Opinion: It’s Ruwan! – Wijewardene in line to lead the UNP

UNP Deputy Leader Ruwan Wijewardene

September 14, 2020 (LBO) – After many weeks of anticipation, the UNP’s apex body (working committee) has put in place a transition plan for the party leadership.

In a secret ballot today, the former State Minister of Defence was elected as the Deputy Leader of the party. It has been reported that the vote was not close, with Wijewardene being elected by a large margin. He will later in January almost certainly take over as leader of the UNP, when former five-time Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has indicated he will step down.

Ruwan Wijewardene (45) has been an individual who from his first day in politics was viewed as a future leader. These high expectations perhaps came because he is the great grandson of a UNP founder and Sri Lanka’s first Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake. He is also connected by family to many other political leaders too numerous to mention.

His family connections may have made people take notice of him, much as they have Sajith Premadasa or Navin Dissanayake. However, his emergence as the UNP leader is much more complex. The UNP leadership has come to Ruwan organically because of who he is as a leader, not because who he is connected to by blood.

There are many past leaders of Sri Lanka who had family connections to power. Anura Bandaranaike and President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga were children of two Prime Ministers. Sajith Premadasa’s father was a former President. Even President Rajapaksa’s brother was former President…..Rajapaksa!

Ruwan Wijewardene’s family connections to politics are much less proximate. Ruwan was born 20 years after his great grandfather D. S. Senanayake died after falling off of his horse. He carries the same initials of his grandfather D. R. Wijewardene, a newspaperman and not a politician. Ruwan came into politics on his own, and very much had to find his own way. During his lengthy political career, he carved his own path with his own style, which is what has led him to political significance in the UNP.

Dinendra Ruwan Wijewardene (DRW) has always been a party man. Unlike several other contenders who recently sought the party leadership, never was there even a hint of DRW ever moving to another political party. DRW would have been elected as a member of the UNP or not at all. He seemed perfectly content with this political position. Win or lose, it was going to be as a member of the UNP.

DRW was always loyal to the party and its leadership. It was seldom if ever that you would hear a word out of his mouth against the party or any of its members. Even as he was criticized or undermined by certain members of the UNP, he always kept his cool. Like other younger politicians, there were times where he likely felt passed over by the party leadership, however he was never critical. He was always playing for the team, and deferential to more senior political leaders.

DRW has also distinguished himself as an unconventional political leader. He has not been the one to chase after media spotlight, to make statements for political attention, or curry favor with the party leadership. He has been consistent in his positions, measured in his rhetoric, and serious and contemplative in his public statements. He has not been an actor or showman, he has rather been just himself. What you see is what you get, for better or for worse. 

Authenticity, temperament and loyalty to the UNP have been the characteristics that have allowed DRW to emerge as the leader of the GOP. Sri Lanka would be fortunate if a future national leader also emerges with these characteristics. DRW has a long way to go, but he has never been a man in a hurry. His nature would incline him to put country before self and build a unified party, slowly and steadily with a strong foundation. If he eventually succeeds, so will Sri Lanka.