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This is my Nation


 SB raring to go

Just before Jayasuriya’s return to the UNP, reforms aimed at ‘democratising’ the party proposed the appointment of a Deputy Leader and an Assistant Leader, and again Dissanayake was in the fray along with Sajith Premadasa. Some would even argue that Jayasuriya’s return to the UNP was facilitated at high-speed because of just that. Now, Dissanayake has his work cut out: he has to prove that he is no idle boast, by winning the Central Provincial Council, and he has to joust with Jayasuriya if he wishes to become number two in the UNP hierarchy. Given the age difference between Jayasuriya and Dissanayake, there is still hope for the ex-SLFPer, but he would prefer his turn to come sooner rather than later

Sumansekera Banda Dissanayake is a resolute man and just last week, he showed why.
Dissanayake, ‘SB’ to all and sundry, challenged the removal of his name from the electoral register in courts and the Supreme Court ordered that it be restored. Ironically, it is the same court which earlier punished him for contempt of court and sentenced him to two years imprisonment.

But what exactly are the implications of the court verdict? How will the re-entry of S.B. Dissanayake to terra firma alter the political landscape? Can the man who once engineered the fall of a government of which he was an integral part of, do it again?
The immediate impact is clear. As Dissanayake himself declared shortly after the verdict, it would make him eligible to contest the Central Provincial Council election which is slated to be held early next year. His party, the United National Party (UNP), has already declared that he will be the Chief Ministerial Candidate.

This in itself will be a challenge for Dissanayake. Never one to hide his sentiments - and often in trouble for speaking his mind -Dissanayake has been saying that he appeals to the grassroots of the UNP, and claims that he can easily identify with the ‘common man’. Now, he has an opportunity to match his words with his deeds.

Strategy

So far, the ruling United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance has won all the Provincial Council elections it has contested: in the Eastern, North Central and Sabaragamuwa provinces. The UNP responded to the polls with a strategy of appointing high-profile candidates as the chief ministerial aspirants: Rauf Hakeem in the East, the late Janaka Perera in the North Central province and film star Ranjan Ramanayake in Sabaragamuwa - but they all lost.

By casting Dissanayake as the Chief Ministerial candidate for the Central Province, the UNP is continuing with this same strategy. And Dissanayake will be the highest-profile Chief Ministerial candidate to contest a Provincial Poll, since Chandrika Kumaratunge contested at the Western Provincial Council election to mark her re-entry to national politics, in a campaign that was managed by none other than Dissanayake himself.

That Dissanayake is contesting from his native Central Province is also a factor. Unlike Sabaragamuwa and the North Central province, the Central province has been a traditional UNP stronghold until a few years ago. The UNP has produced leaders of national standing such as D.B. Wijetunge, Gamini Dissanayake and E.L. Senanayake from this region and they all carried with them a traditional support base which still exists, and which Dissanayake will be able to draw on. But in so doing he would have to take on the might of the ruling party.

What would be more interesting in the longer term would be to observe Dissanayake’s fortunes in the party which he has chosen to migrate to, the UNP. Many ‘old timers’ in the UNP still see Dissanayake as an ‘outsider’- someone whose heart and soul is still in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

In fact, there is still a school of thought within the UNP that Dissanayake is enjoying the best of both worlds: being in the UNP while benefiting from the goodwill of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. They claim Dissanayake will abandon the UNP at just the right time for him, and query as to why the President would otherwise pardon and release a political opponent from jail when he has the potential to become a potent political rival to the President himself.

Dissanayake obviously feels differently. He believes he has done more than most UNPers to deserve recognition by the UNP: he brought about the fall of the Chandrika Kumaratunge regime, and forced upon her an election that brought the United National Front (UNF) into power. And, for championing the UNP’s cause albeit indiscreetly, he served a prison sentence too.
In a strange co-incidence, the restoration of Dissanayake’s name to the electoral register came just a few days after the return of former Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya to the UNP. Although this would appear to be a double blessing for the UNP at first glance, there are more ramifications than that.

In the period that Jayasuriya was out of favour with the UNP and a member of the Mahinda Rajapaksa Cabinet, there was furious jockeying for the Deputy Leadership of the UNP and S.B. Dissanayake was one of the front runners. What kept him from challenging his rivals head on, was the loss of his parliamentary seat and the uncertainty over his eligibility to hold high political office, a factor which has been sorted out now.

Just before Jayasuriya’s return to the UNP, reforms aimed at ‘democratising’ the party proposed the appointment of a Deputy Leader and an Assistant Leader, and again Dissanayake was in the fray along with Sajith Premadasa. Some would even argue that Jayasuriya’s return to the UNP was facilitated at high-speed because of just that. Now, Dissanayake has his work cut out: he has to prove that he is no idle boast, by winning the Central Provincial Council, and he has to joust with Jayasuriya if he wishes to become number two in the UNP hierarchy. Given the age difference between Jayasuriya and Dissanayake, there is still hope for the ex-SLFPer, but he would prefer his turn to come sooner rather than later.

But, as he has shown time and again, Sumanasekera Banda Dissanayake is a ferocious political animal. Kept on a leash for a long time, he must surely be raring to go. And that portends interesting times ahead not only for Dissanayake himself, but for the UNP too.

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