Ranil Wickremesinghe has no Midas touch.  Everything he touches turns to dust.  Not gold.  Wickremesinghe is a loser. And a trailblazer at it.

Wickremesinghe is a serial elections loser. In the 45 years or so he has been in politics he has not been able to propel himself forward as the country’s president, nor have the people reposed their confidence in his leadership of the UNP for it to hold sway in parliament.   Wickremesinghe lost two presidential elections – to Chandrika Bandaranaike in 1999 and Mahinda Rajapakse in 2005- and led the UNP and the UNF to defeat at the 2000 and 2004 parliamentary elections. The 2020 parliamentary election was the final nail in the UNP’s coffin.  Between 2008 and 2009 the UNP was decisively trounced at eight provincial council elections.

Wickremesinghe has been Sri Lanka’s prime minister three times – from 1993 to 1994, 2001 to 2004 and 2015 to 2018 with a brief hiatus in between during the constitutional crisis – only by default or by piggy backing. He was prime minister for a short while between 1993 and 1994 after DB Wijetunge, who was prime minister, had to become president following the assassination of Ranasinghe Premadasa.  Between 2001 and 2004, he was prime minister when Chandrika Bandaranaike was president only because the UNP had a majority of seats in parliament. In the 2015 presidential election Wickremesinghe did not run for office. Wickremesinghe, the UNP and the country knew he could never win.  Instead, the UNP threw its weight behind a common candidate Maithripala Sirisena with whom Wickremesinghe struck a deal to make him prime minister if the former wins.  

Wickremesinghe who started politics with the UNP in the mid 1970’s and has been its leader since 1994, is a narcissist who suffers from a me me me syndrome.   In the 26 years he has been the UNPs leader he wanted to be its star around which other party members had to orbit.  His innate fear of his light being snuffed out led him to divide the UNP and rule it. He refused, stubbornly, to groom a successor.  In 2007, 25 of its members defected to the government.  Among the reasons was their bleak future with the UNP.  They saw no light at the end of the tunnel and didn’t want to end up as debris in oblivion.   For the 2015 presidential election, he insisted that he and he alone must be the UNP candidate.  With defeat already assured if so, the coalition had to settle for Sirisena with whom he didn’t cooperate after he became prime minister.

At last year’s parliamentary election, he led his crumbling party to a crushing defeat.   The decimation was so complete the UNP was unable to retain a single seat in parliament.  Their eligibility was reduced to one seat through the National List.  It was the first time that the UNP, founded in 1946 and one of Sri Lanka’s two oldest political parties which from time immemorial was either in government or in the opposition, was wiped off the parliament register.  It was an ignominious trouncing that has bounced off Wickremesinghe’s buffalo hidewhich has thickened over the years with the barbs and missives about his defunct political persona.  Obsessed with himself, he refuses to acknowledge it as a manifestation of his deep unpopularity as the UNP’s party leader.  

For a long time, Wickremesinghe has been promising to restructure the UNP.  But like him, they have become laughable, empty promises. It has led to the depletion of the rank and file of the UNP which today is limping along with a handful of weary loyalists whose only existence is to pander to his delusional and ageing ego. Their loyalty, so stoic, they refused to challenge his decision to steal John Amaratunge’s number one position in the UNP National List and stood by as he nominated himself to parliament despite his own pronouncement that anyone contesting from the party who fails to enter parliament cannot be nominated from the National List either. This inertia on the part of the UNP has resulted in Wickremesinghe’s return to parliament to wreak more havoc on the country and for which the UNP will also be culpable.

Wickremesinghe weakened not just the UNP but with it the Opposition too. For most of his 18 year tenure as Leader of the Opposition, the government has been a Rajapakse one. Wickremesinghe ran with the hare and hunted with the hounds, all the while posturing as the Leader of the Opposition. A hapless UNP was relegated to the sidelines to watch his charade.

South Asia is notorious for its dynastic politics.  The histories of Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka are not complete without the legacies left behind by the Bhuttos, Gandhis and Bandaranaikes.  The Rajapaksas are trying hard to become somebody’s out of nobody’s. Wickremesinghe’s legacy will be one of servility to perpetuate successive Rajapaksa governments. In 2015 when Mahinda Rajapakse, who until then thought he was infallible, was confronted with the realization that the people in fact had voted him out it was Wickremesinghe who arranged safe passage for Rajapaksa to flee to his refuge in the South. During the Yahapalana government it was Wickremesinghe who slowed down prosecutions against the Rajapaksas. They have returned the favour by letting him off the Bond scam.

Wickremesinghe’s return to frontline politics is ominous for Sri Lanka. Some see him as a trojan horse. The fledgling Samagi Jana Balawegaya will have to sharpen their knives. They will have to shore up their defences and not allow him to pierce their armour.

Wickremesinghe will dance for his masters and sing for his supper. He will be the face of fortune in the Rajapaskse government, pulling Sri Lanka out of the human rights pickle, negotiating and pacifying the West and raking in the dollar bills.  He will be the one who will clean out the collapsed Rajapakse house and put it back in order to resuscitate and give them the kiss of life.

Wickremesinghe’s animal incarnation is usually that of a fox. He is often described as an old fox, or 20th century fox whose crafty ways at statecraft can pull the country out of the abyss.  But this is a compliment Wickremesinghe is undeserving of.  A conniving, self serving politician, Wickremesinghe has been singularly responsible for erasing the UNP from the country’s political annals. Instead of building a strong Opposition he paved the way for it to become ineffective to make it easy for  juggernaut governments to bulldoze their way through. Between 2015 and 2018, he was complicit in throwing away the only chance the country had in a long time to salvage and bring itself back from the brink.  

The destiny of both the country and UNP have been tied to Wickremesinghe’s machinations for years.   It’s time to sever links and let Wickremesinghe go into freefall.  For a start, the UNP must stop giving succour to a political nonentity whose shelf life expired years ago.




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