President Ranil Wickremesinghe is amplifying his political power unprecedentedly. He is a lucky man in an unfortunate state. Simultaneously, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), the political party that gained power in the shortest period in the history of Sri Lanka, and which supported him in bringing him to power, is gradually depleting. But it continues to hold the centre of the constitutional power. According to some unofficial sources, many senior members of the party are worried and angry because the President’s team has sidelined the SLPP and trashed many of their demands.
As a political party, the SLPP is going through its most critical moment of political survival. The fact is that this party, which did politics on the ground until it won the elections, has deliberately ignored politics after gaining power and took decisions prioritizing overestimation and an ego-centric mindset. They underestimated the people’s revolt.
But when many “politicians” do not do politics, on the contrary, Ranil Wickremesinghe did politics. He reaped its harvest handsomely. At present, he is gradually succeeding in his power expansion but there are two main challenges. The first is to fulfil the demands of the SLPP, which provided conditional support for him to come to power. The second is to turn the United National Party (UNP) into a strong political movement again. Revivification of the UNP is possible but not an easy task.
It is alleged that the President is strategically putting off fulfilling the demands of the SLPP as he is very good at buying time to avoid difficulties. To justify it in front of society, he brings to his office the small groups of mainly UNP loyalists who joined the struggle against the Rajapaksas by giving a prominent media campaign. Some opportunists involved in those protests have been given several positions. But in a few days, a strong opinion will be created in the political camps against President Wickremesinghe pointing out that this struggle is part of his great game. It is difficult to imagine that a politician like Basil Rajapaksa, who is the real owner of SLPP, has not realized this. Basil’s encounter with Wickremesinghe in politics is an event that should be read carefully. Their artificial co-existence with each other will not last long.
However, Mr Wickramasinghe is strengthening the financial power needed to revive the UNP by using his old team. His old folks who were vehemently rejected by people are resurfacing under the guise of strengthening the party. Without any proper authority, they are directly interfering in the governance but, they lack a strategic plan to come out of the dire crisis the party is facing. This behaviour is unlikely to bode well for the UNP. Because President Wickremesinghe’s politics still depends on the SLPP. Also, in case of any crisis of survival, the first choice of the minor parties that broke away from the alliance led by the SLFP is the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna, not Ranil’s camp. This is likely to be the reality for at least the next six months until the President has the constitutional power to dissolve Parliament.
It is important to recall two events in the political history of this country to understand what may happen in the future under such a situation. The first event was Mr Dudley Senanayake defeating Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike, who was the Prime Minister before forming his seven-party coalition. Mrs Bandaranaike was an internationally recognized successful political figure at that time who promulgated many national initiatives. In 1964, Sirimavo abolished the independent Ceylon Civil Service and replaced it with the Ceylon Administrative Service. In February 1964, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai visited Sri Lanka then Ceylon which inevitably boosted the Sino-Lanka relationship. She, later, hosted Presidents Tito of Yugoslavia and President Nasser of Egypt in March 1964, but continued domestic unrest forced her to suspend parliamentary sessions until July. In the interim, she entered into a coalition which increased her majority by three seats. In October 1964, Bandaranaike attended and co-sponsored the Non-Aligned Conference in Cairo. In December 1964, she lost a vote of no confidence and dissolved Parliament. Dudley Senanayake came to power after the election. The seven-party coalition (hath hawula) that consolidated his power ruled the country for the next five years. However, the Coalition of Seven gradually dissolved, giving Mrs Bandaranaike a golden opportunity to regain power. Rest is the history.
The second incident is the failed impeachment against President Ranasinghe Premadasa staged by Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Disanayaka in September 1991. The impeachment against the President came shortly after the brutal suppression of the JVP rebellion against the government. On the other hand, the Indian peacekeeping forces were withdrawn from the country and the LTTE was pushing for a political solution. But the power of the president gradually weakened. Consequently, Premadasa had lost the support of his senior members, but the current President Wickremesinghe, who was then a known MP, supported him. Thus, impeachment did not succeed. Premadasa tried to seize the opportunity to accumulate more power to ensure his authority. Subsequently, the internal rebellion against Premadasa was suppressed but he was unable to extinguish the turmoil. It further isolated him.
What can happen if President Wickremesinghe continues to undermine the aspirations of the SLPP? Unlike Premadasa, he has no parliamentary power. He eats from someone else’s plate. The rightful owner can seize it at any time. Consequently, there is a possibility of a repeat of Prime Minister Bandaranaike’s 1964 scenario or President Premadasa’s 1991 scenario. This is the tricky and complicated nature of politics. It’s all about power, all other crises are secondary.
Until President Wickremesinghe, who was a charming fortune, is constitutionally empowered to dissolve the current government, his survival depends on the SLPP. So the next six months are crucial. The political reality to be faced during this period is significant. If he continues to emasculate the power of the SLPP, it wouldn’t take long for it to grow into a rebellion against him. Therefore, it is important to recognize the subtle dissimilarity between political conspiracies and political strategies to prioritise the strategies over conspiracies. Time will tell whether Mr Wickremesinghe and his inner circle will be able to deal with such a situation. If the ship has to sail on seas owned by others, it must sail in such a way as not to harm the owner’s laws and interests. Without understanding that reality, if one gives priority to his will, the damage that can occur can be very serious. Consequently, Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena will have room to become the President of choice and a new Prime Minister will take over at the discretion of the SLPP. Food for thought, Mr President!