The Guard Post: What Did Happen to Sajith?
Posted on December 7th, 2019

By Udaya P. Gammanpila Courtesy Ceylon Today

“This is my last chance. My very first opportunity was sacrificed for Srima. The last two were sacrificed for Fonseka and Sirisena on the request of the party. I have been patiently waiting for this opportunity for the last 10 years; please don’t grab it from me.”

This was the plea made by UNP Leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, which however, received an unexpected response from his party colleagues. The vast majority said in unison that Sajith should be the Presidential Candidate instead of Ranil. To his surprise, even his childhood friend, Malik Samarawickrema, ideological friend, Mangala Samaraweera, and disciples he groomed, such as Harsha De Silva and Eran Wickremaratne had joined this bandwagon.


When die-hard Ranil loyalists decided to back Sajith’s candidacy, Ranil reluctantly agreed with the majority. The vast majority of the UNP backed Sajith instead of Ranil, believing in his capacity to defeat Gotabaya. However, the reality was far from their imagination.

 Although Ranil was able to obtain 43 per cent in 1999 and 48 per cent in 2005, Sajith was able to obtain only 42 per cent of the votes, behind his rival by 10 per cent, or 1.3 million votes.

The UNP should now take stock and find the cause for this humiliating defeat. A strong opposition is essential for a functioning democracy. Hence, here is the perspective of a person who has not only contributed to planning the defeat, but also to executing the plan.

When the Presidential Election was announced, the UNP was in such a state that nobody was able to make it victorious. As I said in the campaign, if the five giants of the UNP – namely, D.S., Dudley, Sir John, J.R. and Premadasa – became one person and contested the election, the UNP would not have defeated Gotabaya. There were two reasons.

Unprecedented low

Firstly, the UNP’s popularity has touched an unprecedented low. Since the causes for this pathetic situation have been discussed at length, the limited space of this column will not be used to repeat the same. The classic evidence in this regard is the results of the 2018 Local Authority Elections. No government in the post-independent history has faced a defeat at a LA election.  

However, the UNP’s defeat was humiliating. It was able to receive only 29 per cent of votes. Several coalition partners of the UNF had obtained another 2 per cent by contesting independently, increasing it to 31 per cent.  Hence, the UNP commenced its campaign already 19 per cent behind the winning point of 50 per cent.

When the UNP was struggling to choose a candidate, the JVP, its coalition partner in the 2010 and 2015 Presidential Elections, announced the candidacy of its leader, denying a 6 per cent vote chunk to the UNP. With a vote bank of 6 per cent, the TNA could increase the UNP candidate’s votes to 37 per cent. 

Accordingly, the UNP candidate was to commence his campaign at 13 per cent behind the winning point.

There was no single incident after the LA elections that contributed to reducing the 13 per cent gap. Instead, there were a large number of incidents that further eroded the UNP vote bank. 

The Easter Sunday attack caused by the Government’s negligence, the alleged protection of terrorists by politicians, the collapse of the economy, the gas scarcity, the medicine scarcity and the piling garbage dumps throughout the country – all reflecting a lack of administrative skills by the Government – were prominent among those.

Secure support

In contrast, the SLPP, having received 42% at the LA election, was able to secure the support of the SLFP, which obtained 14% at the same election. Their cumulative vote bank was 56%, surpassing the winning point by 6%.  Accordingly, the SLPP candidate commenced the campaign with +6%, whereas the UNP candidate commenced it with -13%.

Secondly, the SLPP had fielded the strongest possible candidate available in the country. National security became number-one on the national agenda in the post-Easter Sunday attack era. In this backdrop, the SLPP nominated Gotabaya Rajapaksa (GR), who spearheaded the military campaign to defeat LTTE terrorism. Further, when there was a trend to reject all 225 parliamentarians, GR posed the ideal solution, as he had never been in Parliament.  

GR had another advantage: Mahinda’s defeat in 2015 was a direct result of him being deserted by the Sinhala middle class. Realising this, GR attracted them through Buddhist monks, nationalist organisations and Viyath Maga. Since GR was not a part of Mahinda’s defeated Government, they had no hesitation to embrace him as their new hope. He was only an officer, not a politician in Mahinda’s Government.

Biggest threat

The UNP had identified GR as their biggest future threat. That is why it launched an operation to hunt GR within its first month in power by taking the Avant Garde ship into custody.

 Although the Government had commenced 17 investigations against GR, he was able to clear his name in people’s minds by responding to all allegations with documentary evidence through his friends.

In the light of the above, had R. Premadasa – Sajith’s father – or D.S. Senanayake – father of the UNP – contested the last Presidential Election, they would not have defeated GR. In a cricket match, the star batsman enters the ground after loss of the first wicket. If the first wicket falls in bad light conditions, a night watchman will be sent instead of the star batsman to save him for the future.

The UNP’s star batsman was Sajith, with big political hopes placed on him. The UNP showed its shallow political understanding by sending Sajith into the field when the UNP was surrounded by darkness. Accordingly, the fundamental reason for Sajith’s defeat was committing political harakiri by grabbing the candidature from Ranil when the conditions were extremely unfavourable to the UNP.  The other reasons for Sajith’s defeat will be discussed in forthcoming weeks.

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