Image Courtesy DNA India

Is Ranil Wickremesinghe an Accidental President?

His many detractors will believe this is the case. They can point to a politician who was ignored by the electorate; to a party leader whose
following deserted him; and to a puppet of the Rajapaksas. Yet, despite all the empirical evidence, we have in our midst the eighth Executive President of the Republic of Sri Lanka. Even as an Accidental President, he is a man who, despite all the odds, stuck it out and was clever enough to seize the moments and opportunities when they presented themselves.

We have a President who was not elected by the people but by his peers. Are they one and the same thing? This is a moot point, for what
matters is that he is in the chair. There is no point debating the pros and cons of his ascendancy, for what matters is what happens next.
Most Sri Lankans love to dwell on the past when it comes to politics. They always point to examples of what happened as a basis for their
argument that he or she is not the best person to run the show. They forget that what matters is the show must go on.

Forget the version RW 1. Or for that matter RW 2 to RW 6. In all the older versions, he was a prime minister whose hands were tied as he
was answerable to an executive president. Twice before, Ranil Wickremesinghe ran for the presidency but was defeated by Chandrika Kumaratunga in 1999 and Mahinda Rajapaksa, in 2005.

On the first occasion, it was the sympathy vote and anger among the majority Sinhalese which thwarted Mr. Wickremesinghe – Mrs. Kumaratunga surviving a suicide bomb attack at a campaign rally which left her with injuries to her face – and in 2005 it was due to the LTTE and the TNA forcing Tamils in the North and East to boycott the election (at the time RW claimed Mahinda had a secret deal with the Tigers).

Before you charge me of dwelling in the past, like most Sri Lankans, I mention these facts to support my argument that RW never had a free
hand to do what he wanted and on the two occasions he tried to run for Presidency, he was denied by the fates. Today, in a twist, the fates have presented him – RW 7 – with a golden opportunity to run the country free of interference.

Yes, yes, I hear cries of what about the Pohottuwa and the Rajapaksas?

Dear Mr. President, please ignore them. You have been given a once in a lifetime chance. You don’t owe anyone anything. For the next two years, there is nothing parliament can do to impede you, simply because their shelf life is also running out, especially if they are seen to be in the way of progressive policies.

Don’t let Bond or Banda stand in your way. Forget crony politics. You don’t need anyone else as you have been given the wonderful prospect
of starting with a clean slate. You can write your own legacy. Let’s hope that includes bringing in 19A – constitutional changes to ensure the dilution of many powers of the executive presidency – and strengthening the other arms of government and political reforms. In your acceptance speech, soon after the vote in parliament, you said “the time for division is over” and urged all political parties to come together to take the country on the path of economic recovery. Stick to this premise, but don’t play politics, as you don’t need to. If members of the SJB want to return to the fold, then accept them with a warm and open embrace. There are many who can help you with the burden of lifting the country out of the hole we are in.

If you are able to get rid of the queues – as your first task – you will take the wind out of the sails of the Aragalaya. If you are able to show you are no Rajapaksa acolyte, you will have the people on your side. These are the most pressing matters to deal with. Of course other key issues like debt restructuring and IMF help, talking to donor nations China, Japan and India, we leave in your capable hands, similarly the onerous task of pruning the public workforce and privatising SOEs.

Just keep remembering that you are not beholden to anyone. If you can keep in mind that you have just two years to work the magic, then you, the Accidental President, will surely go down in the pages of our history as the man who turned it all around. Forget having long term political plans. Live in this moment and deliver a golden legacy.