By P.K.Balachandran/Daily Express
Colombo, February 13: The real issue in the on-going battle in the United National Party (UNP) is who should be its General Secretary of the party?
The post of General Secretary is the most important executive position in the party. It is the General Secretary who has to sign on any party decision to make it official, especially in dealings with the Elections Commission and the Secretary General of parliament. Therefore, a party Leader or Chairman always appoints the closest and the most trusted colleague as the General Secretary.
The Sajith Premadasa faction actually wants Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, who is a Ranil Wickremesinghe loyalist, to be replaced by Ranjith Madduma Bandara, who is a Sajith loyalist.
But party Leader Wickremesinghe will not abandon Kariyawasam because the latter is needed to maintain his hold over the party.
Although Wickremesinghe has declared that he will not be the Prime Ministerial candidate in the April parliamentary elections and has told Sajith, that he will not even contest the coming parliamentary elections, the Sajith faction believes that these are not substantive concessions.
The real concession will be Wickremesinghe’s handing over the leadership of the UNP or, at least, shunting out Kariyawasam from the post of General Secretary and appointing Madduma Bandara instead.
Wickremesinghe has agreed to Madduma Bandara’s being the General Secretary of the UNP-led alliance, the United National Front (UNF), but he will not allow the latter to become General Secretary of the UNP.
Wickremesinghe knows that the UNF is but a temporary alliance to fight the elections and that it can be dissolved anytime or its member parties may leave at anytime. But UNP will stay.
Knowing that the UNP constitution allows Wickremesinghe to be Leader till 2024, the Sajith faction has stopped calling for his ouster from the Leadership. Instead, it is trying to oust General Secretary Kariyawasam through various means.
To frighten Wickremesinghe into submission, the Sajith faction is threatening to split the UNP by breaking away. The threat to breakaway is expressed through attempts to give the electoral alliance UNF, a new name and give that alliance a new electoral symbol, thus virtually forming a new party.
A pro-Sajith group, led by MP Sujeewa Senasinghe, met the Elections Commissioner General Saman Sri Ratnayake and told him that the new name of the alliance led by the UNP should be Ape Jathika Peramuna (AJP) Our National Front (ONF), a party which is already recognized by the EC with the ‘telephone’ as its symbol.
Later, the Sajith faction said that it has changed the name of the party to “Samagi Jathika Balawegaya” with Sajith as the Leader and Ranjith Madduma Bandara as General Secretary and with the “Heart” as its symbol.
Elections Commissioner General Sri Ratnayake, agreed to the change of name, but about the request to change the symbol from the telephone to the shape of a heart, he said that the heart symbol was not among approved symbols. However, this problem could be overcome if a request is made after the elections are announced.
But Wickremesinghe has said that as per the party’s legal advisor, the UNP cannot contest under any symbol other than the existing “Elephant”. This means that the UNP will fight the coming election not as an entirely new outfit (with a different name and symbol) but as a UNP-led alliance.
However, the Sajith faction is hopeful that Wickremesinghe will yield to such pressures because his group is much smaller in comparison. It hopes that that Wixckremesinghe appointed committee to look into all these demands will support the changes and that when the Working Committee meets on Friday, February 14, Wickremesinghe will give in.
But the Wickremesinghe faction is in no mood to give up. It is convinced that Sajith will not break away as he does not have the guts to do so. Additionally, he is incapable of forming a party anew and leading it and that after the assured defeat in the parliamentary elections, the new outfit will fall like a house of cards. Some of its members will troop back to the Ranil-led UNP and some will migrate to the Rajapaksas’ Sri Lanka Podujana Peruma (SLPP).
Explaining this assessment, a Wickremesinghe loyalist said: “If Sajith had any leadership ability he would have shown it a Deputy Leader of the UNP over the many years he had been one. His hold over the UNP is doubtful even in his fiefdom of Hambantota. He has not been able to win in his own electorate there. He is now thinking of moving to his father President Premadasa’s constituency in Colombo.”