Ranil still gets the cars, security and privileges of a government minister. He still gets to speak and people have to listen and print what he says. He still appears on TV and the cover pages, essentially for sitting around. Ranil even gets to travel and visiting dignitaries still talk to him like he’s an Opposition Leader rather than a squatter. It must feel nice, plus the alternative is much worse.
I recently saw Mangala Samaraweera at Arpico, buying groceries. His cart contained light bulbs, pet food and tinned fish. This was a man who used to install three million rupee elevators in his official residence. Now he’s replacing light bulbs. That must suck.
Even ex-presidents end up in reduced social circumstances. I’ve seen Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga out on a few occasions. The first time I wondered if I should stand, but nobody paid any attention. For people used to having the respect of at least their bodyguards, that must be quite a comedown.
That’s the fate that awaits Ranil if he steps down. For these political animals, there is no second place. It’s the life of a male lion. Either you get to mate with everybody, or no one. Sri Lankan leaders can either go out on top, die, or disappear. There’s no Bill Clinton option with speaking tours and charitable foundations.
If Ranil steps down now, there’s literally nothing left. He’ll never be welcomed back into the leadership of the UNP, his loyalists will either switch or be replaced and — worst of all — he won’t even be remembered. What has he to be remembered for? His best achievements — peace, economic development — were always just around the corner. He showed a lot of promise, but he never secured peace and he never made any generational changes to the economy. He still hasn’t done what he set out to do.
Unfortunately for the country, however, it looks like he never will. All he can do is maintain some Byzantine stranglehold on the party. It makes no sense politically, it makes no sense socially, it only makes sense within the psychology of one man.
Ranil’s family saw a similar situation when they had their newspaper business (Lake House) nationalised. That part of the family regrouped, however, and formed a viable private media empire. Ranil has seen his party effectively nationalised, but he hasn’t come back with anything new. He has all the staying of his newspaper relatives with none of the hard work. It’s not his family, it’s not his party, and it’s certainly not the nation. It’s just him.
I have been trying to figure it out for ages, why does Ranil stay? Does he think he’s better for the job? Does he think no one else is good enough? Does he think, like JR, that the presidency will come to him with patience while, unlike JR, doing no work to earn it? I don’t think so. I think Ranil is simply afraid of shopping alone.
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