As Sri Lanka is immersed in the panic of a rapidly spreading corona, there are also some dramatic events taking place in domestic politics now. The most important of which is the return of Ranil Wickremesinghe to the parliament. There are many reasons why the news that Ranil will be sworn in as a Member of Parliament on June 22 has sensationalized Colombo politics.
The government seeks to use Ranil’s return for their advantage. On the other hand, the United People’s Power, the main opposition party led by Sajith Premadasa, is highly confused by the prospects of Ranil’s return. In this backdrop, let us look at the issue whether Ranil Wickremesinghe’s re-entry into the parliament would bring about a new twist as is expected in the Sri Lankan political establishment.
It is known that the United National Party, which ruled the country for a long time, lost badly in last August’s general election. The UNP’s failure was due to the leadership struggle between Ranil Wickremesinghe and Sajith Premadasa in the party and subsequently Sajith left the party and contested the election as the leader of his newly formed party called, the United People’s Power.
The National List
Since the UNP was being defeated conitinually in general elections under Ranil’s leadership, most of the members of his party realized that there was a dire need for a new leadership and wanted Sajith to take up the leadership. Since Ranil was not ready to give up his position as the leader of his party, Sajith had no other choice except forming a new party. At the end of the election, Sajith became the leader of the opposition party. The UNP could not win a single seat in the election. However, the UNP got one seat through the National List based on the proportional electoral system.
It has actually taken ten months for the UNP to nominate their MP for this seat received from the national list. The decision came after ten months of ongoing debate. Ranil, who took a severe blow in the general election, did not want to come to the parliament at that time. He did not want to come to the parliament earlier because he was quite reluctant to be humiliated to be the lone representative of his party. At the same time, he cunningly prevented any other UNP MP from entering the parliament from the national list. He waited for an opportune time.
Ranil’s coming to the Parliament is seen as the decision of the executive committee of the party. He wields total influence in this executive committee. Now he is coming to the parliament because a ‘need for Ranil’ has been felt in a context where the government has experienced severe dissatisfaction among the public with the Covid-19 pandemic and economic crisis. At the same time, Sajith Premadasa’s lack of constructive action as leader of the opposition is also cited as a factor in Ranil’s forthcoming arrival in the parliament.
The dilemma of Sajith’s front
Sources close to Ranil say that Ranil does not want to come alone when he comes back to the parliament. He does not want to be a single member of the party. According to Colombo political sources, there are deals to drag at least some of the members sitting in Sajith’s team. Moreover, Ranil also seems to be trying to drag some dissidents in the ruling party as well to his side. He is said to be targeting the leadership of the opposition.
Some members of the ruling party spoke of this issue in the parliament last week. This could not be passed as merely a politically motivated speech. Because as for Sri Lanka, anything is possible in politics. For example, Maithripala Sirisena, who was not very much known in the political circles, was suddenly nominated as a general candidate and made president in 2015. So, no one can be certain about what lies behind Ranil’s current moves.
At the same time, Sajith’s team is very much confused by these moves. Last week, the United People’s Power, led by Sajith, passed a resolution of confidence that Sajith Premadasa was the leader of the opposition. There is no answer to the question as to why Sajith’s team was in such a hurry to pass such a resolution.
Meanwhile, Ranil Wickramasinghe has announced that he would return to parliament on the 22nd while the parliamentary committee of United People’s Power plans to hold a meeting on the 21st. The objective of the meeting is to prevent anyone from joining Ranil from Sajith’s team. It is clear, therefore that the prospects of the re-entry of Ranil has caused tension in the Sajith camp.
What is Ranil actully going to do?
The return of Ranil Wickremesinghe who is described as a ‘fox’ in politics after J.R. Jayawardene, has created a stir in current Sri Lankan politics. The crucial question is whether there would be an important political change. There are two reasons why the Rajapaksas are an unshakable force in Sri Lankan politics today.
The first reason is that the Sinhalese people believe that the Rajapaksas are totally responsible for winning the war. The Rajapaksas have also been reminding the Sinhalese people of it regularly. Secondly, they have the Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism as their general policy. This was the reason why the Rajapakse’s could consistently defeat Ranil Wickremesinghe after 2009.
Sajith Premadasa seems to have understood this reality. It has been seen in the recent past that he has sought to present himself as a Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist. Sajith was able to increase his influence locally, but he could not succeed fully. He could not reach the place of the Rajapaksas.
At the same time, Sajith is a weak person in the international arena. As far as Ranil was concerned, he had never expressed himself as a Sinhala-Buddhist nationalist. On the other hand, he is one of the most influential persons on the international stage. It is no secret that the international community wants another regime change in Sri Lanka. This is reflected in the recent resolution passed in the Canadian state of Ontario, the resolution brought in the US congress, and the resolution passed by the European Union.
It is a drawback to the Western countries that they do not have a leader who can act according to their needs. Sajith’s attitude and his shortcomings of his leadership were not conducive to the needs of the West. But as far as the West is concerned, there are some reasons why they like Ranil. But how can a person who is not influential in the field make a political change?