By Vishvanath
No sooner had President Ranil Wickremesinghe indicated, in his address to the nation, on
Wednesday (26 June), that he would contest the upcoming presidential election than it was reported
that another group of dissident SLPP MPs including ministers had decided to throw in their lot with him.
They are reportedly planning to join the recently formed New Alliance (NA) led by SLPP MP Nimal Lanza
to support Wickremesinghe’s presidential bid. The NA consists of SLPP dissidents as well as SLFP MPs
elected on the SLPP tickets. Wickremesinghe is apparently trying to secure the support of the ruling
party MPs without a formal tie-up with the SLPP, which is highly unpopular.
The President’s speech and declaration of his intention to contest the upcoming presidential
election seem to have made the SLPP MP loyal to him to stop dilly-dallying and close ranks with him.
Prominent among them is Chief Government Whip and Minister Prasanna Ranatunga, who used to be
one of the bitterest critics of Wickremesinghe. If he votes with his feet, a considerable number of SLPP
MPs will follow him. They will not join the UNP. Instead, they will support Wickremesinghe as members
of the NA without burning bridges.
President Wickremesinghe’s address to the nation had been prerecorded and thoroughly vetted
by his campaign strategists and others responsible for his propaganda campaign. Hence its
effectiveness. It apparently yielded the desired results to a considerable extent. He struck a fine balance
between politics and economics and made himself out to be a person who is not given to making
political speeches, and using populist rhetoric. Quoting Walt Disney, the President said: “The way to get
started is to quit talking and begin doing.” And, he added, “Without hesitation, I got down to business.”
He was referring to the unnervingly uphill task he undertook in 2022—stabilizing the economy and
restoring the law and order situation.
No politician says he or she is in pursuit of self-aggrandizement, which is their ultimate goal.
Instead, he or she claims to be driven by altruism and patriotism. President Wickremesinghe sought to

make himself different from the other frontrunners in the presidential race—SJB Leader Sajith
Premadasa, who is busy distributing school buses and setting up smart classrooms, and JVP/NPP Leader
Anura Kumara Dissanayake, who has taken his presidential campaign beyond the shores of Sri Lanka.
The President said in his address to the nation: “They strategize to divide ministries; we strategize to
advance the nation. They traverse Sri Lanka seeking power, visiting schools and travelling the world in
relentless pursuit of authority. Meanwhile, I dedicate my days and nights to serving the country,
addressing the needs of our people, and launching economic strengthening programmes. I engage
globally to garner international support for our nation’s development.”
President Wickremesinghe’s message to the public on Wednesday was loud and clear. He gave
them a choice between joining him so as to support the continuity of the ongoing economic recovery
program, which has borne some tangible results, and backing those who had not even understood the
problem. “Will you move forward with me, who comprehended the problem from its inception, offered
practical solutions, and delivered results? Or, will you align with those grappling in the dark, still
struggling to grasp the issues? Will you stay the course towards a brighter future for yourself and the
nation? Or, will you opt for a different path?” In a bid to make a strong case for contesting the next
presidential election, he said he had unveiled a four-step plan to stabilize the economy. He had been
able to complete the first three steps, and he needed a mandate to accomplish the fourth one, he said.
“On August 3, 2022, during the opening address of the parliamentary session, I unveiled to the
nation a four-step plan to reconstruct the faltering economy.
*Securing extended credit facilities in consultation with the International Monetary Fund and
instituting fiscal discipline nationwide.
*Collaborating with international financial and legal experts from Lazard and Clifford Chance to
formulate a debt stabilization plan and negotiate agreements with creditors.
*Implementing policies, regulations, and initiatives to attract foreign investment, bolster the
export economy, and promote a digital green economy.
*Aiming to transform into a developed nation with a debt-free advanced economy by 2048
through this comprehensive programme.
Throughout this process, I consistently presented detailed updates on our strategic roadmap to
Parliament, ensuring transparency in every step. The successful advancement of the first three
components of our four-pronged programme validates the correctness of our approach and strategy.”
Thus, President Wickremesinghe projected himself as a man of action, who has honoured three
out of his four main pledges and needed a popular mandate to achieve the remaining one. His political
rivals are without this advantage. The only way they can seek to rally public support is to make
promises, which Sri Lankans tend to take with a pinch of salt. They have already run out of promises and
there is nothing new they can say about President Wickremesinghe and his economic recovery strategy.
Wickremesinghe has done something that he can flaunt as proof of ability to deliver the public from
their current predicament.
Politicians are guided by self-interest and do everything with an eye to the next election. So, it is
only natural that the SLPP, which has not been able to decide on a presidential candidate yet, is losing
some more of its MPs, including staunch Rajapaksa loyalists and supporters to Wickremesinghe. The

SLPP is also losing its bargaining power fast. Its efforts to have a snap general election held first have
failed to all intents and purposes, and it now finds itself in a situation where it is left with no alternative
but to back Wickremesinghe in the presidential race to prevent crossovers from its ranks and an erosion
of its support base.
When the SLPP appointed Wickremesinghe Prime Minister and then enabled him to realize his
presidential dream by providing him with a parliamentary majority in 2022, its leaders may have thought
he did not pose a threat to their political and dynastic interests since his party had only a single seat in
the parliament, and they would be able to manipulate him. But the very obverse of what they expected
has come to pass. Wickremesinghe has outfoxed them well and truly and is now dictating terms to
them, with more and more SLPP MPs siding with him for their own sake more than anything else. The
SJB is also not free from trouble although its leaders say its MPs will not defect to the UNP, but the
possibility of two or three of them crossing over cannot be ruled out, one of them being Dr. Rajitha
Senaratne, who has been praising President Wickremesinghe in glowing terms.
The expression of the President’s intent to enter the presidential fray has already triggered a
realignment of political forces, which will likely throw up some more surprises in the next few weeks,
which are going to be very eventful.


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