Opinion: Ranil Wickremesinghe is fighting the good fight, and he will win it

Sri Lanka's Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe (C) speaks to his supporters at the Prime Minister official residence in Colombo on October 27, 2018. - Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena on October 27 suspended parliament, deepening political turmoil after he sacked the country's prime minister. (Photo by ISHARA S. KODIKARA / AFP) (ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images)

November 7, 2018 (LBO) – A fortnight ago, Sri Lanka was shocked at the news that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had been sworn in as the nation’s Prime Minister. Initial reactions of many were that they thought it was fake news, a joke even. However, as the news trickled out, and photos were circulated, it became crystal clear. President Maithripala Sirisena had sworn in Rajapaksa, without even removing the existing Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in accordance with specific articles of the constitution. The four-time Prime Minister had just six months ago shown his strength in Parliament by handily defeating a no confidence motion. Removal at this juncture was unthinkable, until now.

The constitutionality of Ranil Wickremesinghe’s removal was certainly in question, and before anyone had a chance to think about it, power had shifted. State media institutions were forcibly taken over, public servants had switched loyalties, and the police chief called on Mahinda Rajapaksa, greeting him with a smiling salute. Shortly thereafter, Ranil Wickremesinghe’s security was reduced by over 95%, and there were threats that he would be turfed out of the Prime Ministers official residence (Temple Trees) by an angry mob led by a unruly politician of small stature.

That first few nights after the recently termed ‘constitutional coup’ the situation was extraordinarily tense. UNP parliamentarians started a hurried series of meetings at Temple Trees in order to try and figure out how to respond to what many in the country felt was an illegal transfer of power. In fact, this was possibly the first illegal transfer of power since the British came and colonised Sri Lanka hundreds of years ago.

Ranil Wickremesinghe was resolute. The President’s moves to remove him were illegal, unconstitutional, and unethical. He was willing to take the ultimate stand for democracy, the constitution and the rule of law. He holed himself up in Temple Trees with the whole of the security and public service establishments eyeing to push him out. Party supporters thronged the premises in order to ensure that any threats made to the PM would be met with stiff resistance.

For the first time in a long time, the party and its Parliamentary group seemed completely united. With the exception of a few turncoats who deserted their fellow members for money and position, the vast majority of the party seemed determined to fight against what looked like very uncertain odds. The Parliamentary group rallied their members and untied each other in the same pursuit of the PM’s noble objective, restoration of the constitution and rule of law.

Within a few days one thing became clear. It was evident that through his actions and conduct over a forty year political career, Ranil Wickremesinghe was a global leader that enjoyed significant respect and credibility throughout the world. Statements from the most powerful countries in the world poured in to support Ranil’s quest for the restoration of Sri Lanka’s constitutional democracy. Public statements were made, and calls directed to President Sirisena to convene Parliament and have a vote to see who commanded the confidence of Sri Lanka’s Legislature.

Despite the main stream media paying homage to the new leaders who emerged after the sudden change of power, social media exploded with support for Ranil Wickremesinghe and his cause. Unlike his adversaries, he was always genteel, and interested in a solution that was inline with democracy and Sri Lanka’s constitution. His statements and dealings were honest, straightforward and genuine. He was not bluffing, and was willing to do whatever necessary to protect democracy at its most fragile moment. I personally felt that he was even willing to endure physical harm and humiliation in his noble quest. He seemed all in, fully invested.

Ranil Wickremesinghe has attacked this crisis in his own way. He has been calm, collective, and kept his cards close to his chest. He has held his ground, solidified the unity of his Parliamentary groups, and received almost unwavering support among the international community. The momentum has shifted, with democratic minded legislators ready to cross the aisle and support his cause. He also seems to be winning the support of the public by making this a fight about an issue instead of a personality. There is a long way to go, but it appears that against all odds, he and his partners are turning the tide.

Criticism of Ranil Wickremesinghe at the this stage makes no sense for those working towards the same urgent mission of upholding the constitution and securing democracy. The stakes are simply too high for infighting to cause a united front to break ranks. The UNP Parliamentary group, and its partners in this mission: the JVP, TNA, Tamil and Muslim parties are resolute and united. They currently enjoy a significant majority in Parliament, and when the house is finally opened it will be clear for all to see.

As many leaders have said, this common goal is not about personalities. However, make no mistake, the only viable leader of this cause at this juncture is Ranil Wickremesinghe. Ranil’s forty year track record gives other parliamentarians an understanding of his modus operandi, and inspires trust among partners. He is not a backstabber. In a recent interview with a foreign journalist, he brushed off the suggestion of animosity towards rivals and said that backstabbing is to be expected in politics. He should know as he has been competing in the political ring for a long time, and he’s been at the receiving end of a lot of it. However, despite this, he is still standing firm and fighting the good fight. If like minded citizens continue to rally alongside him, he will win it.