When the Working Committee of the UNP met yesterday at Siri Kotha to decide who will succeed the Leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, the voting was decisive: 28 voted for Ruwan Wijewardene and 10 voted for Ravi Karunanayake, according to informed Party sources. It was a secret ballot. Shamal Senarath prepared the ballot papers. After the count Ranil did not declare the results officially.
The meeting began around 4.p.m with the Working Committee targeting the 20 A. It was after that the issue of the next leadership came up. Ranil began by saying that he had announced his intention to step down and according to Party rules it is necessary to appoint a successor. The Working Committee was meeting today to pick the new leader. He was not going to name his choice. This meant that he was going to be neutral.
The first to open fire was Ravi Karunanayake. He led the attack pointing the finger directly at Ranil for not backing him. He told him bluntly that he had worked for him loyally and served the Party to the best of his ability. He said that he had also acted his Assistant Leader and he had all the qualifications. Pointing a finger at Ranil he asked : What is wrong with me? Why can’t I be the leader?”
Vajira Abeywardena urged the Ranil to name his nominee for the deputy leader as that would end any controversy. He said that no one will oppose his nominee. We will all vote for your nominee” he said.
Lakshman Wijemanne said that Ranil had said that he would step down and it is time that he appointed Karu Jayasuriya as the Leader.
Ranil Wickremesinghe replied that this was nor the time to discuss the leadership issue. The meeting was held to discuss only the deputy leadership. There is time to discuss the question of leadership, he added.
Navin Dissanayake said that Ranll has the power to appoint General Secretary, Chairman, Treasurer and he also could nominate the Deputy Leader. And, therefore, he should nominate a deputy leader. Why don’t you do that?” he asked.
But Ranil that he was not going to nominate anyone.
Ranil also asked the other contenders about their stand on the deputy leadership. Arjuna Ranatunga, Ranga Bandara, Daya Gamage, Akila Vajia Abeywardena, who had put out publication to boost his chance, had declined at the last minute, leaving the contest open for Ruwan and Ravi. At this point Ruwan Wijewardene was asked by Ranil what his position was on this issue.
Ruwan explained that he has come forward at the request of the people and he had to respect their wishes. They had asked him to lead the Party in this critical hour. He said that it was a request that he could not turn down. He said he was ready to take on the responsibilities of restoring the Party to its former glory.
Ranil in his speech said that the issue of Deputy leader has been settled. There is still time to discuss future steps. The question of leadership will be discussed at a later time.
According to the Party constitution the term of the current Working Committee will end in December. A new Committee will be appointed by the new leader.
The meeting lasted till about 6.30. It has virtually ended the leadership issue that has plagued the Party in recent times, which culminated in Sajith Premadasa running away with the majority to form his wing of the UNP. However, political sources noted that Ranil Wickremesinghe will not step down from the leadership yet. He will remain as leader till end of the year. One of his mission in the interim will be to groom the new leader and ease him into his chair.
The Working Committee did not discuss the issue of Ranil being kicked upstairs into the UNP seat waiting to be filled by a Party nominee.
On the surface level it looks as if Ranil has thrown his weight behind his nephew. But the numbers that worked of Ruwan indicate that the Working Committee has democratically elected the best of the two candidates. Between Ravi and Ruwan there was no other option – not to the Working Committee that has faced the worst defeat in the history of the UNP. What happened to the UNP at the Presidential and Parliamentary elections was stunning. It is like the entire population getting together and levelling the Himalayan mountain to sea level. The task before the new leader is to raise the Party from the bottom to it former height. Rejuvenating the Party and regaining its historic status is the immediate task of the Party. To achieve this the UNP needs not only a new face but a clean face.
To his everlasting credit it must admitted that Ranil Wickremesinghe, the departing leader of the UNP, has done two great deeds for the nation : 1. He established the ambulance service with the help of the Indians and 2. Put his weight behind the election of Ruwan Wijewardene as the new leader of the UNP. He had the choice of backing Ravi because the latter was his No.2 at the Right-wing International Democratic Union (IDU). Ravi, indeed, was the clone of Ranil in matters that were foreign. Both of them were the Sri Lankan representatives at the IDU. That is the closest political alliance linked by a Right-wing party to the Right-wing of the Western establishment. The Communist Party had links to the Second Comintern under Stalin. Ranil and Ravi were hoping that they could reap substantial international and economic benefits being a part of the Bush-Howard-Thatcher gang. But it didn’t work they hoped it would.
Besides, Ravi’s is not the kind of material that would the inspire the nation to follow him. His image was ruined with his involvement in the Bond scandal. He was also linked to the issue of money he received from the convicted LTTE wheeler-dealer in New York, Raja Rajaratnam. Ruwan, on the contrary, has the credible and unsullied record behind his image. If the UNP is to go anywhere it has to be on the back of one who can take it back to its roots of the Senanayakes. And who in the UNP can fit into that role other than Ruwan, the great-grandson of DS”?