Patali Champika Ranawaka (PCR) is Aiming at Presidency?

Patali Champika Ranawaka (PCR) is Aiming at Presidency?

The Academy of Political Science

                   PCR is something we are familiar with these days as it is a common Covid 19 related term. However, this blog is about a different PCR and that is Patali Chamipka Ranawaka (P.C.R.) Patali Champika Ranawaka is a graduate of the University of Moratuwa and he is an electrical engineer. He entered in to the Sri Lankan political spotlight in late 1990's, although his active political career runs all way back to early 80's. He was a member of JVP at a time where Sri Lankan politics were in violent chaos. However, he managed to survive extreme political violence in 1980's unlike many of his colleagues and made it to the 90's.
My earliest memory of Patali is that seeing him as an activist in Sihala Urumaya in the General Election of 2000. As the first mainstreamed Sinhala Buddhist ethnic based party of Sri Lanka, Sihala Urumaya had a huge social hype during that time and I recall witnessing this as a 9 year old at that time.
Patali was a frontrunner in that party and somehow found his way into the parliament as well. After the unoffical death of the shortly hyped up Sihala Urumaya, the Sinhala Buddhist based party 2.0, Jathika Hela Urumaya was formed with a better and an effective structure which secured 9 seats in the parliament in 2004. Patali was one of the master minds behind this political transformation. This was the starting point for Patali as well as for Jathika Hela Urumaya to became one of the most important decisive factors in Sri Lankan politics.
The victory of Mahinda Rajapakse in 2005 was an important landmark in Sri Lankan politics. If that election was won by Ranil Wickremesinghe, the entire country would have been quite reasonably different by today. People may disagree whether that difference would be good or bad, yet everyone should agree it definitely would have been different.
The important point here is that, Patali and his party played a key role behind the victory of Rajapakse, as well as sustaining Rajapakse's unstable government during the peak years of the war. His support assured a comfortable win for Rajapakse in 2010 as well.
The victory of Maithripala Sirisena is 2015 was definitely a surprising win by a clear underdog. The Rajapakse's rule appeared to be invincible and unchallengeable yet Sirisena managed to defeat him in the election comprehensively. Strangely, while most of the typical Rajapakse oriented politicians stuck with the Rajapakses and ended up in the losing camp, Patali and his supporters switched sides quite early and made a risky yet (turned out to be) a smart move.
It somehow appeared as if Patali always knew better and he could not get a decision wrong in politics. However as the Ranil-Maithri Yahapalana (Good Governance) government turned out to be a disappointing political story, the camp soon started losing momentum and eventually ended up in the losing side yet again. As a result Champika ended up in the losing camp after years of being a part of the victorious side.
2019 Presidential Election was important for various reasons and one of those reasons was that, the long awaited political personality Sajith Premadasa finally got his shot at the big league after being on the bench for more than a decade. It was painfully obvious that he still had resistance inside the party with the UNP leader Ranil and his camp even throughout the election campaign. Under this circumstances, Patali became a decisive factor yet again as he held the unofficial co pilot position in Sajith's campaign in the practical absence of Ranil. Although Sajith agreed to appoint Ranil as the Prime Minister in case he wins, many were predicting that Patali would be his Prime Minister.
However, as Sajith could not win the Presidential election, the Parliamentary election of 2020 became his next target. This time however, the friction inside UNP was finally erupted as Sajith and his group left UNP to form the SJB. In this new political alliance, Patali's role was even more prominent as he was the leader of Jathika Hela Urumaya and he was the apparent second in command behind Sajith.
However, Patali faced an unexpected setback in this election which caught him off guard. And I am certainly not talking about his party losing the parliamentary election, as it did not come as a shocker to anyone. The loss was pretty much handled well by SJB as they anticipated that. The SJB was in fact quite happy and satisfied to see almost the entire UNP vote base following SJB in the election. Hence Patali was definitely not shaken by the election loss.
The real shocker for Patali was his failure to make an impact in the preferential votes list. As SJB received 6 seats from Colombo, only 6 candidates were chosen to the parliament. Sajith topped the list as expected and many minority candidates were boarded since minorities in Colombo largely voted for SJB. However, despite being boarded in the list, Patali only managed to be the 5th behind many mediocre names. This was an unexpected result as he was considered as the second in command behind Sajith.
In my opinion, Patali had a setback mostly due to his lack of popularity among the minorities. His political campaigns were almost entirely Sinhala Buddhist based as he was the leader of Jathika Hela Urumaya. Until 2015 his preferential votes were always secured as whatever the alliance he was a part of, had Sinhala Buddhist voters. However in 2020, his alliance was mostly supported by Tamils and Muslims where he was not largely known as a political figure.
Patali recently resigned from his position in Jathika Hela Urumaya with the intention of taking up the position of deputy leader in SJB. Which suggests that he may have realized the fact that being inside JHU restricts his capacity to reach out to minorities. It also suggests that possibly he has already initiated his plan to reach out to a bigger community and possibly go bigger in scope... perhaps President!
At the position Sajith and SJB are in right now, thinking about winning a presidential election seems a little too optimistic. Yet, Patali has a right to be optimistic as much as he seems good enough. Also, it is inevitable for any government to gradually lose popularity (as the history shows) hence a new face would always have an edge in an election. It is a matter of Patali and SJB managing to succefully capitalisng on that. Additionally, most of the political parties of Sri Lanka tend to lack a second layer of leaders, which could very well result in a shortage of potential leaders. That may provide an ideal platform for someone like Patali to take the stage and take shot at Presidency.
However, reaching out to minorities would not be his only challenge if he plans to go this road. Firstly, it should be noted that for Sri Lanka, the next few years are going to be tough as the Covid 19 pendemic would leave many financial troubles before going away. Patali will have a huge challenge to have a proper policy paper to tackle such issues, also he should be able to convince the public that his policies are better than the policies of the current government. secondly, the fact that Sajith being the leader and him still expecting to be the President himself at one point makes things even more complicated. This means that either Sajith should make way for Patali or Patali will have be in the queue as the Prime Minister until Sajith is done with Presidency. Thirdly, since the current government may have already sensed him as a potential threat, they may prepare themselves before hand. Which means that he would be a prime target of the government and his political mistakes will be attacked severely. Hence, it is going to necessary for him to be extremely careful in the game of politics for a long time.
I myself personally is not a supporter of Patali, nor I'm against him. (In fact as a Political Science teacher I am a very neutral political person which helps me to see things as they are with no prejudice.) I simply wanted to share my thoughts as I have observed this person closely in the recent few years. Also, if this person ever runs for President, (Irrespective of him winning or losing) I would want to share this blog on that day and be like "I predicted this years ago, on the Christmas day of 2020" :D


• 6 mins read

• December 25 2020