leadership aspirant Sajith Premadasa intensified his
onslaught on the party hierarchy last week, firing a barrage
of accusations and opening up a new battlefront when the
crucial party convention was only a few weeks away.
Although changes are on the cards, the rebel group and
Premadasa were harbouring some doubts as to whether the
convention would take place as scheduled.
The rebel group discussed at length the possible options
available for the leadership to put off the convention and
cling on to power, of deciding the fate of the UNP.
sudden outburst of Premadasa was understandable, when he and
his followers realised that there are ways and means of
postponing the convention, citing party constitutional
Party stalwarts were, however, quite amused and perturbed by
the sudden outburst thinking that this could be a
pre-emptive measure to grab the party leadership come
December bears significance to the UNP since the annual
convention is scheduled to be held in December after
ratifying the constitutional amendments for party reforms at
the November Working Committee meeting.
However, political analysts have their qualms as to whether
Sajith is ready to take over at this point of time when the
party is undergoing tremendous difficulties, externally and
It is evident that the government is hell-bent on putting
the UNP on a flat spin for their own political advantage
while internal squabbles intensify by the day with callings
for reforms and drastic changes in the leadership.
Nevertheless, what is patently clear is that Sajith
Premadasa is throwing challenges, one after the other, at
the party leadership.
The party leadership in turn has managed to mitigate those
challenges where Premadasa ended up without any success, a
matter of sheer frustration for others who joined him with
the ambition of making the UNP a political party that could
make a difference. Yet, some others think he is in dilemma
whether to take over now or later, since he wants to lead
the party when it enters a winning binge.
The pertinent question is whether the time is right, or will
Sajith himself employ delaying tactics to the utter dismay
of the people around him, is a matter yet to be seen.
The new party constitution will not pave the way for
lifetime leaders and the leader as in the past has to pass
the test to get his appointment ratified by the party
No doubt, Premadasa is keen to grab the leadership, but
there are apprehensions on his part that it would spoil his
chances to be the executive president at the next possible
Premadasa’s latest attack on the leadership comes in the
wake of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe’s tour to Europe
where the latter met British Foreign Secretary William Hague
and later his meeting with Minister Erik Solheim, one-time
peace broker for Sri Lanka appointed by the Norwegian
Premadasa for some time now is making claims to the UNP
leadership on the ground that Ranil Wickremesinghe and the
other leaders at the helm of the UNP had failed to take the
party anywhere closer to victory.
There are questions raised about Premadasa’s claims to
the leadership besides his ability to lead the party.
The first question that arises is as to whether Premadasa
has put his mind and soul together to take the party to the
victory line in any of the recently concluded elections. The
answer given by the UNP is in the negative.
If the young Premadasa is following his father’s footsteps,
as being claimed by him, he then should set an example,
working closely with the present leadership and by being the
driving force behind the party to make it a more
people-friendly political entity as in the past.
As the stalwarts in the UNP see it, this is a
prerequisite before making claims for the leadership.
They cite the hard work and the examples set by his late
father President Ranasinghe Premadasa who had the patience
and at times expanded his tolerance limits before making his
claims for the leadership in the party.
It took many decades for his father to climb the ladder to
reach the top. Premadasa senior at first was a keen follower
of the late Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake and
subsequently played a pivotal role in winning the 1977
general election alongside J R Jayewardene and young leaders
at the time, such as Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith
This is not to say that Premadasa did not have any
problems with the party leadership, but he handled all of
them with much maturity and acumen that he gained through
experience over the years.
Though Premadasa had his own problems with the leadership,
the late Dudley Senanayake when the UNP was relegated to the
opposition in 1970, he did not make any claims for the
leadership of the party at the early stages of his career.
He first became the deputy minister of local governments in
the 1965 UNP government of prime minister Dudley Senanayake
and elevated to the position of a Cabinet Minister after the
Federal Party left the government and the portfolio held by
M Thiruchelvam fell vacant in 1967.
During the early part of the 70s, Premadasa formed the
Citizens’ Front and challenged Dudley Senanayake several
months prior to former’s death in 1973.
Following the death of Dudley Senanayake, there was a huge
public protest against Premadasa and he learnt through
experience that Senanayake was a much-respected politician
liked by the people as a leader of the masses though he
represented the higher strata of the Sri Lankan society.
The question posed by many strong UNP supporters is on the
contribution made by Sajith Premadasa for the progress of
One senior UNP member told this column that Sajith is a
peripheral leader more than a national leader since he was
not in the political limelight as a national figure yet.
But, at the same time, he admitted that he could make his
way to the top, provided he works for the party untiringly
on a national basis not confining himself only to
“He should work with the leadership pinpointing the
shortcomings rather than clashing, and simultaneously work
his way up, which would put the party in good stead,” the
UNP stalwart said.
At a gathering held at the UNP deputy leader Karu
Jayasuriya’s residence recently, the subject of Sajith
Premadasa was broached by many.
The request made by them was to seek Jayasuriya’s
intervention to bring forth a settlement to the ongoing
It was the fervent opinion of many that Karu Jayasuriya, as
a senior UNP member, could handle the problem diligently so
that it would bring about a settlement between the two, the
present leader and the leadership aspirant.
They feel that Sajith Premadasa is dwelling on the wrong
track right now, casting aspersions on the leadership that
would not augur well for the party.
In their view, they told the party deputy leader, that steps
should be taken to diffuse the tension that would send a
wrong message to the electorate.
They also pointed out that the recent attacks aimed at the
party leader is uncalled for and reminded that the West and
India are equally important for Sri Lanka’s existence among
the global community.
India played an active and a pivotal role during the peace
efforts made by the Norwegian Government in Sri Lanka and a
scathing attack on the West therefore is unwarranted, if
Premadasa aspires to be the leader of the UNP.
The peace process is not only a part of the political
project of the UNP but also the present ruling party,
especially under the leadership of President Chandrika
Premadasa’s recent remarks that certain people are carrying
tales to the West against Sri Lanka was described by many as
an extension of the government’s offensive against the UNP
His sentiments on shedding ‘Tiger proxies’ from the UNP was
also discussed at many UNP forums where Premadasa was seen
as a person who has not acquired political sharpness and
dexterity when it comes to issues within the party.
Political analysts believe such incriminating accusations
should be unleashed at appropriate forums and not publicly,
that Premadasa has opened floodgates for more attacks, and
even his conduct as a member of the UNP is in question.
Such is the politics of the main opposition UNP. However, in
the midst of all these, Deputy leader Karu Jayasuriya is
making headway with his ‘Grama Charika’ programme aimed at
re-inventing the UNP at grassroots level.
The UNP over the years due to lack of cohesiveness, saw the
rural vote base eroding beyond redemption.
It was evident at the last general election where the UNP’s
popularity slid down to a mere 27% of the total vote polled.
Karu Jayasuriya who has been tasked with rejuvenating the
UNP base at village level has drawn up a comprehensive plan
to take the message to the village.
Sajith Premadasa is also planning to launch a similar
programme simultaneously in the same electorate chosen by
the UNP hierarchy.
Sajith may launch his programme a day before the actual UNP
campaign but Karu Jayasuriya in his wisdom as a mature
politician has not rejected Sajith’s campaign.
In fact, he has told some of his friends he welcomed Sajith
Premadasa’s initiative as part of UNP campaign to uplift the
Most of the UNP members, however, are of the opinion that
young Premadasa should guard his tongue when making
statements, which could be detrimental to the party in the
The main problem that plagues the UNP is the deteriorating
discipline in the party that was at its best during the
reign of former President J R Jayewardene.
Party leader Wickremesinghe should take appropriate steps to
instill discipline among the key members that would trickle
down to the general membership gradually.
It appears that many key members with leadership aspirations
pulling the party into different directions at their whims
and fancies and the party as the biggest political entity in
Sri Lanka has gone through untold sufferings over the years.
There needs a seismic change in the UNP’s approach and its
policies to offer an alternative to the present government,
but most of the UNP loyalists believe that Sajith Premadasa
is not the answer for UNP’s ills, right now.
They believe that Sajith needs a complete transformation
from his “Bull in the China Shop Policy,” if he is to
succeed some day or the other.
Yet, others point out that Premadasa who maintains a close
rapport with most of the newspaper editors in Sri Lanka had
never seen in a single protest or demonstration organised by
the working journalists concerning their issues, this is to
say that village politics is not the only vehicle to propel
to the top of the political limelight.
They also point out that Sajith is selective when taking on
the government and is more confined to regional issues
rather than national issues.
He also has maintained a deafening silence when it came to
the issue concerning Sarath Fonseka.
Premadasa may be having his own reasons not to be part and
parcel of the UNP’s campaign to secure the release of
Fonseka but he definitely has a duty by the people who
advocate an opposing view to that of the government, while
standing for justice and fair play.
Sajith Premadasa’s present approach seems to be of a
The many supporters who wanted Sajith as their leader has
already left the party and joined the government and key
among them are Johnston Fernando and Lakshman Seneviratne.
Another popular figure in the UNP, Dayasiri Jayasekara, is
also distancing himself from Sajith owing to policy issues
and questions over his double bind approach to take over the
They feel that Sajith, though challenging the party
leadership, at the same time employing delaying tactics
until he reaches the pinnacle in politics that may take some
While the main opposition is trying to get out of a tangled
mess following electoral defeats and subsequent squabbles in
the party, the government too is in for a dilemma over its
inadequate image-building measures internationally.
British Prime Minister David Cameron’s remarks on the
closing stages of the Eelam War IV and his subsequent call
for a probe and an independent investigation would not augur
well for Sri Lanka.
This is in spite of recent efforts by External Affairs
Minister G L Peiris who was in London to brief the British
authorities on the progress Sri Lanka had made after the
LTTE was defeated.
Minister Peiris rejected certain photographs that have
surfaced in Britain allegedly portraying torture victims as
However, British Prime Minister Cameron answering a question
in parliament, stressed the need to have an independent
inquiry on the allegations of war crimes.
Prime Minister Cameron made this assertion when
Parliamentarian Siobhan McDongah raised a question on Sri
The question and answer are as follows.
Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden): As a former PR man,
does the prime minister agree that no matter how much Bell
Pottinger tries to spin the Sri Lankan Government, the
demands for an international independent war crimes tribunal
intensify as more evidence of alleged assassination and
civil rights abuses comes out?
The Prime Minister: The hon. lady makes a fair point. We
need to see an independent investigation of what happened.
Everyone has read the papers and seen the TV footage, but we
need an independent investigation to work out whether what
she suggests is right.
It appears that the LTTE lobby is still strong in many
western capitals and that there should be a concerted effort
on the part of the government and more particularly on the
External Affairs Ministry to put Sri Lanka in the correct
perspective internationally. This is where the government
could seek the help of the opposition too.
The opposition leader, being a well-recognised politician,
could be consulted on such occasions as to how Sri Lanka
could move forward leaving behind a heavy baggage of
accusations levelled by the global community.
November is going to be crucial for the country when one
looks at the calendar and the events thereof.
The President is scheduled to take oaths for his second term
on November 19 ushering in a new era for Sri Lanka.
The other important events are the annual Budget and, the
visit of Indian External Affairs Minister
S M Krishna.
Besides these the legal issues concerning Sarath Fonseka and
the continuing university crisis will crop up from time to
time, which will keep the citizenry occupied.
The President appears to be sympathetic towards the plight
of the university students and the issues concerning them.
Addressing the weekly Cabinet meeting, he said the
government and its agencies should realise the sensitivities
attached to these issues and work accordingly.
He also spoke of the facilities afforded to the students in
the hostels and their inadequacies.
Some ministers consider the remarks made by the President
are essentially aimed at Minister S B Dissanayake.
They wonder whether SB has fallen from grace as the Minister
of Higher Education.
Besides the university issue the other matter receiving the
personal attention of the President is the ceremony
organised on the occasion of the assumption of office of the
President for a second term.
It is likely that the President after taking oaths for the
second time would spell out a national policy for the next
four years after which he would go for another re-election
in terms of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution.
There will be week-long celebrations associated with the
assumption to the high office for the second term with
tree-planting campaigns and launching of other development
Politically, the visit of the Indian Foreign Minister
bears significance with the government trying to introduce
amendments to the 13th Amendment in a bid to reduce certain
powers enjoyed by the Provincial Councils.
The 13th Amendment to the Constitution was introduced in
1987 by the J.R. Jayewardene government aimed at resolving
the ethnic crisis after India intervened to bring in a
settlement under the Indo-Lanka Accord.
Any kind of tampering with the 13th Amendment would
certainly ring alarm bells in Tamil Nadu forcing the centre
to break a long-drawn silence they maintained before and
after the Eelam War IV.
Besides, India may caution Sri Lanka on Chinese involvement
in the country, especially in the Northern Province.
Even today, there is a big question mark over Chinese
projects in Sri Lanka with two Chinese installations facing
unexpected accidents; first in Karadiyanaru and subsequently
In the circumstances, it is time to ponder over these
matters and adopt innovative approach to address political
sensitivities arising from them.
India is much important for Sri Lanka as the closest
neighbour and an emerging super power. Hence, it is
important to redefine Sri Lanka’s priorities in the region.
The Court of Appeal, meanwhile, referred the legal question
concerning Sarath Fonseka’s seat in Parliament to the
This is to obtain a Constitutional interpretation
relating to the matter.
Accordingly, the Court of Appeal has asked for an
interpretation of Article 89 that deals with
disqualification or forfeiture of a seat in Parliament when
a Parliamentarian is convicted for a criminal offence.
The court which was divided on the interim relief prayed for
by the former Army Commander referred the matter to a fuller
bench of the Court of Appeal.
While the legal battle was on in the Court of Appeal,
elsewhere in Colombo a meeting was held to continue with the
signature campaign to secure the release of Sarath Fonseka.
Speaking on the occasion, former chief justice Sarath N
Silva emphasised that justice should be meted out to
In his opinion, Fonseka had been incarcerated for an alleged
offence which is not considered an offence under the normal
He also stressed the point that Fonseka was a civilian
when he was tried under the military law of the country.
The President made a direct reference to this, when
delivering the convocation address of the Kotalawala Defence
Academy held at the BMICH.
The President said the law of the land is applicable to all
equally and forces personnel are no exception.
The President said the forces personnel must comply with the
normal law as well as the military law.
He said that they could not evade the country’s civil law by
being in the Army.
In the morning, hours before the convocation of the
Kotalawala Defence Academy, the Army Commander addressed all
the officers of the military intelligence in the rank of
Major and above.
The army also launched a new intelligence arm of the
military 5MIC, which would operate outside North and East.
In the meantime, Major-General Prasad Samarasinghe was
appointed the Colonel Commandant of the Military
Major-General Samarasinghe, who was the media spokesperson
at one stage, was also attached to the Sri Lanka High
Commission in Landon as its Defence Advisor.
He was also the Colonel Commandant of the Medical Corp.
Major-General Harsha Weeratunga has, meanwhile, relinquished
his duties as a member of the Board of Management at the
Water’s Edge and various other organisations in the Army
prior to his retirement.
Major-General A L R Wijetunga has been appointed to the
board of management of the Water’s Edge in place of Harsha
The opposition and the government, though show their
resentment to each other in Parliament, in a rare unfolding
of events were seen talking to each other in a cordial
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was in Parliament to attend
the Finance Consultative Committee, meeting made it a point
to listen to the opposition members and their criticism that
would help the government in the long run.
Dr Harsha de Silva of the UNP had a long and constructive
discussion with the President on the economy and its
downturn over the years.
He pinpointed the shortcomings and praised the government
for its efforts to control the inflation at reasonable
At this point of time, Central Bank Governor Nivard Cabraal
raised a point on an article Harsha de Silva has written to
the Daily FT newspaper criticising the ‘Mahinda Chintana’.
Harsha has apparently said in the article that ‘Mahinda
Hinsanaya’ and ‘Vindanaya’ are in existence in place of
Harsha pointed out that he would criticise the government
only on the economic front, the subject that he knows best
and refrain from going into other areas.
He said the Central Bank had taken meaningful steps, worthy
of praise to control inflation and stop printing currency
notes, which is the main attribute to inflation.
He, however, pointed out that the Central Bank had failed
in its endeavour to keep the exchange rates at reasonable
proportions making things difficult to the exporters.
He said the currency was too strong and exporters find it
difficult to remain in the competitive market. He also spoke
on crony capitalism where some people have become filthy
rich overnight and deals going through without transparency.
In short, it does not show the kind of picture that the
government is trying to portray as far as the economy is