Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is under renewed pressure to step down from the leadership of his United National Party (UNP) after its dismal performance at local council elections.
UNP seniors said they wanted Wickremesinghe to step aside to clear the way for a major restructuring of the party after Saturday’s drubbing at the local government election.
Since the humiliating defeat, party stalwarts have begun blaming Wickremesinghe’s style of leadership, including his blind faith in what is known as the ‘FRCS – Former Royal College Student’ cabal.
A top UNP leader pointed out that Wickremesinghe had as his inner circle the same people who were blamed for the UNP government’s untimely demise in 2004 and the crushing defeat in the same year.
A top executive in the government said a committee for economic management set up under Wickremesinghe, but actually controlled by his FRCS clique had antagonised ministers by blocking almost every proposal they made.
Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne publicly accused Wickremesinghe confidant Charitha Ratwatte of disruptive action and had even threatened physical violence if he obstructed his ministry’s work.
Ratwatte was blamed for the 2004 downfall of the then UNP government, but he went onto write a book “Politics sans Policies and Principles & Other Essays” and could publish another: “How I brought down a Prime Minister twice.”
Ratwatte had brought his younger brother as chief executive of Sri Lankan airlines and despite a board decision to sack him, he remains in office amid intense criticism of the Prime Minister’s handling of the loss-making airline.
Insiders said Wickremesinghe was trying to ride out the current crisis by offering more leadership committees, but the party has had enough of such delaying tactics.
The next few days are thought to be decisive for the UNP as seniors try to ease of Wickremesinghe and bring in a stop-gap leader to steer the party till the 2019 presidential elections.