It is sad to announce! I hope I am wrong. But I see the end of the Grand Old Party. The Sajith faction wouldn’t stop at getting nomination to a position that is only a shade of what it had been after 19A. The presidential executive is, today, a monster that has been only half-killed. Yet, being a monster, it can astonishingly revive and resurrect by an evil resilience.
The faction that has proven its capacity for physical intimidation will move headlong, manipulating the power it derives from a presidential electoral triumph. If they win the elections, Sajith and his pals will keep pushing the boundaries until they oust the respected, visionary and venerable leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.
One cannot think of the United National Party sans Wickremesinghe. Without the latter having legitimately and sanctimoniously passed on the mantle of leadership to a suitable successor, the party lies in the dark doldrums.
Remnants will continue to struggle, as we observe in the tragic happenings of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party that keep unfolding before our eyes. There being no hereditary line of succession, the end will come. I give Ranil Wickremesinghe just one year and he will be gone if he is not made to go.
Ranil’s historic role
The Wickremesinghe era of the UNP had been crucial for the party’s survival under the stressful and traumatic conditions imposed upon it during the heavy-handed, lawless, and corrupt regime of the Rajapaksas. Wickremesinghe brought the party back to power and has been firmly in the seat of governance despite the Sirisena letdown.
The mandate that was won in 2015 was not merely for Maithripala Sirisena; Wickremesinghe, shared hat mandate since the main slogan of the 2015 campaign was that Sirisena will be President and Ranil, the Prime Minister.
Ranil’s critics haven’t acknowledged that electoral triumph since it is not in their slant to do that. Ranil himself clinched a personal historical record of achieving more than 500,000 majority votes from his electoral district. That is a personal record that no MP would ever reach in a hurry. Yet, the much maligned hero of our politics is ignored on that score too.
Wickremesinghe is a virtuous Buddhist who has mastered detachment. Hence, these things don’t ruffle him. His emotional management, derived as it is through an embedded Buddhist philosophy, has been extraordinary. He wasn’t actually happy about Sajith; yet, he embraced the idea as one of those inevitable events that come and go in our lives. The way he faced the no-confidence motions and the constitutional coup proves my point about Wickremesinghe’s deep Buddhist attitudes.
In this sense, Ranil Wickremesinghe has been the first true Buddhist leader in Sri Lanka. The downside of that detachment is that he cannot push himself beyond limits.
Sajith and his faction
On the other hand, Sajith Premadasa’s faction are capable of physical attack and intimidation. The latter made threats to attack Sirikotha. They once stoned the Party Headquarters. One guy, State Minister Ajith Perera, wanted to go on a fast-unto death in Wimal Weerawansa’s style. Nobody stopped him but he did not execute that threat although the country would have, probably, benefited from that move.
Sajith himself threatened many a time that he would, disregarding his party, contest. That was party-law violation unsuitable for an aspiring leader. Hence, it was all an instance of success by intimidation. There isn’t any pretence possible and the kind of servile and supine statements of the controversial party Chairman, Kabir Hashim, make no sense.
Achievements of the Wickremesinghe era
Ranil Wickremesinghe gave leadership to restoring democratic freedoms, to the restoring of judicial independence and rule of law, to public access of official information and so on. He recreated the right legal environment for private investment.
He was on the path to restructuring our economy from an import-dependent one to an export-oriented one. In the latter effort, many successes have been on record. Our trade gap is narrowing and narrowing; our net foreign investments are positive; tourism is at its heights, a promising ‘Private Enterprise Sri Lanka,’ project is on. The Gamperaliya project has a lot of local development to its credit.
No white vans coming to our doors in the dead of the night; no hit squads. Protestors are free from State terror and not a single such protestor has been shot at as we saw in Rathupaswala and Katunayake. Wickremesinghe’s record of reconciliation with the Tamil community has been exemplary. Even in the worst of times for the party, Ranil never allowed his men to resort to racism.
These are all leadership achievements to be celebrated.
However, inasmuch as Sajith Premadasa has been the most overrated leader, Wickremesinghe has, all along, been underrated. The point is the latter doesn’t care to sing his praise. “Be unruffled in the face of praise or blame,” said the Buddha. That is Ranil.
Last hope: AKD and JVP?
With Ranil going off the field retired hurt and the party engulfed by hopeless, ignorant men that intimidate, what hope have we Sri Lankans? I ask AKD and his JVP to brace itself up fast to try and fill the gaps and complete the unfinished Yahapalanaya revolution.
AKD is well-educated, knows his economics and is thorough in parliamentary participation. The JVP has a record of being the clean party with hands unbruised, and never racist.