Ranil loses again: Sajith rejects Deputy Leadership
Posted on August 26th, 2010

H. L. D. Mahindapala

Ranil Wickremesinghe’s maneuvers to save his position as leader of the UNP by appointing Sajith Premadasa as his deputy and uniting the rival factions has backfired after the Reformist Group headed by Premadasa discovered that the leader was undercutting his deputy from day one of the agreement.

 Premadasa met Wickremesinghe last week after the Working Committee decided that both parties should have a one-to-one meeting to resolve their differences. Premadasa earlier had refused to meet Wickremesinghe one-to-one because he argued that Wickremesinghe cannot be trusted as he leaks distorted versions of one-to-one meetings to the media and to the party. But yielding to Working Committee pressures Premadasa agreed to meet him. At the one-to-one meeting held at Siri Kotha, UNP headquarters, it was agreed that the discussions would be confidential and neither party would reveal details.

 Contrary to the agreement Wickremesinghe did what he normally does: he undercut Premadasa by revealing his version to the Sunday Times Political Correspondent, Iqbal Athas. This report, suggesting that Premadasa went almost cap in hand begging for the position of Deputy Leader, appeared in last edition of the Sunday Times. Obviously, the story slanted to imply a Wickremesinghe victory could have come only from Wickremesinghe as there was no one else to leak any version of the meeting.

 UNPers reveal that Athas was summoned to meet Wickremesinghe at his Cambridge Terrace residence and the pro-Wickremesinghe newspaper ran the anti-Premadasa story.

Athas wrote that Premadasa had (1) gone for one-to-one talks with Wickremesinghe, breaking his earlier pledge not to have one-to-one talks with him, without mentioning that it was done at the behest of the Working Committee and (2) asked for the Deputy Leadership which Premadasa had never done because it was on record (even in the Times group of newspapers) that he always had insisted on the elective principle without getting hand-outs from Wickremesinghe. It is Wickremesinghe who had argued and worked against the elective principle. It is Wickremesinghe who had offered the Deputy Leadership to Premadasa to wall paper the damaging cracks in the UNP.

 Athas report was angled to project that Wickremesinghe had triumphed and that the reformist group led by Premadasa had “come a cropper”.(Quote-unquote). Wickremesinghe’s  fingerprints point to the fact that the pro-Wickremesinghe version of the meeting cold have come only from Wickremesinghe. Athas’s report appeared on Sunday morning confirming all the suspicions of Premadasa that Wickremesinghe could not be trusted and would undercut him at every given opportunity. 

 On Sunday night Premadasa walked into the meeting held by Karu Jayasuriya and bluntly rejected the offer of Deputy Leadership and told them that he would go his own way, doing his own thing at the grass root level as he has done before. He said that there will be no more one-to-one discussions or negotiations as the trust that has been built through the pressures of the Working Committee has been broken by Wickremesinghe. He accused Wickremesinghe of undercutting as usual and nothing fruitful will come out of being a nominal Deputy Leader with no powers.  He had told the Reformists that he was doubtful of being given any meaningful role to play in reorganizing the party to score significant victories.

 The rejection of the offer of Deputy Leadership and the refusal to enter into negotiations has now blasted Wickremesinghe’s hope of uniting the party under his leadership. He is back to square one. He was hoping to present a public image of having united the party — a goal which he has never achieved as leader. He was also hoping to go before the annual convention due to be held in December as the unanimous leader of the party.

 This formula was the only way he could have fronted up before the convention without getting booed by the grass root UNP activists. The Sunday Island reported that he is scared of going before the next annual convention as the rank and file rebelling against him would boo him. This would be a disaster for him and the party. No UNP leader has faced such a humiliation before. Some UNPers fear that Wickremesinghe’s failure to unite the party, which has been plagued with periodic divisions and defections of some leading UNPers, would be disastrous not only to him but to the party as well.

 The tactic of the Wickremesinghe wing is to plant disinformation in newspapers to paint a rosy picture for Wickremesinghe. But this is not going to change the attitude of the formidable Reformist Group which is prepared to battle at the grass root levels. Wickremesinghe is struggling to survive by manipulating his cronies at the top.  But it looks as if it is not going to work this time. In trying to undercut Premadasa he has cut the ground under his own feet and there is no one to blame for the latest failure except Wickremesinghe, according to leading UNPers. Besides, the Reformist movement with its grass root forces has gathered a momentum which would be difficult for those at the top to stop at this late stage. Even Dr. Jayalath Jayawardene had said that he will not be able to face his electorate if he opposes the move to include his grass root activists in the electoral process.

 The Reformist Group is now fighting back insisting on (1) the elective principle (2) democratizing the base of UNP electorate by including the activists in local government tiers and (3) decentralizing the control of the Colombo-based power elite dictating terms to the provinces.

 The Working Committee has passed the task of constitutional reforms to the Constitutional Committee headed by L. Marapane who is expected to present a report soon. Premadasa has presented a paper to this Committee suggesting that 10 per cent of the grass root activists should be given a place in the electoral college appointed to pick future leaders. UNPers concede that giving the right of vote to 1800 activists at local government levels would be unwieldy. The alternative proposed by Premadasa to have only 180 from the local governmental levels is considered a viable and fair compromise.

 The Reformist Group headed by Premadasa is doubtful whether this Constitutional Committee will produce a constitution that will unite the party. They are expecting a constitution that will keep Wickremesinghe in control which will deepen the crisis. They are also aware that a divided party will not be of much help to winning seats in the coming local government elections. Pointing to Wickremesinghe’s failure to win a single election in recent times the common UNP view is that he is no match to Mahinda Rajapakse “”…” at least not in the foreseeable future and not with a divided party that is waiting to boo its leader.

2 Responses to “Ranil loses again: Sajith rejects Deputy Leadership”

  1. dhane Says:

    Mr. Mahindapala you may be well aware [been Editor in Lake House Newspapers] how Ranil’s father Esmond ruined ANCL under his Chairmanship. Like father like son. Ranil will ruin UNP. Thanks to Praba boycotting 2005 Tamil votes Mahinda Rajapakse became the president of Sri Lanka and the country is saved now. Let RW be the head of UNP for ever and its good for Sri Lanka and to MR.

  2. Raj Says:

    I totally agree with dhane. Ranil should be the leader of UNP for ever.

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