|The United National Party (UNP) activists are jubilant
over their successful convention held last week at the party
It signified an overwhelming success to the grand old party
that was limping since last April and probably for many
years since 2004.
At the parliamentary general election, which concluded few
months ago, the UNP did not fare well and many members who
were elected by the UNP membership shifted their allegiance
on the pretext of strengthening the President’s hands.
A majority of them no doubt had ulterior motives cashing in
on the political situation prevalent in the country a few
months ago. However, it appears now that the situation is
changing at a rapid pace owing to numerous reasons.
The people are gradually realising that the government is
unable to deliver the goods although it is more than one
year after concluding the Eelam war and crushing terrorism
that pushed the country back by several years.
The LTTE held the country to ransom for nearly 30 years
except for the period where there was a Norwegian-brokered
truce under the premiership of Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister accomplished a great
deal of ground work to restore peace and harmony through a
peace deal brokered by the Norwegians with the blessing of
key international players such as the US, Japan and the
European Union and especially India who played a vital role
During Wickremesinghe’s peace process, Karuna Amman, who is
now a card-carrying member of the SLFP and a deputy minister
in the UPFA regime, broke away from the LTTE thus weakening
the LTTE’s Eastern command.
Karuna was a close associate of the LTTE supremo Velupillai
Prabhakaran, and his defection from the LTTE dealt a
deathblow to the overall operations of the Tiger outfit.
The Ranil Wickremesinghe government, however, could not
continue with the process owing to political expediencies of
then President Chandrika Kumaratunga who resorted to short
circuit the Wickremesinghe administration by dissolving
No sooner the UNP went into the political hibernation where
the Chandrika Kumaratunga administration with the help of
the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) found fault with the
peace deal as a “monster” aimed at dividing the country
according to the whims and fancies of the west, who had
shown more sympathy towards Tamil nationalism from the
inception of their struggle to create a separate state
within the territorial waters of Sri Lanka.
At the 2005 presidential election, President Mahinda
Rajapaksa made it with a razor-thin majority to take over
the mantle from President Chandrika Kumaratunga.
The Rajapaksa regime further weakened the UNP, which at one
stage was unbeatable.
The victory of President Rajapaksa over the LTTE and the
elimination of terrorism from the soil gave his party a new
lease of life in the Sri Lankan political arena that further
strengthened his political ideology.
However, a few months after recording a historical political
victory it is apparent that the government is on the
Many reasons could be attributed to the downward trend of
the government, cost of living being chief among them.
The government is also fast losing it political sensitivity,
having appointed a mega-cabinet including ministers, deputy
ministers and parliamentarians with supervisory powers.
On top of all this, the proposal to revise electricity
tariffs had irked the public and the private sector alike.
It was on the other day that Minister Champika Ranawaka
boasted that the CEB under his administration is running at
an operational profit, yet it appears that the consumer may
not have any concession as far as the electricity tariff is
In addition, the CEB also announced that the hydropower
installations are running at full capacity and that the CEB
is saving a massive amount on fuel since the thermal power
generation is minimal.
In this backdrop, it was the most opportune moment for the
opposition to show its strength and unity in a bid to
mobilise masses in favour of them.
Sunday’s party convention certainly was a show of strength
and an indication that the UNP’s long and malefic political
expedition has almost ended.
The convention signified a new beginning in the UNP’s
journey, having installed a new constitution where the
leadership could be elected through secret ballot.
The new amendments would not allow the party leaders to
entrench their position in the party and overstaying the
assigned period would no longer be possible.
The main problem that would crop up with the new
constitution in force is that the present leadership would
be compelled to mend his ways if he is to be re-elected to
the coveted party leadership. However, the party convention
in no uncertain terms endorsed that their future leader
should be Sajith Premadasa.
Premadasa had been identified by the general membership of
the party as one who could shepherd the party towards a
victory binge. The rebels, who made the constitutional
changes possible, were in a jubilant mood and are of the
view that Premadasa should take over the party mantle at the
earliest possible opportunity.
The two factions, one led by party leader Ranil
Wickremesinghe and the other by Sajith Premadasa held two
different press conferences to put their points of view
across to the people.
Some were baffled as to whether the UNP which demonstrated
its strength as one cohesive outfit at the party convention
had in fact divided into two, shortly afterwards.
Realising the ill-effects of the wrong signals that could be
passed on to the general public, the UNP leadership later
decided to accommodate the rebel parliamentarians too, and
allowed them ample space to address press conferences from
the opposition leader’s office at Sir Marcus Fernando
Most of the party seniors feel that there should be a
tangible transformation in the party’s attitude as one that
recognises the needs of the masses if the party is to
succeed in their political endeavours in the future.
Joseph Michael Perera, former speaker and chairman of the
UNP reforms committee, said that it was the wish of the
people to see Sajith Premadasa as the future leader of the
Perera made these observations to a packed audience at
‘Sirikotha’ amidst chanting of slogans in support of
On Friday, some elements in the party who wanted to disrupt
the convention sought legal redress at the District Court of
Colombo with a prayer to restrain the holding of the
In the absence of the District Judge in the court number
one, the case was transferred from one court to the other.
Finally, Judge Marikkar, the presiding judge at court number
four who took it up, said that it was not possible to issue
an injunction at that late stage when a large number of
members have been invited to participate in the convention.
Accordingly, the judge refused the application ending
apprehension among the rebels.
The party convention went ahead as scheduled in a peaceful
The rebels were quick to apportion the blame for having had
to waste their time in courts to former strongman from the
South Vajira Abeywardene who is an ardent supporter of UNP
Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, but Abeywardene had denied any
knowledge of the matter.
The rebels were also blaming a UNP member who crossed over
to the government recently from the Galle District, but
there had been no concrete evidence to substantiate this
Having adopted the new constitution, it is now time for
healing where those interested in taking over the party
machinery should negotiate and come to some understanding as
to who should do what.
The rebel MPs were meeting quite often to decide on their
strategy and the next step in the direction of taking over
the party leadership without much delay.
According to the constitution, everything should happen
within the course of the next 120 days.
If the working committee and the parliamentary group fail to
reach consensus on the five important office bearers then
there should be a secret ballot to decide as to who should
be elected to hold the post in question.
The question of the leadership is a pressing problem for the
Ranil Wickremesinghe group and making every effort to
negotiate with the rebels in a bid to maintain status quo.
However, there is no proper response from the rebels who
insist that Premadasa should take over the leadership as
soon as possible.
Their argument is that it is essential to keep the momentum
at a higher level now that the party has awakened from a
deep slumber. Postponing the matter by another year or so
means the hope among the people will have diminishing
However, if the rebels agree with this formula hitherto put
forward by some of the negotiators of the Wickremesinghe
group then they would be compelled to sacrifice Karu
Jayasuriya who is at present the deputy leader of the party.
Can the party evict Jayasuriya from the substantial post as
the deputy leader?
Another group of influential UNP members is of the opinion
that Karu Jayasuriya should be the compromise candidate for
the leadership of the party for the transition to take place
There is another school of thought that Wickremesinghe could
have handed over the mantle to Karu Jayasuriya some time
back when he felt that there going to be a rebellion in the
party against his leadership.
Karu Jayasuriya became the chairman of the UNP after A C S
Hameed quit the post by invitation and thereafter he was
elevated to the position of deputy leader of the party.
In 2005, soon after the presidential election, in addition
to being the deputy leader he was appointed the executive
chairman of the party. However, later he decided to hand
over the chairmanship to Rukman Senanayake, as Jayasuriya is
not keen to hang on to positions.
This was obvious when he told some of his close associates
that he was ready to sacrifice position for party unity.
The government too seems to be uncomfortable with
Jayasuriya’s presence in the higher echelons of the UNP
since he has a more nationalistic appeal than other leaders
of the UNP.
What appears now is an inordinate hurry on both sides to
consolidate their respective positions.
In this backdrop, most of them have ignored and neglected
what is best for the party and looking at their own
interests prioritising them. The Wickremesinghe group is
also in an unnecessary haste to fortify and safe guard the
interest of Ranil Wickremesinghe rather than looking into
the residual issues and wellbeing of the party.
Several seniors in the party who met Wickremesinghe for an
open discussion on the personal crisis he is facing had
reminded the leader the circumstances that led to the
present situation in the party.
The irony of the whole issue is that most of the rebels who
have turned sour are persons whom Wickremesinghe groomed and
brought to the political limelight.
Prominent among them are Buddhika Pathirana, Gayantha
Karunatilleke, and Sujeewa Senasinghe who are acting in
defiance to a leader, who had done a lot of good for them to
shape them as effective political personalities.
A very senior politician who holds the view that Ranil
Wickremesinghe’s services to the party during a difficult
period should be appreciated in an immeasurable manner had
called another senior in the party Rupa Karunatilleke to
intervene and settle the current issue in hand.
|He was also in the process of obtaining the support of
Karunasena Kodituwakku to resolve the matter in an amicable
manner acceptable to both sides.
They are looking at a “win-win” situation to avert any
embarrassment where Wickremesinghe would be compelled to
undergo, because of a possible structural change in the
They recognise Ranjith Madduma Bandara who was at the
receiving end at one stage owing to an alleged misdemeanour
of the party as the most amenable person among the rebels
who could convince others to a reasonable formula and adopt
a different stance as regards this problem.
The formula may be to agree on an arrangement where Sajith
Premadasa be appointed as the general secretary of the
party, a post that wields a lot of power with an assurance
that he would be fielded as the candidate of the party at
the next Presidential election.
They were referring to similar feuds in the party that were
settled with patience and endurance.
The Dudley Senanayake-J R Jayewardene clash in the early 70s
is a classic example where both leaders agreed on a formula
to respect each other’s interests as prominent political
It was late Paris Perera, the UNP MP for Ja-Ela who laid the
foundation for reconciliation among the feuding factions of
the party. Finally, J R Jayewardene emerged as the party
leader following the death of Dudley Senanayake.
Even before his death, Senanayake conceded the leader of the
opposition post to Jayewardene while retaining the party
leadership. Similarly, the group interested in settling the
matter for the greater good of the party is of the opinion
that the re-awakening of the UNP is a vital factor and
recognises Premadasa as a champion of the grassroots who
could lead the party to victory.
It has been revealed that the rebel group had done a survey
to determine their fortunes at the event of an election
among the members of the working committee and the UNP
parliamentary group to elect the leader and is satisfied
with the support that they could garner from the members of
the two vital bodies.
The Wickremesinghe group is perturbed over the stance of the
seniors who were toeing a modest line during the party
crisis and their sudden change of heart following the party
The speech made by former Speaker Joseph Michael Perera is a
clear indication of the mindset of the seniors who were in a
quandary earlier, as to what they should do. Now it appears
that they have made up their mind to move with the surge
rather being an obstacle and an impediment.
In the meantime, the party has announced that they are not
inclined towards creating new posts to accommodate seniors
that necessitate another constitutional amendment.
Though party spokesperson Gayantha Karunatilleke is holding
that view, Sajith Premadasa group is rather reluctant to
upset the apple cart.
Premadasa is aware of the implications of such action and
what his father had to undergo after sidelining Gamini
Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali.
Both Athulathmudali and Dissanayake were responsible for
creating opposition within party ranks during the time of
President Ranasinghe Premadasa and revamping the opposition
SLFP who were in total disarray at the time to create a
formidable opposition to President Premadasa.
On the contrary, the politically savvy Sajith Premadasa is
acting prudently, he told friends who were close to him
politically and otherwise that he held Ranil Wickremesinghe
in high esteem and was even ready to play second fiddle to
“I know how he supported my father during the time of crisis
and I am not ungrateful to do anything ignominious or to
damage his reputation,” he told friends.
“I would not even exclude Ravi Karunanayake if I reach the
helm of the party and I know that I can’t play around being
at the helm.”
Since the UNP is the main political entity in the
opposition, sidelining seniors would cause an irreparable
damage to the party in the present political context.
Political maturity is something unique one gains through
experience over the years and seniors therefore is an
essential ingredient in any political entity who could offer
advice and help maintain cohesiveness among the general
On the other hand, creating dissension among the UNP
membership is more advantageous for the government at a time
they themselves were facing problems with the electorate.
In Kesbewa, many dejected UPFA supporters crossed over to
the UNP while claiming that scores of UPFA supporters are
feeling the pinch and are dejected over the affairs of the
It was the other day that the members of the UPFA-held
Pradeshiya Sabhas displayed their dissension openly by
voting against the Budget, which was corrected in the second
round with the intervention of the political authority.
In the circumstances, an organised opposition would pose a
grave threat to the UPFA government and Sajith Premadasa’s
recent remarks that he would accommodate former Army
Commander Sarath Fonseka in the UNP fold has had its effects
in the government quarters.
Though at the initial stages Premadasa was rather silent on
the issue pertaining to Sarath Fonseka he had become vocal
on the issue more recently after having gauged the political
dimensions of the matter. What Premadasa is now trying to do
is to put the exploits to the optimum use of the opposition
when it is unfavourable for the ruling party.
However, Premadasa who is now aspiring to be the leader of
the party is being persuaded by some to allow present leader
Ranil Wickremesinghe to continue for a further period while
Premadasa waits in the wings to be the leader following a
The Premadasa group though had not responded to the various
calls; also see a hidden government hand in trying to peruse
them for a settlement.
John Amaratunga and former UNP chairman Malik
Samarawickrama’s names have been mentioned as people who are
directly involved in some negotiations other than the names
mentioned earlier in this column.
Some wonder at what the government has to do with the UNP,
but politics is such that the governments thrive only when
the opposition is embroiled in crisis.
In a related move, the government had decided to shelve the
idea of holding the local government elections under the new
law to be enacted in January citing various problems
encountered by the respective institutions.
Demarcating the boundaries of wards had met with certain
administrative snags etc according to authorities.
However, others think that the government is concerned about
the prevailing political climate that is not very favourable
for the government under the present circumstances.
If a local council loses the budget the law doesn’t provide
for any remedy unlike the present law, but dissolution of
If the new law was in force, several councils would have
been dissolved or taken under the direct control of the
government through a special commissioner by now.
Though the government intends to pass the law as it is, the
next election, however, would be held under the old law
which gives the government some respite to ponder on their
next strategy to be adopted under the new law.
UNP activists too seem to think that the revival of the
party has forced the government to take a step back and
consolidate their position in rural areas under the old law
which has many levers to manipulate the system.
Be that as it may, the incarcerated former army commander
and common opposition candidate at the presidential election
Sarath Fonseka turned 60 on December 17.
Fonseka in the meantime had challenged the findings of the
second court martial under whose order he had been jailed
for a term of two years.
The Supreme Court that looked into the constitutional
question of whether a military tribunal falls within the
definition of ‘any court’ had apparently concluded its
hearing on public and had asked for written submissions
within a specific period.
The counsel for Fonseka although persuaded the court to
issue a stay order on the parliamentary secretary-general
and the elections commissioner, pending the determination of
the matter the court was not inclined to issue an order.
Fonseka’s counsel made this request on the ground that
Fonseka would be completing three months of absence from
parliament without leave by early January automatically
forfeiting his seat.
The counsel told court the circumstances under which Fonseka
had to be away from parliament.
However, it was not a matter before the court.
The Supreme Court said that their decision on the
constitutional issue would be conveyed to the Court of
Appeal so that the Court of Appeal could arrive at its
decision on the matter whether Fonseka continues to be an MP
despite being sentenced by a court martial.