Split within UNP inevitable?
Posted on September 14th, 2019

Editorial Courtesy Ceylon Today

Last week saw United National Party (UNP) members aligning themselves into two camps – one supporting its long-time leader, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the other backing Party’s Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa.

Premadasa had been far from being subtle when it comes to his desire to contest the upcoming Presidential Election on the UNP ticket.

 He started his campaign fairly early on, with the backing of a number of Party strongmen. 

Yet, his plans were somewhat scuttled when Party Leader Wickremesinghe also expressed the desire to contest the Presidential Election, during a meeting with a few of his loyalists.

However, the last week was abuzz with the expectation of the two leaders meeting and the much-touted talks were finally held on Tuesday (10) night at Temple Trees, but unfortunately for the Party, the talks ended without a concrete agreement on the issues at hand. The discussion that began at 9:50 p.m. had ended a mere one hour later.

Premadasa, however, told the media later that further discussions will be held and a candidate, who can lead the Party to victory at the next Presidential Election as well as next year’s General Election, will be earmarked soon.

He added that he is optimistic about the outcome of the discussions.

However, unsurprisingly to many, on the following day, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe had reportedly held a secret meeting with a number of UNP Working Committee and Parliamentary Group members loyal to him.

 Several Party leaders had participated in this meeting on the invitation of the Premier and UNP General Secretary, Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam.

The meeting took place from 8 p.m. to midnight where they had reportedly evaluated the loyalties of all Parliamentarians and Working Committee Members of the Party.

According to internal political sources, it had been discussed at length that there is still a chance for the Premier to win the majority of the Parliamentary Group and the Working Committee and the steps that should be taken towards this end.

Furthermore, they had spoken about three MPs that are allegedly on the side of UNP Deputy Leader, Minister Sajith Premadasa. The Premier had allegedly said that those three MPs had gone beyond their limits and that they will be dealt with accordingly in time.  

The sources said that Leader of the House, Minister Lakshman Kiriella, Ministers Daya Gamage, Navin Dissanayake, and Ravi Karunanayake had participated in the meeting.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had repeatedly emphasized that the leader who protected the Party during trying times, should be the one to contest the upcoming Presidential Election.

Wickremesinghe is apparently quite confident in his victory if he decides to come to the fray and highlighted his long political career during which he had held numerous positions.

 However, he had also stressed that at the age of 70, he is not hesitant to hang up his hat and quit politics after long years of service to the Party.

While meeting a group of UNP members from the Biyagama and Kelaniya electorates Wickremesinghe had launched into a description of his long years of political career and reminisced on how he took over the Party leadership at a time when its leaders passed away one after another and how he resurrected the Party during difficult times. He had also stressed that it was his duty to ensure victory for the alliance to be set up under his leadership.

In another surprising move, last week Premadasa met President Maithripala Sirisena’s brother, business tycoon Dudley Sirisena, in secret. 

The focus of the meeting was apparently to gain the Sri Lanka Freedom Party’s support to Premadasa, in the event he does not receive candidacy from the UNP or in the event leaders of the UNF or DNF which is to be formed under UNP leadership, refrain from supporting his candidacy.

Whatever happens in the next few weeks, and whoever wins the bid to contest the upcoming Presidential Election, cracks have already appeared within the once formidable United National Party. 

If the leaders are not able to get their act together and unite for the sake of their Party and its future, it is inevitable that the Party that produced the first Prime Minister of Independent Ceylon, will be splintered into at least two groups.

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