Opinion: Time for Ranil Wickremesinghe to crack the whip

Ousted Sri Lankan prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe attends a session at the parliament complex, Colombo, Sri Lanka.12-12-2018 (Photo by Tharaka Basnayaka/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

November 20, 2019 (LBO) – Gotabaya Rajapaksa is the President of Sri Lanka. The former Defence Secretary won the just concluded Presidential election with a massive majority of over 1.3mn votes. His leading contender, former UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa, was not even able to garner 42% of the total vote, while Rajapaksa secured over 52%.

Sajith Premadasa’s electoral performance was one of the worst ever for a UNP backed candidate for Sri Lanka’s Presidency. It is this disastrous performance that will invariably carry over to the impending Parliamentary elections where Mahinda Rajapaksa’s SLPP backed alliance will secure a majority approaching 2/3.

Sajith Premadasa, his campaign, and his platform were resoundingly rejected by the Sri Lankan electorate. It was an unconventional campaign to say the least. The UNP leader was cast aside, and a myriad of political stunts, slander campaigns and gimmicks were employed. This was in sharp contrast to the dignified, highly professional and disciplined campaign that was run by the winning candidate.

This haphazard campaign exacerbated fractures in the UNP. It is likely that Premadasa’s move away from Ranil Wickremesinghe cost him many more votes than it brought him. The campaign, and its embarrassing result, is very likely to lead the UNP to a drubbing at the General Elections. The reality is, nothing much can be done about this. Such is the political fallout after a landslide Presidential election in Sri Lanka.

So now it appears that despite the debacle at the polls, the Sajith Premadasa faction is clamouring for a leadership change in the UNP. Not satisfied with the damage that their insurrection has caused to the party over a multi-year period, they appear to aim to divide the party even further with threats to form a new political front. Enough is enough. Ranil needs to put his foot down and stop the UNP from self imposed indisciplined destruction. He needs to unite the party, even if it means turfing out some of its most prominent members.

The General Election is a forgone conclusion. UNP members of Parliament and electoral organisers need to focus on turnout in order maintain a respectable amount of legislators in the house. Politics will become a local game instead of a national one.

The rebuilding of the UNP as a party should be done with an eye on the next Presidential election in 2024. Multiple leaders need to be promoted with an eye to one of them emerging as the Presidential candidate in five years time. Party unity must be maintained as the most important objective in the short term. If there are members who continue to promote disunity and factionalism in the party, they need to be shown the door. Their departures will not make an iota of difference in the upcoming general election. At the Presidential election five years from now, no one will even remember their names.