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The role of Ranil Wickremesinghe in Sri Lankan politics

The Colombo-centered urban elite family background, the Royal College education and the law degree obtained from the Faculty of Law of the University of Colombo are some of the extra advantages that influenced Ranil Wickremesinghe’s political career.

by Indi Akurugoda

Policy-oriented politics and tactical political diplomacy are still distant concepts in the Sri Lankan political arena. Yet the Sri Lankan politics is full of fake promises, ethno-chauvinist influences and religious extremism. These have resulted in misguiding the public opinion towards obtaining short-term popularity and fulfilling opportunistic political aims. Against a context of several selfish, opportunistic and anarchist political leaders, a significant number of people in Sri Lanka expect Ranil Wickremesinghe to follow a path of cheap popularity and political opportunism. Fortunately, he has never followed such path to mislead people during his 41 years long-term political career. He has never tried to be in power against the public opinion. However, he is yet a world recognized diplomat; a patient, mature and outstanding political leader in Sri Lanka.

The current Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Ranil Wickremesinghe, celebrates his 70th birthday on March 24, 2019. There is no other political leader who faced difficulties, blames and challenges like him. Not only of his opponents, but also, he has confronted severe blames and unbearable criticisms of his own party members. Finally, at the end of all political storms and disasters, all had to say that “Ranil is right”. This article is not to exaggerate Ranil’s character, but to analyze his significant political role in Sri Lankan politics.

The Colombo-centered urban elite family background, the Royal College education and the law degree obtained from the Faculty of Law of the University of Colombo are some of the extra advantages that influenced Ranil Wickremesinghe’s political career. The new moves to distract from the traditional governing structures, promote the liberal high technological trends, establish a multi-cultural society, encourage social reconciliation, good governance and democratic principles, and to drive the youth towards vocational training and international level future career development led Ranil to become a special political character in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately, most of the people in the Sri Lankan society are still unable to understand the complex mixture of Ranil’s specialties.

Ranil used Buddhist ideology to answer his opponents logically and non-violently. When the President ousted Ranil Wickremesinghe, and appointed a new Prime Minister on October 26, 2018, Ranil’s choice was to fight democratically using his patience and Buddhist philosophical answers to avoid unnecessary conflicts. During the 51-day political crisis, the strong, steady and unshaken characteristics of Ranil Wickremesinghe fueled the democratic struggle in front of every disaster and undemocratic decisive action of the President and his supporters.

When the President Ranasinghe Premadasa was assassinated on May 1, 1993, the occurred instability of the country had been handled smoothly by Ranil Wickremesinghe. The United National Party (UNP) was divided at the moment into two factions based on the impeachment against the President Ranasinghe Premadasa. Ranil Wickremesinghe protected the leader and the UNP during such impeachment. In 1994, when Chandrika Bandaranaike became the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Ranil Wickremesinghe left Temple Trees immediately, even though many UNP MPs wanted him to remain in power to form a minority government. In 1999, Gamini Dissanayake re-joined the UNP and faced an intra-party election with Ranil Wickremesinghe to obtain the opposition leadership and the UNP Presidential candidacy. Although Ranil defeated from the intra-party election, he supported Gamini without complaining. However, even the UNP members saw these trends as weaknesses of Ranil.

In 2001, Ranil became the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka while the President was Chandrika Bandaranaike. This resulted in a confusing situation where the President and the Prime Minister were from two opposite parties. However, Ranil led the ceasefire agreement with the LTTE requesting the assistance of the international community. This was the most successful long-term ceasefire that the LTTE was unable to avoid or get rid of. In conflict resolution and peace studies this example is being used as a successful move by a government to resolve a long-lasting armed conflict. Even the LTTE leader Prabhakaran stated that they have trapped in an international snare of a “cunning fox,” Ranil. Consequently, the severe internal factions of the LTTE, which led to the defeat of the war, emerged during such long-term ceasefire. It seems that this point is being intentionally ignored by political analysts.

In the 2005 Presidential election, Ranil defeated by a narrow margin. The whole blame of the UNP’s defeat had placed on Ranil but he remained in silence. He gave up the opportunity of the UNP Presidential candidacy twice to provide opportunities for common candidates. When some of these common candidates criticized him, he remained silent. This tolerance never could be maintained by an immature and inexperienced politician. The people who criticize Ranil will never be able to understand him. His work is based on the mind and not on the body. The lack of knowledge about Ranil Wickremesinghe is not an excuse to reject him. He still plays a prominent and a strong role in Sri Lankan politics.

Dr Indi Akurugoda, Senior Lecturer, Department of Public Policy, University of Ruhuna

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