The Paradox Of Ranil Wickremesinghe

(MENAFN- NewsIn) By Veeragathy Thanabalasingham

Colombo, April 4: President Ranil Wickremesinghe's recent announcement seems to have put an end to the confusion over the sequence of national elections. He has said that no election will be held until the external debt restructuring process being carried out under the International Monetary Fund's (IMF ) assistance programme is completed and that process will be over before the Presidential election which is due later this year.

As the President has mentioned the month of July as a deadline, he has given a clear message to those who have been demanding parliamentary elections be held before the Presidential election i. e. no election will be held before July and it is not possible to hold parliamentary elections within a short period of time before mid-October, when Presidential elections are supposed to be held as per the constitution.


The President and his United National Party(UNP) politicians have made it clear to the Rajapaksas who are cranking up pressure to dissolve Parliament and hold general elections first that they want the Presidential election to be held first.

Many political observers believe that unless the President is convinced that the de facto leader of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Basil Rajapaksa, would not be able to muster the support of 113 members to pass a resolution in the House to dissolve Parliament, he would not have outrightly rejected the Rajapaksas' demand.

Legal luminary Prof. G. L. Peiris MP said recently at a press conference said that in terms of Article 70 of the constitution, the relevant motion should have the backing of a majority of MPs at the time a vote was taken on the motion. That could be adopted even without the consent of a simple majority in parliament.

It is almost certain now that the Rajapaksas are not going to field their party candidate in the presidential election. They are insisting
that parliamentary elections be held first because of the fear that a possible resounding defeat in the Presidential election would have further repercussions in the upcoming parliamentary elections for them.

But it is now more and more clear that they have no other option but to support President Wickremesinghe have instructed SLPP politicians not to make comments on the prospective Presidential candidates of their party.

At the same time, the Rajapaksas will no doubt be concerned about how to secure as many assurances as possible from Wickremesinghe to ensure their future political prospects in return for their support to him in the Presidential election.

A big problem for the Rajapaksas is the number of
SLPP ministers and members of parliament who are voicing their support for Wickremesinghe. They speak openly that there is no political leader other than Wickremesinghe to lead the country amidst the current economic and political crisis. The Rajapaksas need to prevent the party from further splitting.

Meanwhile, even though President Wickremesinghe has not yet publicly announced his candidacy his campaign machinery has started working. He cannot delay the announcement of his candidacy for the Presidency for a long time.

With this being the case, it is interesting to observe the comments
made by UNP politicians about the nature of the
candidacy of President Wickremesinghe.

UNP chairman, parliamentarian Vajira Abeywardane has said that the President will unite all political parties and be a national candidate at the presidential election.

” The President will contest as a man who will unite all political parties” he said, indicating Wickremesinghe will contest as a common candidate.

Labour Minister Manusha Nanayakkara has said that Wickremesinghe's candidacy will be a neutral one not representing any political party.

” The President will contest as an independent national candidate on a common platform where people representing all parties , ethnicities and religions as well as people with diverse views can come together. He will once again become President of this country,” Nanayakkara said.

Former parliamentarian P Harrison, a spokesman for UN,P made a bold claim that Wickremesinghe will get 10 million votes at the Presidential election. He also took a shot at the leftist National People's Power (NPP) /JVP which according to many recent
opinion polls, is strongly ahead of any other contenders including the President and the main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya ( SJB) .

” The JVP thinks that their three plus percent has climbed up to 80.
For that to happen, all of us will have to vote for them. That will not be the case If you take the whole country. At the most, it will go up by three percent up to no more than five or 10 percent,” Harrison said.

Former minister and UNP assistant leader Akila Viraj Kariyawasam said few days back that a research conducted by the government has revealed that more than 60 percent of the voters in the country are still undecided on whom they should vote for and added that rumours of certain political parties expected to get a high percentage of vote is false.

” Some political parties are living on illusions. The incumbent President Wickremesinghe will spring a surprise similar to the one the country had during the 2015 Presidential election. There are many things happening behind the scenes. Therefore, don't come to conclusions seeing from outside,” he said.

Although all these UNP politicians claim that Wickremesinghe will contest the Presidential election with the support of a broader
alliance, no significant progress is visible in his efforts to form such an alliance. The president is dependent heavily on other parties, particularly a section of SLPP parliamentarians who defected from the Rajapaksas after the popular uprising two years ago, for alliance – building efforts, with his own party so weakened and lacking organisational framework.

But, as he expected, the members of the SLPP are not interested in joining the ranks of the dissidents and no party with a substantial public support is willing to join them except some individuals.

It is clear that many parties may be interested in joining the President's efforts to form a broader alliance only if the UNP is in a strong position. In the current situation, the mere claim that there is no other leader but Wickremesinghe to lead the country in the present context, is not enough to make the people rally around him.

The President is hoping to get a massive support from the minority communities. But there is a risk now
that his appearance as a Rajapaksa-backed candidate could backfire in the upcoming Presidential election when it comes the support of the minorities

The President believes that the economic restructuring measures carried out with the assistance
of the IMF
are gradually increasing his support among the people. But the resemblance of normalcy has not brought any significant improvement in the quality of life for most people. Despite the availability of goods in abundance, their prices are not at a level that most people can afford.

If the incumbent President is strong enough, most of the opposition parties will tend to nominate a common candidate against him in the Presidential election. Even so, it cannot be said that all the opposition parties will support such a candidate. The UNP had the experience of supporting former army commander Sarath Fonseka and Maithripala Sirisena, who were fielded as common candidates of the opposition in the 2010 and the 2015 Presidential elections respectively against former President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Wickremesinghe avoided contesting in three consecutive presidential elections after having lost twice. He cannot be said to be a strong ruler even though he is an Executive President today. His government runs with the parliamentary support of the Rajapaksas.
In such a situation the opposition parties are not interested in fielding a common candidate against him.

The main opposition parties, SJB and NPP had already announced their candidates several months ago and have been actively campaigning. The idea of declaring an incumbent President as a common
candidate is unprecedented in Sri Lankan politics.

Just because certain parties have come forward to support Wickremesinghe the idea of declaring him as a common candidate or national candidate is preposterous.

We have never known anyone contesting as a national candidate in Presidential elections abroad. If anyone has contested in such a way, the UNP politicians should let us know.

Apart from all these, it is necessary to point out one peculiar aspect of President Wickremesinghe's political life.

During the three decades of his leadership, the UNP has never won a Presidential election. It is the Aragalaya uprising that created an unprecedented political situation for Wickremesinghe to become the executive President, a post that eluded him for more than a quarter century.

UNP stalwart and Sabaragamuwa Provincial Governor Navin Dissanayake had once said that Wickremesinghe
was considering even disbanding the party after the UNP was wiped off the electoral map in the 2020 parliamentary elections.

Most of the UNP politicians aligned themselves with Sajith Premadasa because they had lost hope that the UNP would rear its head
as an effective political force again under Wickremesinghe's leadership. That is why many of them are MPs today.

But the irony is that UNP politicians are still have no way out other than relying entirely on Wickremesinghe to rebuild the party. The situation has changed dramatically to such an extent that Wickremesinghe's former political nemeses, the Rajapaksas, have not only made him the President but also are hailing him now as the best Presidential candidate among present day politicians. That is the paradox of Ranil Wickramasinghe.



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