PM Ranil’s quarter century leadership challenged as UNP crisis deepens
Posted on August 3rd, 2019

GAGANI WEERAKOON Courtesy Ceylon Today

The cold war prevailing between the two camps within the United National Party (UNP) reached volcanic proportions with Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa’s camp openly challenging Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who is holding onto the leadership for over quarter century, at a crucial Working Committee meeting held on Thursday (1), to deliberate on the proposed alliance.


The argument arose with Party’s Chairman Kabir Hashim opposing the idea, when UNP Leader Wickremesinghe sought a mandate of the Working Committee to launch the alliance on Monday (5), as planned without giving time for the members to study the content of the proposed alliance constitution.


The draft of the constitution of the UNP-led alliance, named the Democratic National Front (DNF), was ultimately passed  by the UNP Working Committee, led by Prime Minister Wickremesinghe at Temple Trees.


The UNP Working Committee comprises 77 members. However, only 42 members were present for yesterday’s meeting. Of them, 35 members voted for the constitution of the new alliance.


Seven UNP Members, including UNP Deputy Leader and Minister Sajith Premadasa, UNP Chairman and Minister Kabir Hashim and Ministers Mangala Samaraweera, Malik Samarawickrama, Ranjith Madduma Bandara and Thalatha Atukorale, voted against the constitution.


UNP National Organiser and Minister Navin Dissanayake, Minister John Amaratunga and Parliamentarian Dr. Kavinda Jayawardena had emphasised the importance of forming the proposed alliance.


Ministers Sujeewa Senasinghe and Eran Wickremeratne expressed their strong opposition to the formation of the new alliance, a UNP Working Committee Member told Ceylon Today. It is also reported that Wickremesinghe reprimanded Minister Ajith P. Perera, who expressed strong views in this connection.


Minister Eran Wickremeratne has lamented that the Wickremesinghe, who in 2001 made him (Eran) to meet LTTE’s Thamilselvan to talk about values of democracy, is depriving his own party from practicing democracy.


UNP Members who opposed the constitution had stressed that the Party’s Presidential candidate for the forthcoming Presidential Poll must be nominated prior to forming the alliance.


Speaking at the Working Committee meeting, Premadasa had stated that he would not oppose the formation of the new alliance if he was appointed as the General Secretary of the alliance.


Wickremesinghe instructed Party members to submit any amendments to the new alliance’s constitution to Hashim.


UNP General Secretary and Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam said, the new alliance will be formed without delay, and that the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), on forming the new alliance, would be signed with amendments on 5 August. The majority in the Working Committee agreed to sign the MoU on 5 August, he added.


Meanwhile, Non-Cabinet Minister of Economic Reforms and Public Distribution, Dr. Harsha de Silva, took to Twitter to say that the Working Committee unanimously agreed to build an Alliance, but did not -agree on its proposed constitution.


He added that it has been decided to reconvene discussions after the leaders of the constituent parties agree on the amendments, and that no agreement has been reached yet on the date of the launch.


The objectives of the Front are to foster and protect national independence, safeguard unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity, to uphold and honour the principles of democracy and fundamental human rights and to protect and promote democratic rights and conventions.


Meanwhile, a group of UNP Ministers are planning to boycott the inauguration of a new political alliance slated for 5 August, if the UNP leadership decides to go ahead with its registration sans sorting out the thorny issues, informed sources said.


A few of the Ministers who spoke on condition of anonymity said that currently there were serious disagreements between UNP Parliamentarians on the proposed constitution of the DNF.


They said that any decision taken by the UNP hierarchy to register the DNF without effecting the necessary amendments to its constitution will result in the majority of Ministers boycotting the DNF inauguration which is scheduled to be held in Colombo.


Leader of the House and Minister Lakshman Kiriella asserted that the registration of the DNF will go ahead as planned on 5 August under the aegis of Party Leader and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. He averred that already a dialogue has been initiated among party leaders of the UNF relating to the proposed amendments to the constitution of the DNF. Kiriella added that neither the UNP Ministers nor its supporters should be unduly concerned about the constitution of the DNF and insisted that the steering wheel will be in the hands of the UNP.

 He further pointed out that not only will Wickremesinghe head the DNF, but its Leadership Council will also be made up of the majority of UNP MPs. He explained that, therefore, the public should not entertain any undue fears that the UNP will be forced to play second fiddle to other political parties within the DNF.


 In the meantime, Ministers Kabir Hashim and Ajith P. Perera have both submitted proposals to Wickremesinghe demanding that he amends the DNF constitution. They have also demanded that the Secretary of the DNF should be from the UNP, while the Party’s Head Office should be ‘Sirikotha’ which is the UNP Headquarters. Among the other requests made to the Party Leader by the duo were that the UNP leadership be given the power to take decisions from within the DNF and that the person chosen to run for President should have his or her candidacy approved by the UNP’s  Working Committee and its Parliamentary Group.


No one will be allowed to hijack the UNP when appointing the Presidential candidate for the forthcoming Presidential election, Minister Senasinghe has said recently.


He claimed that the UNP Working Committee had not granted approval for the formation of the DNF which comprises several recognised political parties even though several UNP sources had said that the approval was granted.


“The UNP leadership was seeking approval for forming the DNF but several members of the Working Committee including myself pointed out that approval can’t be granted for an unseen Constitution. Then the proposal to sign the MoU for the DNF was postponed because the proposal was not duly approved by the Working Committee,” he said.


He added that the UNP should hold the post of Secretary of the NDF, as the UNP is the key party to the alliance. Besides, the alliance headquarters should be “Sirikotha,” but with the draft, the NDF Secretary may come from another political party,” he said.


The disagreement between the two parties erupted mainly due to Wickremesinghe proposing Minister Rajitha Senaratne as General Secretary of the alliance and Minister Patali Champika Ranawake to the post of National Organiser.


Meanwhile, Leaders who represent ethnic minority parties including Ministers Rauff Hakeem, Rishad Bathiudeen, P. Digambaram and Mano Ganesan have also pointed out to PM Wickremesinghe that key posts of the alliance should remain with the UNP. It was also reported that they also spoke in favour of Premadasa’s candidacy as they also prefer a UNP candidate.


However, following the Working Committee meeting, it is learnt that the UNP leadership and his allies may give a serious thought to naming Speaker Karu Jayasuriya as its presidential candidate. The decision to appoint Jayasuriya appears the wisest option in hand as he is from the UNP and would be able to appeal to the Sinhala Buddhist vote; a vote base that UNP has thus far failed to achieve. Jayasuriya’s candidacy may also be able to split the Sinhala Buddhist majority vote that would ideally be drawn to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s camp.


Meanwhile, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) last week said, they are likely to decide on their presidential candidate at the party convention to be held on 2 September, insisting they prefer to wait until candidates from the United National Party (UNP) and Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) are named first.
The DNF is scheduled to be formed on 5 August under the leadership of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and the SLPP will hold their maiden Party Convention on 11 August to name their Presidential candidate.


Speaking to media at the SLFP Headquarters, United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) General Secretary Mahinda Amaraweera said, “We expect to take several crucial decisions during the convention to decide the future of the party. All these decisions will be taken with the approval of Party Members. Therefore, this will be a very productive convention, as we are going to follow a bottom-up approach to decide on the plans of the Party.”


He noted, the Convention will give a new message to the country on how to work according to democratic values, and to listen to ideas of the Members to decide the future of the Party. He said the Party was not in a hurry to name their presidential candidate, or make a call on how to contest upcoming elections. Meanwhile, SLFP National Organiser MP Duminda Dissanayake said they would observe activities of their rival political parties before making a final call on their presidential candidate and plans.  â€œWe are eagerly waiting to see what will happen on 5 August and 11 August before taking a final decision. This will enable us to take a more dynamic decision, which works better for us,” Dissanayake said.


Referring to the Executive Presidency, Amaraweera noted he would back the abolishing of the Executive Presidency, and in his view that can be done before the Presidential Election, if all parties join together.


“This is the best chance to abolish the Executive Presidency. Some argue the Executive Presidency is essential for national security, and the war ended under the leadership of an Executive Presidency, but the conflict started after the Executive Presidency was introduced. Therefore, I do not see any legitimate reason to think the Executive Presidency is essential for national security,” he argued.


Amaraweera noted if the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) does not present the 20th Amendment to abolish the Executive Presidency, he would present a Private Member’s Bill to abolish the Executive Presidency.


He noted that the SLFP had decided to seek the Supreme Court’s opinion on holding Provincial Council Elections before the Presidential Election. According to Amaraweera, that was to prevent any delays of Provincial Council Polls.


“Only a few weeks ago, Elections Commission Chairman Mahinda Deshapriya announced the possibility of holding Provincial Council Polls before the Presidential Election. Under these circumstances, if the President does not go before the Supreme Court and at least try to hold the Provincial Council Elections then the public will point the finger at us and say it was our fault the Provincial Council Polls were delayed. We are planning to go before Court to avoid such accusations,” he added.    


On the other hand, a group of party organisers last week in the presence of SLFP General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekara requested President Maithripala Sirisena to remove Southern Province Governor Keerthi Tennakoon and Central Province Governor Maithri Gunaratne from their respective posts. President Sirisena has promised them to solve the matter before Monday (5) and it was in the midst of this that reports emerged to the effect Uva Province Governor Marshall Perera handing over his letter of resignation owing to personal reasons. Central Province Governer Maithri Gunaratne also tendered his letter of resignation to the Presidential Secretariat last afternoon.


Basil the Mason


National Organiser of the SLPP Basil Rajapaksa met a group of journalists at a star-class hotel in Colombo last week where journalists asked him about SLPP’s preparations for the Presidential Election and the planned National Convention to be held in a few days. At this point Basil Rajapaksa had turned to Prasanna Ranatunga and asked as to where his invitation card for the Convention is. Prasanna had responded saying “Sir, you are the mason who is building this house. Why do you need a special invitation?”


To this, Rajapaksa has said that he too fears whether he will face the same fate that every mason goes through. When puzzled journalists and Ranatunga asked as to what he meant he responded, “Well, the owners and everybody seek mason’s advice and assistance from the time the foundation was laid till the roof is completed. But on the day of housewarming, the mason becomes nobody and he even has to enter the house from the back door.”  


When journalists asked him whether it is confirmed Gotabaya Rajapaksa being SLPP candidate Basil said it is going to be a surprise and will be revealed only at the National Convention.


Meanwhile, a special discussion is to be chaired by Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa to seek necessary approval to the new draft Constitution formulated for the Sri Lanka Podujana Ekabaddha Peramuna (Sri Lanka People’s Joint Front) on 6 August, SLPP sources said.


United People’s Freedom Alliance Parliamentarian Dullas Alahapperuma said that this discussion will be attended by all Party leaders representing the Joint Opposition (JO) and MPs from the SLPP.


He said that an initial draft Constitution of the Front has already been given to Party leaders of the JO and added that if they have further proposals and suggestions to be accommodated in the draft Constitution they could do so at the discussion.


The MP said, the current draft Constitution of the Front has already been formulated having taken on board the suggestions submitted by Party leaders of the JO and SLPP MPs.

 GAGANI WEERAKOON 02:00 AM Aug 04 2019

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