24 December 2018

That man Patali Champika Ranawaka!

Patali Champika Ranawaka is the General Secretary of the United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG). That’s a coalition led by the United National Party (UNP). The UNP is Ranil Wickremesinghe; I recommend a perusal of the party constitution to anyone who doubts this. Ranawaka was also the President’s nominee to the Constitutional Council under the 19th Amendment. The President is Maithripala Sirisena, who, after defeating Mahinda Rajapaksa became the leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. In other words he was at the time the proverbial ‘right hand man’ of the leaders of both major political parties in Sri Lanka. A unique kind of creature, one has to acknowledge.

The man is a factor, that cannot be denied. A senior journalist, Gayan Gallage described him in a Facebook post as follows: ‘The hero of the serious political game of the past two months is none other than Champika.’ He went on the substantiate his claim in terms of the stark contrast between Wickremesinghe’s behavior after October 26, 2018 and his lame submission to Chandrika Kumaratunga in 2003 when she exercised presidential powers to take over three key ministries, precipitating the rout of the UNP in April 2004. 

Of course the circumstances are not identical. Back in 2003, there was no 19th Amendment, for example. However, Gallage claims that Champika played a key role if not the main role in keeping the UNP together in the moment of extreme crisis and utter chaos. Insiders would know the truth; I do not. 

There are things however that are public knowledge. The formation of the Sihala Urumaya (SU) in 2000 helped bring a Sinhala nationalist voice into the entire discourse of conflict-resolution. The Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) was formed in February 2004 and effectively wrecked the parliamentary equation. Champika was in the thick of things on both occasions.  He played a key role in Mahinda Rajapaksa’s victories in 2005 and 2010. His parting of ways with Rajapaksa, arguable in a situation where Rev Athureliye Rathana Thero forced his hand and that of the JHU, was a game-changing move in the 2015 presidential equation.  

What’s his history? He was a student leader at Moratuwa University. His political associations in terms of organizations, in many of which he was a key member and decision-maker, say as much about ideological orientation as about political ambition, untrammeled drive and an uncanny ability to read the political moment: the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, Jathika Chinthanaya, Ratawesi Peramuna (RP), Janatha Mithuro (JM), National Movement Against Terrorism (NMAT), SU, JHU, United People’s Freedom Alliance and the UNFGG. The RP, JM, NMAT and SU no longer exist. The JVP and JHU are more or less adjuncts of the UNP. The UPFA has been abandoned by non-SLFP parties including, officially, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). The UNP lost considerable ground at the last local government election and what’s seen by some as a ‘resurgence’ is essentially a closing of ranks by the diehards. If Gallage is correct, then even in this exercise Champika played a significant role and one unusual for the leader of a small party which might not win a single parliamentary seat if it contested on its own.  

Is he then an opportunist who is absolutely focused on reaching somehow the top of the political ladder? Yes. Success in politics as far as an individual is concerned necessitates an eye for opportunity. As for changing political platforms, well, he’s no worse than most of his contemporaries.  

Champika clearly established himself as a doer when he was in charge of the Ministry of Environment, Power and Energy, and Science and Technology. He hasn’t exactly covered himself in glory in far more ambitious Megapolis Ministry but his supporters will point out that he is not ideally situated in the political coalition he’s a part of to get things done and that anyway the economic reality is not in his favor. They might even say, ‘it cannot be done overnight.’ The perception however seems to be ‘he can’t do it.’  Let’s assume that the jury is out on that particular matter. 

Perhaps the views of someone who is diametrically opposed to Champika’s stated ‘nationalist’ leanings would help locate him politically. Kumar David claims to be a Marxist and an opponent of Sinhala nationalism. He writes, within brackets interestingly, that he is an opponent of Tamil nationalism as well, although he also went on record to say that ‘the left’ should hope that the LTTE stops the government’s military operations in Kilinochchi.  Anyway, let’s read his take on Champika, as expressed in an account cum reflection of the launch of Champika’s book ‘Power and Power’ in August 2014. The title of the article was ‘Champika’s Double-Edged Book Launch; Is Ranawaka Initiating A Leadership Challenge?’

Here’s David: ‘I am not favourably inclined to Ranawaka’s ideology or his possible presidential ambitions. This piece, however, is about a different aspect. It is about the challenge that has been mounted and about the intrinsic strength of the challenge because it proceeds from intelligently chosen premises linking key techno-economic anxieties with political abuse. It taps into roots of social concern as against the UPFA’s and UNP’s fish-market sloganeering. The old fashioned left (the Dead Left included), the new style JVP and even newer Pertugami will not be able to meet this challenge unless they wake up to 21-st Century techno-economic, global-structural, and emerging national class realities. Unfortunately they do not have the intellectual cadres to digest and address a complex challenge such as this.’

David referred in the same article to the keynote speaker’s ‘unabashed panegyric to the next, or a future president’.  The speaker described Champika as ‘a visionary leader and a servant of the people; a technical expert (Ranawaka in an electrical engineering graduate) and a fighter against a mafia that is exploiting and corrupting state enterprises.’ David did not exactly tear apart this generous construction. 

Not long after the launch, Champika said ta-ta to Rajapaksa. He almost led Sirisena’s campaign in terms of formulating manifesto and strategy. Today, he seems to be Ranil’s sole non-UNP lieutenant and perhaps even his key advisor overall.  

Does ideology matter to him? He has the language, intellect and oratorical skills to justify anything he does. Time was when he argued against the abolition of the executive presidency given the its importance is ensuring that the 13th will not lead to a breakup of the nation.  He voted for the 19th. He would have known that it was a terribly flawed and nonsensical piece of legislation. He can plead ‘collective responsibility’ but that vote may add to the scars he’s inscribed on his political persona on account of loyalty-switching.  On the other hand, it could also be that he knew the 19th did precious little pruning of executive powers. Was he looking to the future?

Well, now it appears he wants the executive presidency abolished. Has he abandoned all notions of territorial integrity and threats to the same which he eloquently pointed out when talking of the 13th Amendment? Has his ‘vision’ diminished to that of any random politician, i.e. a power-seek? Political experience suggests the answer is, ‘yes’. The onus is on him to prove otherwise.

For now, it is clear that he’s a political asset that far outweighs the perceivable strength of his party. Wickremesinghe would be loathe to drop him. There’s bargaining power there, obviously, and it is good to recognize that Champika knows this.  

Is he ruthless? Well, he knows that assessment of enemy and enmity is par for the course. We can’t give anyone blank cheques and it would be silly to give him one too.  One thing is certain. Patali Champika Ranawaka should not be underestimated.

malindasenevi@gmail.com. www.malindawords.blogspot.com



Unknown said...

"Patali Champika Ranawaka should not be underestimated"

Totally agree with you..

Unknown said...

"Patali Champika Ranawaka should not be underestimated"

Totally agree with you..