Ranil Wickremesinghe, upon assuming the presidency called me on July 20th and informed me to come to the presidential secretariat on July 22nd to discuss the reform program. I accepted the invitation but was apprehensive as to how the president in his new capacity, where he is vested with full powers, would think about the proposed reform program.
by Victor Ivan
Things in the country are happening in a ludicrous manner. Regardless of the likes or dislikes of the people engaged in the Aragalaya (youth struggle), there is one important outcome that the Aragalaya has produced in the political sense: It has been able to oust Gotabaya from his office who lacked adequate knowledge of statecraft, but was able to be elected as the head of state by a massive popular mandate when he had completed only half of the official term; and pave the way for Ranil Wickramasinghe who could be reckoned to be a mature politician possessing a keen knowledge of the art of conducting state affairs despite he had only one seat in the present parliament, to be elected as the president with the consent of the majority of the parliament. The weak management style of President Gotabaya also led to this situation. It is interesting to note that Ranil Wickremesinghe, within the first 48 hours of assuming the office of Presidency, mobilized the security forces and restored the government control of some sections of the state, the Aragalaya people had temporarily snatched away, and was able to vitiate the anarchic atmosphere that prevailed in some areas of state administration, to a considerable extent. Although the policy of the new president has led to enhancing and intensifying the anger of the activists of the Aragalaya, as if by an irony of fate, Ranil Wickremesinghe is now destined to be the person chosen by history, not by the public, to play the role of opening the doors of the state for a program of structural reforms for a ‘profound change in the system’ that can be considered as the main aspiration of the latter.
Degeneration of the system
Since the end of the internal civil war in 2010, I have been stressing that if Sri Lanka is not directed towards a structural reform program aimed at effecting a profound change in the system, the country will inevitably be plunged into great destruction. Despite the fact that the state had been able to suppress two terrible and huge rebellions, the country was not in good shape, but in a state of weakness and infirmity because of the serious injuries and damage caused by those rebellions. The lives of a large number of people were destroyed by the Sinhalese and Tamil rebels as well as by the security forces who suppressed the riots, and even more, people were persecuted and oppressed. The social psyche had been rendered distorted and sick by the cruelty unleashed on society by the rebels and the security forces in a competitive spree.
The checks and balances that ought to have been maintained between the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary, the three main pillars of the state administration had completely broken down due to the prevalence of a political system with a president placed above the rule of the law; corruption had become malignant cancer that has overwhelmed the entire institutional system without control. The harmony and integration that should exist in the social system had completely collapsed. The functioning of the economic activities of the country had assumed an irregular and erratic character. In this context, it was my observation that the entire system will collapse and the country will be plunged into a state of anarchy unless it is directed towards a profound reform program. At the end of the internal civil war, I tried to explain the situation to President Mahinda Rajapakse; but he was unable to comprehend the reality of the situation as he was blinded by the overwhelming victory of the war. The limited reform program launched afterwards under the Yahapalana government cannot be described as a suitable reform program compared to the magnitude of the crisis facing the country. A close political friendship developed between me and Mangala Samaraweera as a result of the speech I delivered on the crisis facing Sri Lanka on the occasion of the launch of his biography, held in Matara, and his honest response to it. I pointed out in that lecture that the crisis facing the country has developed into a point of explosion as necessary reforms have been neglected; also I stressed that there could be an explosive situation after the election and consequently, the country will fall into a state of bankruptcy, and finally, it will be pushed into a state of anarchy. At that time, Mangala was the country’s Finance Minister; delivering the vote of thanks, he not only endorsed the validity of my analysis but also publicly expressed his regret for having contributed to the crisis knowingly or unknowingly. As a result of this encounter, Mangala and I initiated a series of discussions on a reform program that would lead to overcoming the crisis that Sri Lanka is facing. Ranil Wickramasinghe also participated in two discussions arranged by Mangala. Though of the old guard both Ranil and Mangala belonged to a new genre of politicians who were exposed to modern ideas, having a keen understanding of the changing global trends and were willing to accept change or new ideas. The discussions that we held about the collapse of the state and the political system and the rampant corruption that has pervaded the entirety of the institutional system of the country can be considered as genuine and authentic exchange of views. The opinion I held about these two old leaders at that time and the conviction I shared with several other people who were interested in the subject was that whoever will be in power, it would be possible to persuade them to undertake a pioneering role to open the doors for a reform program for a profound change in the system.
Gotabaya and Ranil
At a time when the Aragalaya of the youth had been intensifying I met President Gotabaya with a draft of a reform program I had formulated; this I did with a deep conviction that if the country could be directed towards a reform program leading to a profound change in the system, it would be possible to resolve the socio-political crisis as well, in addition to the balance of payments problem, and the country’s journey could be steered on a promising path whilst at the same time effecting a profound and discernible change. Since I have written enough about it before, I will only talk about one thing at this stage. I was surprised that the President agreed to the entire proposal. It must be said that I was even more surprised that the President agreed to the idea, the last item of the proposal, that the United Nations should be involved in this exercise as an observer. President Gotabaya had discussed my program with Ranil Wickremesinghe after the latter was appointed the Prime Minister. And the Prime Minister also discussed it with me. The Prime Minister was already aware of my ideas on the proposed reform program and he too, was of the opinion that a positive and profound change in the existing system is essential. Subsequent to this discussion, Prime Minister Ranil had assigned Dr. Aruna Kulatunga and Professor R. U. Halwathura of Moratuwa University to coordinate and pursue the progress of it with me and the Prime Minister. I got to know from Aruna Kulatunga that during a discussion the Prime Minister Prime had with them about my proposal, he had commented that although the document on the reform program I have submitted was small in size, its content is very much bigger than the Mahaweli scheme. However, due to the turbulent political situation prevailing in the country at that moment those ideas remained floating in an empty space. Ranil Wickremesinghe, upon assuming the presidency called me on July 20th and informed me to come to the presidential secretariat on July 22nd to discuss the reform program. I accepted the invitation but was apprehensive as to how the president in his new capacity, where he is vested with full powers, would think about the proposed reform program. But during the conversation with him, I soon realized that there has been no change in his commitment to reforms. The President was of the view that all basic reforms needed for the good of the country should be implemented. We also talked about the implications of the elements of race, caste, religion, gender and the diverse aspects of culture and how they have become critical issues of the youth struggle. We also talked about the importance of building the Sri Lankan nation with a new approach that would abolish the recognition accorded to feudalistic caste system, and promote and ensure equal human dignity and equal rights to all social groups of ethnicity, religion, gender and different cultures, and the need for making it an integral part of the reform program. Saman Atavudahetti, was the third party, who initially participated in the discussion. Then the President invited Saman Ekanayake, Secretary to the President and Shenuka Seneviratne, Senior Advisor to the President on International Media and instructed them to send a letter to the United Nations inviting them to act as observers in this reform program. It must be said that I was surprised by the determination displayed by the President to open the doors for a massive reform program that will lead to a profound and positive change in the system by engaging a very powerful international observer.
The potent wonder of destiny
In fact, Ranil should have become the president at the presidential election held during the end of 1999. But his victory was prevented by the town hall bomb blast. Also, Ranil had a greater chance of winning the 2005 presidential election, but he lost the opportunity due to the decision of Prabhakaran, the leader of the LTTE, to force the Tamil voters in the North and East to boycott the presidential elections. Again, he lost the opportunity to contest the 2015 presidential election due to the idea mooted by the alliance of the opposition coalition that a common candidate was required to defeat Mahinda Rajapaksha, the incumbent president. After that, the ensuing period coupled with the 2020 parliamentary elections can be considered as the worst period that Ranil Wickremesinghe had to undergo, politically. The UNP was unable to secure a single seat at the parliamentary elections; so much so Ranil entered the Parliament as a National List MP of the United National Party.
It was only after that the astonishing as well as horrifying things happened. Ranil becoming the Prime Minister, burning of his private residence and the library, his appointment as the Acting President following Gotabaya, the incumbent president fleeing the country and then being elected the President by a majority vote of parliament, all these developments can be considered as unforeseen side effects of the Aragalaya, the youth struggle. Among the political veterans of Sri Lanka, Ranil can be ranked as the person endowed with intellectual elegance, and excellence in statesmanship. Gotabaya can be considered as a character artificially inflated and Ranil as one whose character has been deliberately destroyed by the media. However, If he is capable of redeeming Sri Lanka from the balance of payments crisis whilst at the same time directing the country towards adopting a reform program conducive to effecting a positive and profound change in the current system which is corrupt, inefficient and unjust, and thereby heralding a real change, certainly his name will go down in history as the hero who saved Sri Lanka.