Colombo, September 26 (newsin.asia): Sri Lanka’s ruling United National Party (UNP) on Thursday chose its Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa as its Presidential candidate in the November 16 Lankan Presidential election.
Party sources said that the candidature was accepted unanimously and unconditionally and that all factions agreed to pull together to ensure Premadasa’s victory.
The closing of ranks at the top level will be a shot in the arm for demoralized party workers who, for more than a month, had no clue as to who they should support with three top leaders throwing their hat in, namely, party chief Ranil Wickremesinghe, parliament Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and Deputy Leader Sajth Premadasa.
While other principal parties, like the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), had already chosen their candidates (Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Anura Kumara Disssanayaka respectively) the UNP top brass led by Leader and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe were dragging their feet.
Meanwhile, a frustrated Premadasa and his cohorts rebelled. Premadasa launched his campaign a month ago in an attempt to force the hand of Wickremesinghe who controlled the decision-making body, the Working Committee. Wickremesinghe wanted all kinds of commitments from Premadasa which he could not make.
Ranil To Continue As PM
While no commitments were extracted from Premadasa, it is understood that in the event of Premadasa’s election as Lankan President, Wickremesinghe will continue to function as Prime Minister at least till the next parliamentary elections are held in mid-2020.
Parliamentary elections could be called from March 2020 onwards, a source which did not want to be identified said.
Earlier it was reported that Wickremesinghe had put some conditions before agreeing to the candidature of Premadasa. Among these were: that Premadasa should agree to keep him as Prime Minister and party leader and also agree to the abolition of the Executive Presidency.
But Premadasa said that he would not brook any conditions and that he wants to be his own man and not somebody’s puppet. Most party leaders and Ministers, barring a handful, backed Premadasa.
Ultimately, Wickremesinghe saw the writing on the wall and agreed to back Premadasa.
However, this is a major humiliation for Wickremesinghe who had a long and distinguished political career as Leader of the UNP and Prime Minister. But he just could not win a Presidential election because he lacked charisma or public appeal and also because of his pro-Western policies.
However, he managed to keep the party together through successive electoral defeats and led it through trying times.
Wickremesinghe still has a lot of fire in his belly and is unlikely to take the current set back lying down as he is known for his doggedness.
Challenges for Premadasa
As for Premadasa, the road ahead is not smooth. He faces a tough challenge from Gotabaya Rajapaksa of the SLPP, which is led by the charismatic former Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Gotabaya is campaigning on the strength of his career as the country’s Defence Secretary during the last war which ended in the defeat of the LTTE and also as Urban Development Secretary during the post-war reconstruction days.
Gotabaya answers to the public need for national security which took a jolt when nine Jehadists bombed Colombo killing about 300 people.
But Gotabaya sorely lacks the support of the minority Tamils and Muslims and has to depend excessively on the votes of the majority Sinhala community.
But the Sinhalese will be divided between Premadasa, Gotabaya and the JVP candidate Anura Kumara Dissanayaka. The Tamils and Muslims ,who are about 25% of the population, appear to be committed to Premadasa whose communal angularities are not apparent. Parties of the minorities, including a section of the Indian Tamils led by Mano Ganeshan are backing with Premadasa. What is expected is a close contest and a photo finish.