Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe turned seventy on March 24, and hosted his MPs and political party leaders for a birthday dinner on Monday. In his short address to the audience, he drew inspiration from iconic Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. He said Deng Xiaoping steered China to a great economic heights through reforms implemented by him as the Chinese President in his 70s only.
Deng is the leader who took office in 1979 and introduced economic reforms propelling China to become the world’s second largest economy by all means and on all accounts. He achieved it as a septuagenarian. Now Wickremesinghe is also a septuagenarian. As his remarks to the guests at his birthday dinner imply, he views being a septuagenarian as a qualification to lead a country to economic prosperity and social stability by harnessing its potential, but not a disqualification. It is in evidence of Deng’s success story. Wickremesinghe intended to convey this to his audience at the party which was well attended by his MPs and party leaders including former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.
Apart from reference to Deng’s economic reform agenda, implemented way back in 1979, the Prime Minister, in his address, said his government also laid the foundation during the past four years for a great economic revival. He said it would be a springboard for growth in the future.
The Prime Minister drew inspiration not only from Deng, but also from a few other world leaders who brought about economic renewal in their respective countries while being in their 70s.
According to Wickremesinghe, being a septuagenarian is not a reason to retire from politics. It is, in fact, a qualification as displayed by some iconic, exemplary world leaders in the calibre of Chinese President Deng Xiaoping
Following the Prime Minister’s remarks at the birthday party, many in the party have started believing that their leader is hopeful of ascending to presidency at the presidential polls to be conducted later this year.
In political circles, everyone is anxious to know the names of the presidential candidates to be fielded by either party. As far as the political force led by Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) is concerned, air is much clear after former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa indicated his presidential aspirations in clear cut terms. He not only articulated his position, but also initiated steps to renounce his US citizenship to qualify for candidacy in terms of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.
Nevertheless, the UNP-led political force has not yet decided on its candidate. Of course, there are names being floated, but people are at a loss to identify who will emerge as the candidate from among them in the end.
The names of Housing, Construction and Cultural Affairs Minister Sajith Premadasa and Speaker Karu Jayasuriya are mentioned as the prospective candidates. Alongside, it is discernible that the Prime Minister too eyes candidacy as implied by his speech at his birthday party. He is the party leader. The party’s Working Committee is well under his control as the leader. And as such, if he asserts himself in full measure, he will be able to become the presidential candidate of his party or the alliance led by it overlooking any other aspirant. The other two- Mr. Jayasuriya and Mr. Premadasa- have their own bases within the party, but Wickremesinghe’s writ applies and prevails more than that of anyone else.
According to Wickremesinghe, being a septuagenarian is not a reason to retire from politics. It is, in fact, a qualification as displayed by some iconic, exemplary world leaders in the calibre of Chinese President Deng Xiaoping who took the baton from Mao Zedong to spearhead his country to make giant economic strides.
Former President the late J.R.Jayewardene taking office when he turned 71 is another classic example to drive home Wickremesinghe’s point.
At the Working Committee meeting conducted last Thursday, Tourism, Wildlife and Christian Religious Affairs Minister John Amaratunga extended his birthday greetings to Wickremesinghe in advance mentioned this to.
“Mr. J.R. Jayewardene became the President of this country in his 70s. I wish you the same success,” he said.
However, there is a segment within the UNP promoting Jayasuriya and Premadasa as the best bets to win elections. Some UNP MPs talk about a Sajith/Karu combination- one as the presidential candidate and the other as the prime ministerial candidate.
SLFP faces disintegration
In what appeared to be a major fillip to boost his image , Jayasuriya was conferred with a honorary tile by the Malwatte chapter. Now, a similar title is to be conferred on Premadasa. These may be well orchestrated events aimed at image boosting ahead of the presidential elections. Jayasuriya is also a septuagenarian qualifying for presidential candidacy, according the present logic.
A notable absentee at Wickremesinghe’s birthday party was Sajith Premadasa.
Bilateral talks between SLPP and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) move on, but at a slow pace. The parties are less hopeful of a successful outcome, though. The SLFP, which is now the third political force of this county, stands of the risk of disintegration in the months to come because some of its MPs have already worked out deals with the UNP.
Key among them is former Minister Gamini Wijith Wijeyamuni Zoysa. According to political sources, he is slated to join the UNP in view of future elections. His latest public remarks give credence to such speculation about his plans to team up with the UNP. On one occasion, he said he was not ready to be a stooge of any member of the Rajapaksa family hereafter, an insinuation that he would not support the candidacy of Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Besides, he attended the foundation laying ceremony for an oil refinery project in Hambantota last Saturday along with the UNP leadership. He spelled out clearly that he would make a political decision soon.
The Prime Minister drew inspiration not only from Deng, but also from a few other world leaders who brought about economic renewal in their respective countries while being in their 70s
It is learnt that the UNP is contemplating to make him an organiser either for an electorate in the Moneragala district or for the Katana electorate in the Gampaha district.
Alongside, former Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, in his parliamentary speeches, makes overtures to the UNP. At one point, he showered praise on Prime Minister Wickremesinghe for not signing the Rome Statute in 2002. He said Sri Lanka could have been haulled up before the International Criminal Court (ICC) if not for that.
MPs Lakshman Seneviratne, Piyasena Gamage, A.H.M. Fowzie and Manusha Nanayakkara are among those slated to contest with the UNP next time.
Likewise, a few others would join hands with the SLPP ahead of elections. It would result in the further disintegration of the SLFP.
President criticises PM again at Cabinet
Already a crisis between SLFP Leader President Maithripala Sirisena and the SLPP is simmering over the latter’s refusal to nominate the former as its presidential candidate. Also, the President, once against, rebuffed Prime Minister Wickremesinghe at the weekly Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.
The President is reported to have said that he wanted to transfer a certain official in the power sector, but the Prime Minister intervened and blocked it.
He took the latest swipe at Wickremesinghe after the Cabinet took up for discussion the current power crisis.
The President said some officials of the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka enjoyed sponsorship of the private companies to go on foreign tours.