The Ranil Wickremasinghe enigma: A Political Case Study

Ranil Wickremasinghe

“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!

Ranil Wickremasinghe

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.

– by Shenali D Waduge

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