Is Ranil Wickremesinghe Unelectable?

By Vishwamithra –

“The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.” ~ Niccolo Machiavelli                                                                                                                                            

Sri Lanka’s presidential system of government is relatively short. Hence it is rather difficult, even for a religiously accurate analyst, to discover any readable patterns or trends. Statisticians have to depend more on unobservable subjective deductions in order to ascertain any voting patterns; the presence of sizable minority voting blocs in the North, the East and the Hill Country might make it less painstaking, yet the death of a number of giant Tamil political figures makes it harder for a forecaster to determine as to which way the high winds and which way the minor rustles are blowing as far as the constituency is concerned. 


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On a national level, the macro picture has been more tractable for the analyst in that, given the existence of two major political factions, namely the traditional ‘right’ and the traditional ‘left’, are easily identifiable. Furthermore, stringent scrutiny on the part of the average voter also has been virtually non-existent. As Rohana Wijeweera in his early years in politics – in the late nineteen sixties and early seventies – pontificated, real political power was an even exchange between the Bandaranaikes and the Senanayakes. The real common man was left in the lurch; power had become an exclusive luxury owned by the ‘haves’; the ‘have-nots’ merely had to say yes or no to either party. The exchange could be predicted at the elections with precise accuracy.

Yet the ideological difference between the traditional right and the the traditional left could be told. Not only in the way the leaders and sub-leaders of each party were dressed, talked and framed and articulated their philosophy and message on platform, but more so the basic economic premise they pretended to hold. Capitalism, the basic economic doctrine attributed to the traditional right and socialism to the traditional left as a presupposition to each General Election had no unclear division.

Yet the years 1956 and 1977 could be hallmarked as defining stages of this sociopolitical dynamics. In 1956, SWRD Bandaranaike introduced into the mix of our political culture a new set of actors with a new theme of electioneering. While advocating for the Swabhasha (indigenous language – exclusively Sinhalese) movement, Bandaranaike managed to change the flow of Ceylonese political current entirely engrossed in the vernacular-educated Sinhalese men and women for whom ‘a place in the sun’ was at last found under the umbrella of the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna, as Bandaranaike called his coalition of locally bred politicians who hailed from the rural electorates. 

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The canvas on which Bandaranaike painted his Utopian picture was broad and vast, yet he managed to enrich it with his unparalleled oratorical lines and a veneer of the national dress. Those villagers who lived in the remote corners of the country were recognized as indispensable pillars of his Pancha Maha Balavegaya (five-pronged movement). The man in a Sarong (cloth wrapped around one’s waist) found his place in the sun! At the same time he was successful in aligning his economic policies and principles along Socialism by nationalizing some key industries amongst which was transport services. This marriage between the then Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) which was essentially a party that practiced its policies along feudalistic beginnings and socialist policies became an overnight propaganda success. However, he did not live to see the ill-effects of its long-term failure as a premise for economic development of a country.

These ill-effects, in fact, entailed the ouster of the Sirimavo regime in 1977. 1977, in addition to ushering in J R Jayewardene into real power, also made a historic change in our economic planning and governance of failing principles of socialism. When JR opened the economy, freed it of its outdated manacles of socialist policies and dogmatic doctrinaire approach to resolving issues that essentially characterize socialism, that resultant change also could be characterized as one change whose effects cannot be undone. However, when Sri Lanka’s economy was opened to the vagaries of the free market principles, the intrusions of the ugly side of capitalism could not be averted. 

A closed economy, which Sri Lanka was during the forgettable period of the Bandaranaike family,  all the ugly aspects of an open economy too entered at an accelerated pace into the lives of the average Appuhamy and Natarajah. At this time, the leadership of the Bandaranaikes have passed by, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga being the last of the family hegemony. The Rajapaksas who took over the helm of the traditional left had no choice but to follow on the capitalistic footsteps both JR and the last of the Bandaranaikes trod along. Consequently, the line that divided the traditional left and the traditional right became too thin to gauge. 

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When one combines the Presidential System of governance with an open economy, what resulted was a highly corruptible and incorrigibly corrupt system that we have today. The evolution of the open market economy reached a decisive phase; it has sown its hideous and  grisly seeds on a soil that had already been desecrated by feudalism of yesteryear. Unchecked and unregulated to an amazingly flimsy level, the processes of open market evolution leaped from innocent-looking profit-making to nauseating heights of a super-rich political henchmen whose ambitions were very much entangled with a new class of politicians. 

When the line between the traditional right and the traditional left disappeared, the vacuum that was created as an opposing economic system had to find itself room in the midst of this corruptible political-economy. Anura Kumara Dissanayake (AKD) and his National People’s Power (NPP) jumped into this limbo. When backed by AKD’s superlative oratory, the obvious alternative for the stagnating status quo, seems to be the NPP and its untested and untried Politburo. 

It’s not only the Rajapaksas that have to answer for the successive failures of our economy. Economic punditry and academic and professional talents are not in short supply. Whatever the inhibitions that the language issue placed on our youth could be overcome as a steady flow of bright and courageous youth is expected to arrive at the open market each year. The problem does not lie in the quantity; it’s the quality of our professional, especially in the sphere of financial integrity and fiscal responsibility that need to be calibrated and fine-tuned. 

They look up to their leaders for that kind of guidance; it is, in fact, precisely that, that guidance-arena we are far behind some of our neighboring nations. Lack of accountability and transparency in our dealings in sociopolitical dynamics is being questioned by international organizations; their inquiries into the disparate transactions the successive governments and their Cabinets of Minsters have entered into have, more often than not, have met with no salutary results.

Given this context, the current crop of political leaders are, barring a handful (less than five),  have failed the test. In fact, amongst those parliamentarians, there are only three politicians the people would trust to handle the navigation of our country’s political economy. They are Anura Kumara Dissanayake, Sarath Fonseka and Patali Champika Ranawaka.

Ranil Wickremesinghe may be dreaming about being elected President in the next Presidential Elections. But the ‘trust’ factor is his biggest enemy. The people don’t trust him. His latest overtures to the Tamil community by publicly talking about the implementation of the 13th Amendment to its fullest and offering concessions to the Hill Country Tamils are nothing but another way of deceiving the minorities once again. Whatever the Hill Country Tamil leadership would do is anybody’s guess; but the acute distrust the Northern Tamils have generally in the entire Sinhalese leadership knows no bounds. Having been taken for rides in the past, first by Bandaranaike in 1957 and by Dudley Senanayake in 1966, it is hard to imagine any Tamil leader with an iota of wisdom would trust any Sinhalese leader who has already enjoyed power in the last seventy five years. Ranil Wickremesinghe,  the Rajapaksas and the Premadasas belong to that category of ‘agents of distrust’.

It is beyond dispute that in order to secure victory at the next Presidential elections, assurance of the Tamil vote is a must. Only Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2010 (because it was held soon after the war victory in 2009) and Gotabaya Rajapaksa in 2019 (due to the dismal failure of the ‘Yahapalanaya’ government headed by Maithripala-Ranil combo) were successful in securing victory at the Presidential elections without the support of Northern Tamils. On both of those occasions, Northern Tamils voted for the opponent of the Rajapaksa brothers and they managed to secure close to sixty percent of the Sinhala vote.

If Ranil Wickremesinghe is unelectable, then who could be the winner at the next Presidential elections. There are two possibilities. They are as follows:

1) Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) candidate who is not Sajith Premadasa. The only other person in the SJB is Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka whose word the people are beginning to trust.

2) Anura Kumara Dissanayake from the NPP

It is virtually impossible to find a candidate outside the above two as none of the others would succeed in securing the trust of the people. A distant possibility is a merger between the NPP and SJB; it is highly unlikely but not impossible. 

However, the winner should not only enjoy the trust of the people, they must present to the electorate a workable manifesto that is crafted for the betterment of the economy and system of governance. Discussing the contents of such a manifesto would be the subject of many columns to be penned.

*The writer can be contacted at