With the government on an all-time high after the cessation of the war with the LTTE in 2009, the UNP along with Ranil have had to bide their time. This period has not been without its own crisis and turmoil given the many UNPers who crossed over to the government due to the ruthless political pressures exerted on the members of the Opposition by the Rajapakse regime as well as to serve their personal financial interests. One of the crucial ways in which the Rajapakse regime kept the Opposition occupied and demoralized was through dispersed and fragmented elections at the Provincial and Local Government levels – creating the impression that the UNP had suffered a vast number of election losses.
Ranil has had to circumvent the criticism and challenges to his distinctive brand of leadership from party dissidents, challengers and malcontents – some of whom have been spurred by shadowy adversaries outside the mainstream of politics. Yet, the bulk of the UNP has always stood with him. Despite the vile, highly personal, relentless attacks on him by several power-hungry media moghuls and their minions spanning several years, which may have devastated a lesser man, Ranil has shown an incredible aptitude for courage, tolerance and ‘maithriya’ towards those who revile and undermine him. Even more amazingly, the love and support that he commands from the people have never waned. In fact, in recent times, it seems to be mounting.
Contrary to the propaganda spread by the People’s Alliance constructed around Ranil’s reserved personality, Ranil keeps in touch with his people. Despite not possessing a dissembling, ever-ready grin and notwithstanding his always engrossed temperament, he has followers and admirers and supporters from Sinhala paddy farmers in Maha Oya to Tamil school teachers in Jaffna, from Muslim women in Colombo Central to fisher folk in Kirinde, from Pettah pavement traders to women entrepreneurs in Kandy and school children in Uppuvelli.
This support has been demonstrated whenever he mobilized the people, for instance, through the Jana Bala Meheuma against the highhanded actions of President Chandrika Kumaratunge (from Dewundara to Colombo and again, from Kandy to Colombo); it has also been in evidence in a spontaneous deluge of people who accompanied his vehicle on foot from Katunayake to Colombo when President Kumaratunge unjustly took over the ministries of Defence, Internal Security and the Media in 2003 during his absence from the country (it took Ranil seven hours to reach Colombo). Unwilling to veer from the democratic path at any cost, he did not use the ‘people power’ available to him at the time to confront President Kumaratunge, which, would have inevitably led to violence. Such support stems from the people’s faith in his honesty and his sincere efforts to fulfil their ground needs and aspirations.
Always a pragmatic strategist, Ranil has preferred to keep a low political profile during the last few years – especially in the face of the unprecedented, blind, goodwill enjoyed by the Rajapakse regime until recently – in spite of Rajapakse’s corrupt, despotic and persecutory rule. While this stance has been interpreted and condemned by many political analysts as fear, ineptitude, political favour and bribery, for Ranil, such inaction has always been a deliberate strategy designed to give him the advantage of emerging fresh and rejuvenated to defeat a stale and corrupt incumbent together with the mounting opposition forces to Rajapakse.
Thus for him, the dark times of the last few years have been a time of waiting and learning – from the annals and cycles of history and experiences; keeping himself updated on front-line thinking on global economics and politics amidst worldwide changes; renewing contacts with regional political actors and the international political fora; touching the minds, if not the hearts of his people, waiting for the honour and the appropriate opportunity to lead his country again.
However, he has not been completely silent. When the Rajapakse regime killed the fisherman in Chillaw, he was there with the people.
When the Rajapkse regime terrorized the villagers after the Rathupassara killing, the first person in Weliweriya after the curfew was lifted the next morning was Ranil – in support of the people, denouncing the attack.
When it came to the recent attacks on the Muslim people in the Aluthgama / Beruwela region, Ranil visited the area, condemning the violence and speaking up for the rights of the Muslim people in Parliament.
“I pointed out that this simmering issue could have been sorted out quite simply and amicably if only the government had contacted the various chief priests in the area who were in touch with the Muslim communities.”