and file, that will only increase several fold without the one person in the cabinet who could or would do something to contain it.
That Ravi K’s ouster is a conspiracy against the entire UNP hierarchy is only now beginning to dawn on UNP camp followers and pro-UNP websites. It may be pertinent to point out that this columnist has been saying so long before it dawned on anybody connected to the UNP. In the 48 hours before Ravi K’s resignation there was a flurry of furious articles in websites like Lanka e News and Lanka News Web which played a major role in the yahapalana campaign. For example on Wednesday night, the day before Ravi’s resignation, there was an article in lankaenews titled “Is the President honest? The purpose of sending Ravi to the gallows is to retain the executive presidency”.
This article stated that President Sirisena had appointed the Bond Commission for the political purpose of forming an SLFP government after portraying the UNP as bigger rogues than the SLFP which had been in power earlier. The article stated that even thought the real target in all this is Ranil Wickremesinghe himself, Ravi K got inadvertently entangled in it because of a statement made by a female witness before the Bond Commission and that even before Aloysius was found to be a thief, Ravi K was declared to be one. The article further stated that Sirisena and all the other yahapalanites should remember that it was Ravi K who had provided Rs. 500 million for the campaign in the first week in November 2014 when there was no money in the kitty and that even the yahapalanites who are now asking for his resignation participated in events organized with that money and that at that time, nobody asked him from where he got that money. The article stated that the president’s mud slinging which has destroyed Ravi will definitely be aimed at Ranil Wickremesinghe as well – the purpose of all this being the appointment of an SLFP prime minister.
The snakes in the sleeping bag
The Lanka News Web website which played a major role in the yahapalana campaign also carried an article on Tuesday with the title “Many UNP supporters are watching in shock the way Minister Ravi Karunanayake is being treated by the UNP.” They had referred to the fact that Ravi K had bank rolled the party for years and lamented that the big beneficiaries of the government, Sirisena and Wickremesinghe, have now happily washed off their hands and forgotten the very man who put his life at risk to get Sirisena elected as President. Lanka News Web carried an article with a thinly veiled threat on Thursday after Ravi K resigned titled “Ravi Karunanayake to expose the actors?” where it stated that Ravi Karunanayake has told friends that he would meet the media next week to reveal all. Probably in retaliation for Ravi K’s ouster, both these websites carried a news release ostensibly sent by a hitherto unheard of group called ‘Democrats for Anti-Corruption’ accusing President Sirisena of corruption. It is obvious that there is still a great deal of confusion within the yahapalana camp as to what exactly is happening. Some are blaming the President because it was he who appointed the Bond Commission. The Prime Minister and Malik Samarawickrema are being blamed for having allowed Ravi K to be sacrificed. What the yahapalanites have to understand is not so complicated. It can be summarized as follows:
1.On 8 January 2015, the UNP and everyone else got together and elected as President, a person who was not a member of any of the political parties supporting his candidacy. Even though those who supported him thought that he was going to abolish the executive presidency and fade away into the sunset, that was never his intention. The Jathika Hela Urumaya which tutors him in conspiratorial politics inserted a sentence in his presidential election manifesto saying that he will amend the constitution only to the extent that a referendum will not be required. Since a referendum will be needed to turn an elected president into a non elected president, this sentence was a way of ensuring that the executive presidency will never be abolished.
2.Sirisena not only wishes to remain this term as president but also wishes to contest again as President at the end of 2019. For that he needs to maintain his support base. But the UNP is trying to deprive him of his job by abolishing the executive presidency through the proposed new constitution. The UNP and all those who want to usher in a new constitution know that there isn’t a snowflake’s chance in hell of the public accepting the new constitution unless it incorporates the two main constitutional pledges given at the 2015 elections. Hence there is a fundamental mismatch between the objectives of the UNP on the one hand and the Sirisena faction on the other.
3.The only way that Sirisena can ensure a future for himself and his closest supporters is by destroying the UNP as a political party so that the displaced voters will join the political bandwagon led by him for the lack of an alternative. Ravi Karunanayake was just one of those who had to be got rid of if the UNP was to be hijacked. Lanka e News is right when it says that Ranil Wickremesinghe is also a target in all this. If the UNP goes into the hands of a malleable character like Karu Jayasuriya who will play a subordinate role to Sirisena, that will keep the executive presidency and the yahapalana coalition together beyond 2019.
4. The next presidential election is due before December 9, 2019. If the UNP party structure remains as it is at present, they will not be able to ask their party rank and file to vote for an outsider again. The UNP will be forced to field a candidate of its own. If that is to be prevented, all those in the UNP who can be fielded as candidates at a future presidential election will have to be eliminated from the race. There are three such persons in the UNP, Ravi Karunanayake being one of them.
5. The political future of Sirisena and his closest supporters depend entirely on being able to destroy the UNP and to create something new in its place with that vote bank. The examples that can be followed in this regard have already been set by the way Sirisena was able to win as the candidate of a party whose name nobody remembers. It’s known only as the Swan party. Another example of this is the way the Joint Opposition has been able to mobilize the masses without any political party at all. What counts now are not labels or name boards but masses of people. Sirisena knows that the mass of people following the Joint Opposition will never support him. The only mass of people who may follow him are in the yahapalana camp. If the UNP has a separate command structure, he will not be able to garner the support of that base in the way he needs to if he is to be a presidential candidate in 2019.