By Lakshman Seneviratne, MP – Deputy General Secretary UNP
“I had mixed feelings when I read the article in The Sunday Times of 20th June 2010 by Ranil Wickremesinghe, Leader of the main Opposition United National Party written as a guest column. I was amused as to whether RW was asleep or in Mars during the past few years!”
— Lakshman Seneviratne
I also felt sorry for him as he now seems to be totally isolated and does not have any one to even write an article to sing his virtues, if any. Even his staunch supporters who stood by in earlier crises have now deserted him. RW now has only one defender in parliament, the fair, handsome and well-muscled actor, Ranjan Ramanayake. But I am more saddened at the plight of the UNP after 16 years of leadership under RW. But RW has typically not owned up to any fault on his part for the numerous debacles suffered by the party and the present lack of hope among its members.
The heading of RW’s article is: “Stop this circus: Fight the Rajapaksa dictatorship”. But how does RW behave? He runs to meet President Mahinda Rajapaksa less than 24 hours before the Nawalapitiya re-poll on 20th April and agrees to the nomination of the President’s brother Chamal Rajapaksa as speaker without obtaining the prior approval of his own parliamentary group or his party.
And the Speaker himself nominates RW as the Leader of the Opposition when parliament meets for the first time! So much for fighting the Rajapaksa Dictatorship. No wonder RW is called ‘Ranil Rajapaksa’, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s new-found brother! His groveling antics leave Basil and Gotabaya in the shade.
RW says quite correctly that 2009 was a defining moment in Sri Lankan politics with the defeat of the LTTE and the killing of Prabhakaran. After wholeheartedly opposing the war effort of the government even when it became clear that the Army was about to defeat the LTTE, RW continued to ridicule the Sri Lanka Army and the war effort by making foot-in-the-mouth statements such as the infamous “Thoppigala is only a jungle” statement. At the exact moment in time of the defeat of the LTTE and the demise of Prabhakaran, where was the Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe? He was in Norway! The garb of a patriot does not quite fit RW.
After all, who can forget that RW as Prime Minister in 2001 decided to celebrate the 500 years anniversary of the Portuguese invasion of Sri Lanka in 1505! Who on earth will ever celebrate an anniversary of the foreign invasion of your own country? RW is in a class of his own. Sir Walter Scott must have had RW in mind when he wrote the famous verse:
“Breathes there the man with soul so dead/ Who never to himself hath said,/ This is my own, my native land!”
In a democracy, the role of the opposition is not to oppose every move of the government for the sake of opposing but to support measures which will help the country and its people and to oppose those acts which will be detrimental to the wellbeing of its citizens. Corruption, wastage, nepotism, family bandyism etc. must be highlighted and attacked with vigor. RW has failed on both counts; he failed to support the government when it was necessary and did not oppose when it was essential. This has led to the UNP voters staying away from the polling booths at recent elections.
RW’s self confidence, leadership qualities and charisma can easily be gauged from the fact that he did not want to contest the last presidential election. During 2009 he was actively looking for a substitute candidate as he knew quite well that he will lose and will have to give up the leadership of the UNP. It is a well known fact that even S.B. Dissanayake was sounded out to be the UNP presidential candidate! For RW’s luck General Sarath Fonseka appeared on the scene and although he was the ‘common candidate’ and not the UNP candidate, he injected a great deal of enthusiasm among the sleeping UNPers till victory seemed possible but it was not to be.
Gen. Fonseka received 4,173,185 votes – 40.15% of the votes cast. Contrast this with the feeble campaign during the General Election when RW was the Prime Minister candidate of the UNP. The UNP’s main declared intention was to merely prevent the government from obtaining a two thirds majority. Literally, millions of UNPers stayed away chiefly due to RW and the uninspiring and lackadaisical campaign led by him. The UNP, after being in the opposition since 1994 (with a break of 2 ½ years), received just 2,357,057 votes, 29.34% of the votes cast. This is over 1.8 million votes less than what Gen. Fonseka got just two months before. This vote of 2,357,057 is even less than what was received by Srima Dissanayake at the presidential election of 1994 when she got 2,715,283 votes, 36% of the votes cast, after less than two weeks of campaigning consequent upon Hon Gamini Dissanayake’s assassination!
At the General Elections held in August 1994, the UNP lost after being in power for 17 years but still managed to get 3,498,370 votes which amounted to 44.04% of the votes cast. Has the UNP reached the rock bottom or is it set to go down even further with RW as its leader? These facts clearly demonstrate the vital necessity of the UNP to have a change of leadership as soon as possible to prevent further erosion of its vote base and to give its members hope for the future.
RW in his article has stated the obvious, that the UNP has lost the Sinhala Buddhist voters. Whose fault is it? Who was the UNP Leader for the past 16 years? RW even appointed a high official of the Assembly of God on his National List to Parliament this year. It is well known that hundreds of Assembly of God members actively canvassed for preferences for RW at this April’s General Election on the basis that he had promised to appoint their official as a National List MP. No one can remember RW visiting a temple or even the Asgiriya and Malwatte Mahanayakes during an election campaign or during the past year or so.
We only saw the sorry spectacle of RW resigning from the Dayake Sabha of the Gangaramaya Temple in Hunupitiya which is virtually RW’s ‘village’ temple due to a disagreement with the Chief Priest, the redoubtable Galaboda Gnanissara Thero. But after conclusion of the General Election and as he fights once again to retain the leadership of the UNP, we see RW visiting temples, the Mahanayakes and on Tuesday night (22nd June) we saw the sorry spectacle of RW on his brother’s TV channel, TNL, preaching Buddhism! Pray why couldn’t RW do all these things during the general election campaign and not merely during his last ditch campaign to retain the UNP leadership?
RW says quite correctly that the UNP must develop its own Tamil and Muslim leaders. The entire UNP agrees with this. We are now down to just one UNP Muslim MP Kabir Hashim. But whose harebrained ‘deals’ with minority parties led the UNP to this sorry state of affairs? RW must be suffering from amnesia or just returned from Mars! RW acknowledges that the UNP has neglected its organisational capacity at grass roots level. Again, it begs the question, who was the leader of the UNP for the past 16 years? It looks as if everyone is at fault except RW!
What more can you expect from a man who campaigns harder to remain as the leader of the UNP than to be the leader of the country. It reminds me of the statement made by late President J.R. Jayewardene in 1982 after winning the presidential election held that year. A foreign journalist asked him as to who will finally oust him from President’s House. With a twinkle in his eye President Jayewardene replied, “Barney Raymond”. RW will probably give the same answer if asked as to who will finally remove him from the leadership of the UNP!
RW says that at present, the UNP leader is elected. He is being economical with the truth to say the least. According to the present UNP Constitution (amended in 1995 after RW became its Leader) an election will be held only if there is a vacancy in the post of ‘Leader’. This can only be caused by the death or the resignation of the Leader. RW tampered with the UNP Constitutional provision which existed since its inception in 1948 where the leader of the UNP was up for election every year. Even Hon. D.S. Senanayake faced election. This change by RW has caused the virtual destruction of the UNP. But on the contrary, RW, its leader, has thrived, enjoying more perks and benefits than the CEO of a blue chip company or a powerful minister with a massive security contingent, vehicles and frequent foreign travel with his favourite blue eyed persons for company.
He also states that if a member of the UNP is the leader of the opposition, he will ex officio be the leader of the UNP. This statement is also not correct. Only if the president of Sri Lanka is a member of the UNP he ex officio becomes the leader of the UNP. RW is trying to read into the UNP Constitution non-existent provisions to strengthen his weakening hold on its leadership.
By desperately trying to delay the present widely expected reforms for obvious reasons. Surely the media is quite right in saying that there is bala thanha (greed for power).
RW has observed a deafening silence to the varied allegations made against him in many newspapers and TV channels. Some of them were his very strong supporters not many moons ago. A few weeks ago RW told the UNP Working Committee that he gave Rs. 11 million to one newspaper which now lambasts him at every opportunity. If any of these statements were false, I am sure RW would have wasted no time in suing the media concerned for defamation or at least sent strong letters of demand. In the past, RW was very quick to send letters of demand or sue the media concerned. I remember he even sent letters of demand to President Chandrika Kumaratunga. But now, inspite of the most personally abusive allegations being made, RW only buries his head in the sand, ostrich style. RW’s statement that he is “media proof” is unbecoming of the leader of the UNP or even any politician worth his salt. This is obviously because the allegations are true and RW cannot challenge them in any manner whatsoever.
RW’s only defender now is the fair and handsome actor, newly elected MP Ranjan Ramanayake, who says that RW should not be crucified for faults he had not committed. The recent general election defeat and the numerous debacles suffered by the UNP make RW guilty as charged beyond any doubt at all. Perhaps Ranjan Ramanayake MP wants RW to be like Moses of Biblical fame who took 40 years to lead the Jews from Egypt to Israel, a journey which should have taken about one month even at that time. RW has been our leader for 16 years now, may be in another 24 years he will lead us to salvation! My fear is by that time we will all be ready for the journey to heaven (hopefully)!
RW does not deny that he received a large sum of money from a Sri Lankan domiciled abroad. His only reply to this statement is that the donor had been sentenced to two and a half years in prison in Sweden. It very clearly proves that RW has no scruples at all. He will accept money from even a person who he states has been in prison. Where have all this money and the other very lavish contributions gone? RW’s so called Mr. Clean image has indeed been soiled beyond redemption. No wonder there is bala thanha and Barney Raymond might very well be the person who will take away our leader!.
I feel that at the next presidential election if RW is still the UNP Leader, the UNP’s presidential candidate might very well be Ranjan Ramanayake, but only if blue eyed boy Akila Viraj Kariywasam does not make the cut. Akila was nominated by RW to the SAARC, Inter Parliamentary Union and Commonwealth Parliamentary Association committees in parliament while some of the newly elected MPs were not nominated to even one committee. Akila almost replaced Joseph Michael Perera (presently the most senior UNP MP, even to RW) in the Parliamentary Affairs Committee which deals with Parliamentary business.
At the present moment every UNPer must ask just one question from his conscience: who is the best person to lead the UNP to victory at the next General or Presidential Election? The honest answer is that RW cannot lead the UNP to victory. Therefore the UNP needs a new leader, sooner than later.