With elections to the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) due in September, Minister Champika Ranawaka leapt into the limelight this week requesting the Government to postpone the polls because issues relating to the grant of police and land powers to Provincial Councils have not been resolved.
Ranawaka, who represents the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) in the government, is the Minister of Technology, Research and Atomic Energy. He, together with Minister Wimal Weerawansa represents the factions within the Government which oppose the creation of a NPC with police and land powers.
The Government is on record saying that polls will be held under existing laws and on schedule. Official Cabinet spokesman Anura Priyadarshana Yapa said so in what was seen as a move to appease India which is insisting on this. However protests against the NPC elections have continued.
The JHU presented a Private Member’s Bill in Parliament to abolish Provincial Councils while Minister Wimal Weerawansa’s Jathika Nidahas Peramuna (JNP) this week commenced a signature campaign against the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which created Provincial Councils.
Despite the government’s assurances about the NPC elections, still there are doubts about it being held as planned. That is because the polls are being strongly opposed by Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa who cites a threat to national security if land and police powers are granted to the NPC.
This stance may have emboldened Minister Ranawaka to persevere with his stance of objecting to elections to the NPC. This, though places Ranawaka in the unenviable position of contradicting government policy directly, raises questions about his political future as a Minister in the Cabinet.
Ranawaka Arachchige Patali Champika Ranawaka, now forty seven years of age hails from Bulathsinhala. A brilliant student at Thakshila Central College in Horana, he earned a degree in engineering from the Moratuwa University but was also a student activist in his undergraduate days.
Ranawaka spent eight years as an undergraduate, partly because of the student unrest in the late eighties and also because he was imprisoned for some time in 1989 as the authorities cracked down on all student activists in a bid to neutralise the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna led rebellion.
Initially forming the ‘Janatha Mithuro’ organisation with like-minded colleagues, Ranawaka then joined the Sihala Urumaya which was campaigning on a platform of Sinhala nationalism to counter the threats posed by the then dominant Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
" Despite a controversial career and nationalist views bordering on the radical, Minister Ranawaka is respected for not compromising his principles for personal gain "
The Sihala Urumaya evolved in to the JHU and Ranawaka, with his professional credentials and his articulate manner, emerged as a leading figure in the new party. The JHU supported President Mahinda Rajapaksa and became a partner in the United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA).
In return, President Rajapaksa offered a cabinet portfolio to the JHU. However, as all JHU parliamentarians at the time were Buddhist monks who, it was felt should not be ministers, the JHU’s National List parliamentarian Omalpe Sobhitha thero resigned. Ranawaka replaced him.
Becoming a minister on his parliamentary debut, Ranawaka was entrusted with the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources. Once he called on terrorism to be crushed by whatever means possible ‘if it is not possible legally’. He raised more eyebrows when he said Muslims were ‘outsiders’ in Sri Lanka. He has also expressed anti-American views. In recent years, Ranawaka has become more moderate in his public utterances.
At the 2010 general elections, Ranawaka contested elections for the first time from the Colombo district. He polled a creditable 120,000 preference votes and emerged third in a candidates’ list laden with political heavyweights. He was appointed to the coveted Ministry of Power and Energy.
Being an engineer, Ranawaka was the best man for the job. Moreover, his integrity brought a breath of fresh air to a sector that was wreaking with corruption and inefficiency. However his tenure in this Ministry was brief: in a cabinet reshuffle in January this year, he was handed his current portfolio.
Many believed that Ranawaka was assigned the Ministry of Technology, Research and Atomic Energy because he was becoming too assertive and brooked no nonsense or interference in running the Ministry of Power and Energy.
This change of portfolios also became a bone of contention. When the recent electricity tariff hike was announced, incumbent Minister of Power and Energy Pavithra Wanniarachchi claimed the increase was authorised during Ranawaka’s tenure. Ranawaka was quick to deny this and a public spate ensued.
Despite a controversial career and nationalist views bordering on the radical, Minister Ranawaka is respected for not compromising his principles for personal gain. In fact, this trait got him into much strife during his undergraduate days at the Moratuwa University.
This sets apart his campaign against the NPC elections from that of Minister Weerawansa. While many would not be surprised if Weerawansa remains in the Cabinet even if the NPC polls are held as planned and land and police powers are devolved, they would expect Ranawaka to react differently.
If indeed elections to the NPC are held in September and the council so elected was to enjoy land and police powers, Minister Ranawaka’s position in the Cabinet-and the JHU’s position as a partner of the ruling UPFA coalition-would be untenable, given his principled position on the matter.
The coming months will be crucial not only for a UPFA government that is seeking to re-establish its credibility in the eyes of the international community but also for Patali Champika Ranawaka who may be compelled to change the course of his political journey once again.