Death knell for Ranil

By Munza Mushtaq
The leadership battle in the crisis ridden United National Party (UNP) is set to explode in the coming weeks, with a rigid Ranil Wickremesinghe unexpected to make any moves to please some of his party members who are demanding his immediate resignation.

However, an equally adamant group – led by several seniors of the likes of Lakshman Seneviratne, Johnston Fernando, Jayalath Jayawardena and Thalatha Atukorale – has threatened to launch a campaign to ensure his removal from the party.
During a meeting on Friday evening with Wickremesinghe, Parliamentarian Johnston Fernando had warned the UNP Leader that he and his group were like “suicide bombers,” ready to fight for the good of the party.

He had added that even in the event Wickremesinghe sacked him and the other vociferous members from the party, they would fight to ensure his removal from the UNP leadership.

At the meeting, the group – comprising Fernando, Seneviratne, Jayawardena, Atukorale and Indika Bandara – had instead proposed that Wickremesinghe should hold a position similar to that of India’s Congress Leader Sonia Gandhi, but that it should be a powerless position.

However, it is learnt that Wickremesinghe had not responded to any of the calls positively and had instead told the group that he would look after them well with ministerial positions once the party won an election.

The group had then retorted that as long as Wickremesinghe led the party, it would not win any election, and asserted that past records were proof of this.
“The party needs a change; we have been very faithful to Ranil Wickremesinghe, we have protected him in the past during other crises, but today he has to step down if the party is to survive and perform. We have made it clear that we will fight until he makes way for a new face as the party leader,” party front-liner Fernando told The Nation yesterday.

He was of the opinion that Wickremesinghe should move out and let party strongmen Rukman Senanayake, S.B. Dissanayake and Sajith Premadasa take over its leadership.

“There are rumours that we are going to join the government. This is utterly false. We are not looking for a party change. We are only looking for a party leadership change. Some interested parties are attempting to shift the attention from the crisis by creating false rumours,” Fernando noted.

At the meeting, the group had also challenged Wickremesinghe on how he hoped to win elections if he decided to remain in his post. In response, the UNP Leader had pointed out that he had brought in many new faces such as popular actor Ranjan Ramanayake and Major General Janaka Perera, who amassed a large number of preferential votes at last Saturday’s election.

However, the group had pointed out that there was no point in them performing well if the hierarchy was not performing well.
They had also said that most new faces had a tendency of coming and going from the party, which would not help the UNP in any way.

“If a vote is called for, Wickremesinghe will stand no chance even within the party. So why should such a person be the leader?” the UNP MP queried.
“He has no option but to leave, we are going to bring in amendments to the Party Constitution after we get approval, then we can move him out from the party,” Fernando said.

“We will do everything possible to ensure he resigns,” Fernando added. The group, which apparently has the backing of some 27 UNP Parliamentarians, intends to hold close door discussions in the coming days to discuss the amendments that should be brought in.

If Ranil goes, rebels might return

UNP rebel turned Government Minister Rajitha Senaratne has disclosed that his group was willing to enter into a dialogue with a new UNP leadership to discuss a possible return. “We have always wanted Ranil Wickremesinghe out. If he does leave and if a new leader is appointed, then, yes, we are ready to discuss a possible return to the UNP,” Minister Senaratne told The Nation.