Personal And Perhaps Irrelevant Intro
In 2005 I did the UNP website. It was weird. I met Ranil Wickremesinghe once and he had no idea who I was. He doesn’t really make eye contact. What I found most confusing was that there seemed to be multiple people working in different silos, often competing against each other, or at least getting in the way. Getting simple things done was heavy politics and a lot of people with actual authority were just people he knew, who didn’t seem to know about each other. It’s a bit of a rabbit hole.
Basically, I couldn’t find anyone to clear the domain name unp.lk. People that should have had nominal authority didn’t and people that weren’t even in the party did. Problem was, there were like three different camps of people working outside of the party structure, and they seemed to be given only enough power to basically immobilize the others. It was a bit odd. We ended up running as unitednationalparty.org, which was lame. To this day I can’t figure out what was going on in that campaign, or why.
At the same time, however, I was in Sirikotha during the 2010 Fonseka election and the party still had a strong organization. They have people on the phone with someone in each province and, through there, at each polling station. There are people quite willing to work for the party, and professional lawyers and intellectuals coming and going.
Again, however, all functional lines of communication are sorta centered (triangulated, really) around ‘The Leader’. That’s what Ranil is called within the party, which confused me the first time I heard it and still makes me cringe. These lines of communication are also people who are not officially in the party – school friends, foreign advisers, business people – people who have a direct loyalty to Ranil.
That’s how a lot of parties are run, but at one point the UNP actually had heavy hitters of their own, people with their own power base. Now it seems to be Ranil and a few people that he’s playing off each other for scraps.
Anyways, I used to really like Ranil, but I also used to really like baggy jeans. Things change, people move on. At least they’re supposed to.
No Sri Lankan political party is internally democratic. Personally, I think ad hoc is OK as long as it works. Nobody really cares as long as the machine functions. Even in the West, party leaders are generally not tossed out through an internal party mechanism, but simply out of the shame and/or honor of leaders under pressure. When they lose elections they step down, and if they lose face internally (threat of a no-confidence vote, defections) they leave of their own accord. It’s something of an honor code.
It’s sorta like Pilawoos. It’s not like anybody rushes you out of there, but it’s understood that you eat or leave. It’s not like people open up their laptops and hang out for four hours. This isn’t enforced, it’s simply understood.
I often sit in crowded theatres and wonder, what’s stopping me from getting up and throwing a shoe, or walking up there and pontificating. I mean, nothing really. Even most VIPs don’t have much security beyond that of a chess piece. You cut them, they cut you, but you could still punch someone on in the face and make a major scene. It’s just that these are the rules and people follow them out of honor or shame or whatever. But they can be broken. If you’re a bit of a sociopath.
Ranil has been sitting at Pilawoos for six years now, drinking three plain teas and not paying his bill. Other people are trying to get in but he’s got his legs on one seat and a motorcycle helmet on the other. All his friends have left and it’s just awkward.
There have been multiple points where normal party leaders would have resigned. After losing the 1999 Presidential. The 2000 Parliamentary. After winning the 2001 Parliamentary but having the President take your Ministries. Breath. After losing the 2004 Parliamentary. The 2004 Provincial Council. The 2005 Presidential. The 2008 Provincial. After not running the 2010 Presidential. Losing the 2010 Parliament. Etc.
The only victory Ranil is hanging onto is Colombo local government this month, despite having lost every other Municipal Council in the country. So.
Other possible exits, when a bunch of stalwarts crossed over, including Karu Jayasuriya (returned), Milinda Moragoda, GL Peiris, etc. Off the top of my head. I think there were 13. Oh, 18. After dyeing his hair badly. I don’t know.
How Does He Stay?
I won’t get into the psychology of the man. Constitutionally, as far as I hear, cause I can’t find the actual UNP Constitution, the Leader can only be changed by a working committee which is appointed by the Leader. What I hear is that Ranil keeps swapping people out as he hears that they are disloyal. Basically, Ranil is running the thing like a dictatorship, minus the torture and stuff because, unlike a nation, people have an exit option. So they’re rushing for the doors.
Meanwhile, Ranil has recently expelled an intelligent and IMHO honest Provincial Councillor in Shiral Lakthilake and MP Buddhika Pathirane for basically speaking their minds and being loyal to the party but not him. Close advisers I know are Dr. Harsha De Silva and Eran Wickramatne, both intelligent and great guys, except for the glaring omission of missing that Ranil is digging the party down a ditch. They’re National List MPs, so they literally owe their jobs (not day jobs) to Ranil, not any particular constituency or even the party.
Now I hear that he’s trying to prevent UNP members from even talking to members of the media unless it goes through him. Trying to keep that nice cult ambiance.
It’s just really sad. The UNP used to be the party of ideas, with a lot of smart people in it. Most of those people are now in the government. Milinda Moragoda, Mahinda Samarasinghe, Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, Keheliya Rambukwella, GL Peiris. Feel free to quibble within there, but none of those guys are idiots. Basically everybody that speaks English in public from Mahinda’s government is UNP. The UNP even had heavy-handed election winning heavies with occasional ideas, like SB Dissanayake. Large quibbles there, but whatever. The UNP had a government in waiting. Now they just have a Leader, if you want to call it that. Honestly, now they just have a symbol, a color, and a party dictator – kicking out people that disagree and trying to muzzle or curmuzzle the rest.