Ranil Wickremesinghe cannot be blamed for being a ‘party man’. He can’t be blamed for being a politician. He can’t be blamed for being like other politicians. Indeed there’s nothing easier than being a politician if legitimacy and stature is obtained by nothing more than pointing to tribesmen and tribeswomen.
So Ranil Wickremesinghe cannot be blamed for acting in the interests of the party. He is after all its leader. If he feels that the UNP is best served by going for an early election then it is logical that he pushes for the same. He doesn’t have to worry himself over things not done. He doesn’t have to entertain nightmares about the ‘100 Days Program’ being in shambles, deadlines that came and went, reform that is on the back burner and reform that’s been tossed into the garbage bag. He can sleep well.
He is no longer young though. He can also think of legacy. Let us start with our leaders beginning with his uncle J.R. Jayewardene. Today, what do people remember of JR? Well, he gave us a draconian constitution that we can’t seem to get rid of. Isn’t that what we remember most? Of Ranasinghe Premadasa it will be said ‘He build houses, planted trees’. Of D.B. Wijetunga, ‘he was lucky, he bowed out with grace’. What did he do, though? Not much.
Chandrika Kumaratunga. Hard to think of anything. Mahinda Rajapaksa? He’s been out only for a few months still, but one could say that 20 years from now if the question ‘What of Mahinda?’ was put to people who did not vote for him, a significant number might even say ‘the war ended during his tenure, roads were built and Colombo was turned into a beautiful city’. Of Maithripala, it is too early to speculate.
What of Ranil? He was never the President. He was Prime Minister on three occasions and has acted as virtual executive during the last two. He didn’t have much time but in the time he had he forged a lopsided agreement with the LTTE that cost him (before it could cost the country dearly). He is once again the Prime Minister. What he does (and does not do) will mark him.
He can be politician and no one will grudge him. He could be a leader of the entire nation, a statesman in fact, and he will be applauded by all. That is his challenge.
Wickremesinghe knows that the window of opportunity for reform is closing and that party interest constitutes at least one pair of hands that’s doing the closing (the other pair, at this point, being the pro-Mahinda group in Parliament). He knows that if the 20th Amendment (and the Right to Information Act of course) is not passed now, it is unlikely to have even a fraction of the chance later on.
He can help scuttle it, sure. That’s politics, someone will say. He can help get it done too. That’s statesmanship. That’s something that will be remembered and perhaps rewarded.
Ranil Wickremsighe has a golden opportunity to see the 20th through. He can, if he wants, put his full weight behind it. He can claim ownership thereafter. He will be rewarded. Perhaps in elections but most certainly in terms of how he will be remembered.