Ranil Wickremesinghe is in a tough spot. He can’t win the Presidential election himself, and if his party wins then he’s basically out of a job as party leader. If only there was some way he could get power without winning an election. According to Udaya Gammanpila (of the JHU), there is.
In House Of Cards, Senator Frank Underwood angles for the US Presidency by moving pieces around, getting people to resign, etc. It’s not especially democratic, but there’s a similar way for Ranil to get, if not the Presidency, then power.
1. Run Against The Presidency
This election the opposition seems to be running against the Presidency, not the President. The different parties don’t have a common candidate, but they have agreed that whoever wins will abolish the Executive Presidency.
Ranil’s quote on the matter is the funniest, explaining that his Uncle created the Presidency to help the country but Mahinda is using it to enrich his family. His actual problem is that the Presidency didn’t stay in the family, but nevermind.
So, let’s presume that the opposition A) finds a candidate and B) that candidate wins. Unlikely, but bear with me here.
2. Win The Parliamentary Election
If the opposition wins the Presidency, it’s more likely that they’d win the general election to be held shortly after. In that hypothetical (magical) election the UNP, led by Ranil, would win the most votes. That would make Ranil the Prime Minister.
3. Abolish The Presidency
Then the opposition candidate, say Ven. Sobhitha Thera, would abolish the Presidency, ie his own office. Since he wouldn’t simultaneously be a member of Parliament, the leadership of the country would then fall to Ranil, the magical Prime Minister. Thus, in a few highly improbable but possible steps, Ranil would become leader of the country without winning the Presidential election.
The Actual Situation
Of course, this won’t come to pass. At least, I hope not. This is why the Executive Presidency is so hard to give up. Nobody is going to put themselves out of a job to see some other mutton-chop get it. The bigger reason, however, is that it’s also unlikely that any opposition candidate could defeat Mahinda head-to-head. What we’ll likely end up with is Mahinda as President and Ranil as opposition leader, presumably until one of them dies of old age.