The Ranil Wickremasinghe enigma: A Political Case Study
Posted on September 25th, 2014

Shenali D Waduge

 I have done many political campaigns all my life, but one thing I have still not worked out is, what goes on in the mind of the Sri Lankan voter before he votes” so said Esmond Wickremesinghe, the father of Ranil Wickremesinghe. With 30 successful election failures to his credit and still counting the thought of the son must no doubt be the same. If Ranil Wickremesinghe is described as the epitome of patience and tolerance the same titles must go to virtually half the nation that have stuck with him and voted with the same patience and tolerance. Ranil W continues to hold the title as the only UNP leader vying to lead Sri Lanka. The enigma remains RW’s indefinable energy to hold on to power following the perception of the glass and water. Some view it as half empty some as half full and in terms of numbers more than half may not have voted but almost half have and will continue to do so too. There is unlikely to be any leader that has waited for so long to lead a nation or a democratic public that have kept faith in him whatever the odds.

  • Ranil Shriyan Wickremesinghe – born on March 24, 1949.
  • Elected to Parliament in 1977
  • Appointed Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs in the government of J. R. Jayawardene, and was later appointed as the Minister of Youth Affairs and Employment. He was later given the portfolio of Minister of Education.
  • Appointed as the Minister of Industry, by President R.Premadasa and he initiated industrial reforms and established the Biyagama Special Economic Zone.
  • Appointed the Leader of the House of Parliament in 1989
  • Prime Minister of Sri Lanka twice – (May 7, 1993 to August 19,1994) and (December 9, 2001 to April 6, 2004) – After the assassination of R Premadasa on 1st May 1993.
  • Appointed as UNP leader in November 1994
  • Appointed Leader of the United National Front – In the Parliamentary general election 2001. UNF, led by RW won 109 seats and PA was able to obtain 77 seats. Sworn as the 17th Prime Minister of Sri Lanka on 9th December 2001. 
  • In December 2004, RW was nominated by the United National Party as its Presidential candidate for Presidential Elections due in late 2005.

With such an illustrious record and belonging to an elite family having all the correct connections and even foreign backing why has leadership to the highest office in Sri Lanka been a distant dream?

 Its unfortunate that RW has been given a hard time. Surely, with such elite upbringing someone would have showed him how to wave, or how to adjust his tone given that now he is summoned for overseas lectures and with his closest pals running image schools the country would have expected an image to match the Southern contender.

The efforts to match the contender in the South have unfortunately reaped unsuccessful results but have provided light entertainment for the entire nation. The appearance of the Opposition Leader with all due respect affords much relaxation to all but his support base who probably are biting nails in anxiety.

 The Opposition Leader’s main problem has been his inability to reach out to the masses and the masses in population terms equate the Sinhala Buddhist majority. Living in Colombo, where the minorities are the majority the UNP and RanilW believes this status quo exists throughout the island too.

 Colombo is not Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka is not Colombo. Similarly, Ranil W’s Colombo clans are quintessentially not mouthpieces of the nation or even for the nation, though they may like to think so and give external sources the erroneous impression that they are.

 There is nothing he has not tried.

 He has promised gold bicycles, bracelets and gold for the youth and free betel too. That didn’t get many votes though.

 He wanted to show he was very much a villager at heart and shared the spiraling cost of living so a UNP protest was organized to break clay pots and pans. The cartoon published the next day showed villagers hiding their pots and pans when Ranil W was to visit their village next!

 The efforts to project the UNP and RW’s solace with the villager for the skyrocketing gas prices and cost of living was an expected flop. How many villagers cook with gas stoves? The efforts at playing the rabaana and the breaking of clay pots and pans remain one of the best and hilarious campaign trails of the UNP on the advice of the Johnny-come-latelys!

 There are times we wonder whether his guffaws are preconceived for our laughing pleasure.

 What we can be sure of is that an affinity that is naturally lacking is difficult to produce at electoral seasons but we have to hand it out to the advisors for trying. The issue is that at every turn the UNP attempts to camaflage itself in election propaganda whereas it has no inkling to change its policies to show sincerity towards the masses.

 Thus, his efforts to reach out to the Sinhala Buddhist masses have been many. Yet, simply pulling out a Parakramabahu promised era, giving promises that are unlikely to be honored in the form of building the largest Buddhist dagoba, or teaching Buddhist monks Pali and spread Buddhism side by side with dressing up farmers in jeans or Nike t-shirts is likely to head for repeated failure. Though dubbed an excellent orator across the seas, his platform performances end up the recipe for the victory of the contender. The situation is made worse in getting carried away by the laughter of the audience resulting in campaigns ending up nothing but an exercise of banter. Therefore, the unfortunate thing for him is that he reaches out during elections and ends up saying the most inappropriate.

 No matter what his efforts, the inability to grasp the difference in LTTE terrorists and Sri Lanka’s Armed Forces and pay correct respect to those that defend the nation will remain Ranil W’s Waterloo. Never has there been a word of praise coming from a mouth that is ever ready to say all the wrong things but never a single line to appreciate the men who sacrificed their lives for the nation, the men that now lie injured from battle and the families of both while showering no respect for the living soldiers to whom we remain eternally grateful for giving us peace. The comment on Thoppigala is engraved in the people’s mind the manner that the war victories of the soldiers were ridiculed and belittled in public and even inside Parliament remains in our minds.

 To the Colombo clan he remains a gentlemen but what type of gentlemen goes to the West suggesting to cut off aid and put pressure on the GOSL to stop the war? This same gentlemen kept Gonawala Sunil as his secretary running the entire education! There are no gentlemen in politics and politics is not for gentlemen. Machiavelli declared the gentlemanly conduct and politics were diametrically opposed to each other.

 The Ranil followers are quick to come to the rescue by pulling out his suitability to economically lead the nation to prosperity.

 It is prudent that the public of Sri Lanka are reminded devoid of any political leanings that it was the UNP that drew Sri Lanka into the aid trap. In 1977 Sri Lanka’s foreign debt was $750million most of which were for productive projects benefiting the nation. After 1977, foreign debt within 3 decades shot upto $10,000million. Successive governments continue to fall prey to the World Bank/IMF Structural Adjustment ploys leaving industries and agriculture in a crippling state and allowing Sri Lankans to turn into virtual slaves of the open economy.

 Leadership under RW is unlikely to change any status quo and if at all change does happen it will be the death nail to the middle class and the poor but heaven luck for the elite.

 It was the the UNP that built a dual education system in 1977 – one for the rich with private schools preparing students for foreign studies and one for the poor with understaffed, illequipped schools and universities.

Let us also remind readers that privatization of assets began with the UNP. They sold out the Thulhiriya Mills once a showpiece of South Asia with investors running away with money and unpaid loans, unpaid wages and a vandalized mill and selling CWE for a song.

 Let us also remind the public that the 2005 pledge to accept the $4.5billion aid package was on Ranil’s agreement that further privatization of assets would take place including the 2 State banks!

 Therefore worshippers of Ranil’s vision for Sri Lanka may like to show how far Ranil proposes to carry out his vision minus the influence and dictates of the Western financiers who have been financing him all these years.

 An economy that Wickremasinghe would herald would end up worshipping and following or even been dictated by the IMF. If his plan is to get farmers into jeans it is obviously in keeping with an IMF plan to totally eliminate farming from Sri Lanka whereby farmers have no other choice but to give up a trade/industry that had been passed down to them over centuries! 

 Apart from signing lock stock and barrel every resource, every inch and breadth of Sri Lanka so long as he and UNP can remain in power, RW and his coterie of advisors do not care too hoots of what happens to the rest of Sri Lanka. It is this fear that grapples even the die hard UNP base most of whom do not belong to the elite gang to which RW is saddled.

 If Sri Lanka’s economy is dependent on foreign aid, RW and his UNP must admit that it was they who began siphoning off resources that should have been turned round as profitable ventures instead of becoming slaves of the IMF and the World Bank. Sadly, all successive Governments have followed the pied piper.

 The problem has been not in what he has said but in how he has said it, not in what was not said but what his opponent has said leaving Ranil W not knowing whether he is coming or going. With the ceasefire agreement standing against him like an iron barge pole, any opponent can get away by saying Ranil W is synonymous with dividing the country and all they need to do is hand a copy of the CFA as evidence.

 They will be the same Colombo clan praying for the return of neo-colonial rule who would jump to say CFA is better than bombs going off or suicide missions but these simpletons are too caught up in their own world to warrant time to take stock of the violations by the LTTE throughout the CFA, the elimination of the intelligence units or the stockpiles of weapons and ammunition brought in through the Colombo Port with the approval of RW’s own choices.

 Therefore, when Ranil says he is following in the footsteps of the former UNP leaders of post-independence – we have to object.

 Under D S Senanayake the country was not indebted. His tenure as leader saw that the country had sufficient money to meet the full cost of the Gal Oya Project.

 Dudley Senanayake did not follow the free economy. The foreign exchange use was strictly regulated. No foreign exchange was allowed for foreign education for any courses available in Sri Lanka. Imports were restricted and inessential imports were taxed. Senanayake’s helped build infrastructure for local production. It was JRJ taking IMF’s advice in 1977 that dismantled the national development.

 Before 1977 Sri Lanka was self-sufficient in paddy. Dismantling of infrastructure for production meant that after 1977 Sri Lanka ended up importing virtually everything that was grown in Sri Lanka – vegetables, fruits, paddy even consumer goods.

 Pre-1977 leaders did not have to go with begging bowls to any nation or leader because they showed leadership.

 Pre-1977 leaders did not believe in foreign investors who come on tax holidays, use our assets and do not pay tax to Sri Lanka but pay taxes in their country and rich dividends to their shareholders.

 Pre-1977 leaders believed in the local farmer and tried to build them up.

Post-1977 in came the investors, the bled our assets and took away the profits.

 1977 the future with begging-bowls was ushered by the UNP Government.

 Thereafter, virtually all Governments have ended up having to continue with the begging bowl policy.

 What ails the UNP and even the UPFA is that there is no stand out leader within their rank and file. The jumping Joes have no credibility, most of the rest are one foot from the grave yet clinging on and while their rhetoric says ‘more youth’ ‘more qualified’ the door opens up only for rapists, goons, thugs and all types of nefarious characters. This has resulted in the newest phenomena of a common candidate and that idea brings to mind the example of how a trishaw driver became the common candidate promising to hand over power once elected to the highest office of the Colombo municipality and that promise was never fulfilled and we can give other examples too. The lesson learnt should be never trust a common candidate in desperation to come into power that desperation may lead to exasperation eventually!

 If a tv channel were to compile all of the amusing statements made from the mouth of RanilW over the years combined with some of the ridiculous actions he has been asked to do that compilation would be an enviable effort. Though we must say that some of these actions are purely on the advice of advisors, the coterie of people that are not rooted anywhere except for the love of power and money and who end up making jokers out of essentially good hearts. 

 Whatever said and done the Opposition Leader is a noble person taking advice from the wrong people, hanging out with the wrong people and brought up not desiring to actually lead the masses but quite content to ever look forward to be thought of as the leader in that role.  

 UNP and Ranil have become synonymous and unlikely to change.

 Shenali D Waduge

16 Responses to “The Ranil Wickremasinghe enigma: A Political Case Study”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    IF UNP was proper, we don’t need BBS, JHU and NFF.

    May be UNP should have a Tamil or Muslim leader. I’m sure UNPers will LOVE that idea.

  2. Dilrook Says:

    I disagree on some of the ills attributed to the open economy. Sri Lanka was not sustainably self sufficient in rice before the open economy. A highly inefficient and massive public sector which is not a characteristic of an open economy continues to bleed the country.

    Most of these are not the fault of the open economy but are the creation of lawlessness brought by the present Constitution. The PR system can only bring rich politicians no matter how they earn their riches. It has created a hiding place for politicians without having to take responsibility for their electorate. Even those who lose their electorate can be in parliament under the PR system.

    13A has brought in a new breed of rogues and criminals. Sri Lankan political life became much worse after the 13A. It brings criminals to power in the south, extremists in the east and criminals and terrorists in the north. Over governance (president, parliament, provincial councils, pradeshiya sabha, urban councils and municipal councils) is a huge cost to the economy. A new Constitution is needed.

    If the President secures a third term before the expiration of the parliament’s term, that is the perfect opportunity to get a new Constitution. The two thirds majority cannot be obtained again. Fearing electoral annihilation and punishment by the party, ruling coalition MPs will have to support it.

  3. mario_perera Says:

    “13A has brought in a new breed of rogues and criminals. Sri Lankan political life became much worse after the 13A. It brings criminals to power in the south, extremists in the east and criminals and terrorists in the north. Over governance (president, parliament, provincial councils, pradeshiya sabha, urban councils and municipal councils) is a huge cost to the economy. A new Constitution is needed.” – Dilrook

    This is the total undiluted TRUTH. Nothing need be added. What the country needs is a ‘redeemer’ constitution, a constitution that wipes away the original sin…the original sin that is the !3A. Until then the SPECTER OF DEATH will haunt and weigh heavily on this nation.

    Mario Perera
    Kadawata

  4. Nanda Says:

    “Most of these are not the fault of the open economy but are the creation of lawlessness brought by the present Constitution. The PR system can only bring rich politicians no matter how they earn their riches. It has created a hiding place for politicians without having to take responsibility for their electorate. Even those who lose their electorate can be in parliament under the PR system. ”

    – very true bare truth by Dilrook

    “13A has brought in a new breed of rogues and criminals. Sri Lankan political life became much worse after the 13A. It brings criminals to power in the south, extremists in the east and criminals and terrorists in the north. Over governance (president, parliament, provincial councils, pradeshiya sabha, urban councils and municipal councils) is a huge cost to the economy. A new Constitution is needed.

    – Absolutely true. Also the new constitution should bar criminals from entering the parliament. ” 1 crime you go ” should be written into it.

  5. aloy Says:

    Well written article by Shenali.
    Dilrook,

    “If the President secures a third term before the expiration of the parliament’s term, that is the perfect opportunity to get a new Constitution. The two thirds majority cannot be obtained again. Fearing electoral annihilation and punishment by the party, ruling coalition MPs will have to support it.”
    An idiotic idea. He will promise sun and the moon to get there. After that he will use 2/3 rd to amend the constitution to rule for ever without elections.

  6. Sirih Says:

    It is not a fault of elite upbringing or family since our family almost brought out out side SL, and fault lies with the internal family unit which is completely out of tune with the Sinhalese Buddhist culture that is the vanguard of our civilisation. Christian upbringing in SL, is against our culture and want to dominate us all.. Colonials parasites will join them since there is pound of flesh for them and it applies to indian worshippers as well.
    Our families ethics come from Buddhist scholars who thought us about compassion , poverty alleviation, share wealth and most of all respect our institutions which are part of 2000 year civilisation.. I know Christians do not celebrate Sinhalese new year and I was taken back re. this issue. Question is who are they ? They are the same as RW clan.

  7. Nanda Says:

    ” He will promise sun and the moon to get there. After that he will use 2/3 rd to amend the constitution to rule for ever without elections.”

    – I remember very well he promised a small cabinet. I believed him. Look at the CABI_NUT now !

  8. SA Kumar Says:

    I remember very well he promised a small cabinet. I believed him. Look at the CABI_NUT now !
    Also I remember he promised 13 plus .

    In saying in Thamil ,in politic ithuellam sakaya mada !

  9. douglas Says:

    Shenali: You said: ” With such an ILLUSTRIOUS RECORD (high lighted by me) and belonging to an elite family having all the correct connections and even foreign backing why has leadership to the highest office in Sr Lanka been a distant dream”.

    I always have respect for your findings; but NOT FOR THE ABOVE OBSERVATION and DEFINITELY NOT. What is his “ILLUSTRIOUS RECORD you talk of? Did you go through “Batalanda Legend”? Did you study what happened when Gonawala Sunil was virtually running the Education Ministry? Is that what you call his belonging to elite family? Did you forgot what he did with that CFA signed with Velupillai Prabaharan on the instigation of Norway, behind the back of the President and his Cabinet? Is that what you call correct connections and foreign backing?. Sorry, Shenali – You added a huge chunk of cow done to the pot of milk you drained. I wish to leave that portion of your article with that comment.

    Now coming back to this urgent need to re-constitute our “Constitution” : This is definitely a NATIONAL need. Why? Let us be very frank. It is because the Position of President that it created has become a CURSE. From the day one its architect stated ” I can do anything other than to make a man a woman and a woman a man”, this position and its powers has and have been used and abused and we have reached the climax. Looking back at it and looking forward, there is no doubt that it must GO. How many amendments have been brought to it and all those are to “BENEFIT” the holder and to “HIT” at the ordinary people. In doing the amendments, it hit at the very root of the “Accountability”; “Justice”; “Fair Play” principles and today it is, to put it simply, as some one said ” A ROTTEN JACK FRUIT”. Do we hear any more of an “AUDITOR GENERAL”? an “INDEPENDENT JUSTICE SYSTEM” a “POLICE SERVICE”, a “PUBLIC SERVICE”?

    These are among the very many issues that the country needs to address in drafting a new Constitution. Also not forgetting the need to overhaul the entire electoral and election system. There must be laws and provisions to limit the expenses on elections and campaigns. Each and every candidate must be made to account for expenses made on elections and there must be limit placed on such expenditures. If any one cannot do that accountability or goes above the limits imposed his or her election must be made null and void through the legal proceedings. This is very exhaustive and let us do it in some other arena. Yet it is suffice to say URGENT.

  10. Christie Says:

    Downfall of Ranil and Indian influence stated in 2005. Indian intelligence service, The Thid Eye and other Indian interests in the island nation and overseas made error of judgment in deciding to back Mahinda. Their knew about Ranil and thought he was a hard man to negotiate and Mahinda will be a man like SWRD who can be manipulated or directed.

  11. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    The biggest impediment to the UNP is not just the presence of Rajapakse and what he has accomplished but the ongoing pressure Sri Lanka faces from Tamil Nadu, New Delhi, Washington D.C. to Tamil Diaspora.

    Colombo is still held hostage as a ‘perpetrator” of “crimes against humanity” relentlessly pushed by a select powerful nations of the world who refuse to look at the entire war. if not for China Sri Lanka would be quit isolated on so many levels.

    The ongoing domestic issues are pertinent to the voter but for Sri Lanka to make real headway in the world the axis of lies has to end.

  12. AnuD Says:

    Shenali:

    When we see with the negative mind, we see only negatives.

    Otherwise, think about the list of negatives of the incumbent president.

    It is the CFA that paved the way for the LTTE victory. Nepal adopted the CFA and happened the same thing. Even JVP members, except the politicians, became capitalists when even they had the opportunity and abandoned the socialist struggle.

  13. AnuD Says:

    the draw back of Ranil Wickramasinghe should be he is relatively honest.

    Sri lankan politics is not for honest people, at least not yet.

  14. douglas Says:

    The Tamil Nadu Prime Minister Ms. Jayalalitha has been found guilty of “CORRUPTION” and sentenced to FOUR YEARS in JAIL, a news items says.

    This is what we need in Sri Lanka too. This is what I meant in my comment as regards “ACCOUNTABILITY” to be imposed to everyone flowing down from the President to the lowest in Legislature and Executive. If people cannot be honest by his or her own character, let us impose it on them by means of the legal system. This is the way to CLEAN the stable.

  15. Christie Says:

    Here we go friends, It is India the problem for the non-Indians of the island. As soon as non-Indians unite our problems will be solved.

  16. Ratanapala Says:

    Christian Rani’s Christian UNP will not stand snowball chance in hell in any election in the future. This is unless the UNP get rid of him and change the UNP structure to be more representative of the majority Buddhists or the Buddhist traitors betray the nation in a “cutting the nose to spite the face” action. It is the latter option that is being tried now, by bringing Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thero and the like to the political scene.

    As mentioned above all those who participate in corruption should draw a good lesson from what happened to Jayaram Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu. All those who get rich by fraudulent means need to think of her day and night or have a photograph of Jayalalitha at their homes.

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