The Two Ronnies
The writing is on the wall for the UNP led by its colourless and losing leader, dictatorial Ranil Wickremesinghe (71), of Sedawatte.
Wickremesinghe in politics has more in common with another loser, SLFP leader and former President Maithripala Sirisena who’s contesting Wednesday’s (5 August) Parliamentary Election under an alliance controlled by the SLPP.
Wickremesinghe is a far cry from his distinguished uncle by default J.R. Jayewardene, who became the leader of this country at the 21 July 1977 Parliamentary Poll, two months short of his 71st birthday.
Meanwhile, the SLFP, under Sirisena’s stewardship, for the first time in its history was relegated to third place in politics, beginning with the 2018 Local Government (LG) Poll.
Post 5 August, the tussle for the third place in Sri Lanka’s politics may well be three cornered, i.e. among the UNP, the SLFP and the JVP and its allies, with the likely winner being the JVP.
The UNP, like the SLFP, for the first time in its history, would not occupy one of the top two slots in the country’s political landscape, post 5 August, 2020.
Though, at the July 1977 Parliamentary Poll, the SLFP was relegated to third place in Parliament, with the UNP and the TULF gaining more seats than the SLFP under the old, ‘first past-the post’ system of elections, vote wise, the SLFP polled more votes than the TULF, being only second to the UNP at the 1977 Election.
But at the 2018 LG Poll, the story was different, with the SLFP and its allies (SLFP-led UPFA) ending-up right down in third place, garnering a little over 13 per cent of the vote, while the SLPP, the clear winner, obtained 45 per cent and the UNP was in second place with 33 per cent.
However, charismatic Sajith Premadasa, the UNP Presidential candidate at the November 2019 Presidential Poll and currently the leader of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), revived the flagging fortunes of the UNP.
Though beaten, Premadasa however, saw the UNP’s vote base increase to 42 per cent, in under two years, at the November 2019 Presidential Poll. Premadasa increased the UNP’s vote base by 54.04 per cent (1,951,980) to 5,564,239 at that Poll, from a mere 3,612,259 obtained at the 2018 LG Poll.
That is why Wickremesinghe didn’t sack Premadasa from the UNP (See also the lead story in this newspaper’s yesterday’s (Thursday, 30 June) Edition).
Like a drowning man clinging at a straw, Wickremesinghe, in his foolishness, feels that by not sacking Premadasa, he will become popular with the voter.
Nonetheless, to save face for himself and of the Party he disgraced, the best thing that Wickremesinghe could do, even at this late stage, is to withdraw from the 5 August Poll.
The non-sacking of Premadasa from the UNP, by the UNP’s dull, inefficient, vacillating and dictatorial leader Wickremesinghe of Sedawatte, also brings to mind two other episodes of the UNP, revolving round former President of the country, J. R. Jayewardene.
The first of the two episodes took place in 1972, when Wickremesinghe’s grand uncle-in-law, the colourless Dudley Senanayake, the then UNP leader, colourless and vacillating like Wickremesinghe, tried to sack Jayewardene from the Party. Jayewardene went to Court and got an injunction against this move.
The second and last episodes took place three years later in 1975. By then Senanayake was dead and Jayewardene was UNP leader. The UNP was in Opposition.
Two years earlier in 1974, 25-year-old Rukman Senanayake, Dudley Senanayake’s nephew and the grandson of the founder of the UNP and the country’s first Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake, won the Dedigama By-Election handsomely for the UNP, a seat which fell vacant upon Dudley’s death in 1973.
Meanwhile, a year later in 1975, Jayewardene resigned his Colombo-South Seat in protest over the then Government’s extension of Parliament by two years to 1977. In the ensuing by-election for which Jayewardene re-contested, he won a landslide victory. But in the electioneering campaign that preceded that by-election, Rukman, egged on by his father Robert Senanayake, Dudley’s only sibling, refused to canvass for Jayewardene. Therefore, Jayewardene sacked Rukman for breach of Party discipline and two years lateron 21 July 1977, won the Parliamentary Poll with a record five sixths majority.
Wickremesinghe was introduced to politics by default by Jayewardene, over Wickremesinghe’s charismatic father Esmond Wickremesinghe, whose request for UNP nominations for the 1977 Poll was however, turned down by Jayewardene, who mooted for Esmond’s son Ranil, instead. Though the Court recently upheld the sacking of a number of SJB candidates by the UNP, the reason why Wickremesinghe didn’t sack Premadasa is because, unlike his uncle Jayewardene sacking Rukman Senanayake, Wickremesinghe lacks confidence to make such a decisive move.
If Wickremesinghe lacks confidence in himself, how can he expect the voter to have confidence in him and of the Party which he dictatorially leads?
Ranil Wickremesinghe and Sirisena are like ‘The Two Ronnies’ in the TV comedy show.