UNP’s losing leader Ranil Wickremesinghe of Sedawatte fame has decided to resign, it was reported yesterday.
His successor, if he has actually decided to resign, thus far, will have to be picked from among another four losing UNP MPs and Ministers, all of whom are Wickremesinghe’s men, namely Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, Ravi Karunanayake, Daya Gamage and Vajira Abeywardena.
‘Funny,’ why former UNP MP and Minister John Amaratunga’s (80) and former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya’s (79) names are also not on the possible UNP leadership list?
Amaratunga, another Wickremesinghe loyalist, first entered Parliament in 1989, much before either Kariyawasam or Karunanayake or Gamage or Abeywardena did. Meanwhile, Jayasuriya, also a Wickremesinghe loyalist, is also a former UNP Mayor of Colombo (1997-1999), Chairman of the UNP in 1995 and an MP from 2000 before his Party’s defeat at Wednesday’s Parliamentary Poll.
Jayasuriya as Speaker of Parliament shone at the abortive attempt to impeach Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister by using extra-Parliamentary methods which took place on 26 October, 2018.
It’s however learnt that these four ‘minions’ of the UNP, i.e. Kariyawasam, Karunanayake, Gamage and Abeywardena handed over their names as possible leadership contenders upon learning of Wickremesinghe’s intention to resign.
However, in the event Wickremesinghe resigns, his successor will have to be decided by the UNP’s Working Committee which will be meeting in another three days’ time on Friday to take up this issue. Therefore, Amaratunga and Jayasuriya still have time to submit their names as contenders to the UNP leadership. Wickremesinghe has assured that the UNP Working Committee is already packed with his loyalists.
Wickremesinghe, dictatorially, has been the UNP’s longest serving leader, spanning a total of 26 years, beginning in November 1994, after the end of that year’s Presidential Poll.
During his leadership span, he oversaw the UNP’s defeat in a record three out of four Presidential Elections, beginning with the Presidential Poll of 1999 and ending with the recently concluded Presidential Poll of November 2019 (last year).
Wickremesinghe also led his Party to record defeats in four out of six Parliamentary Polls, beginning with the Parliamentary Election of 1999 and ending with the Parliamentary Poll that ended on Wednesday (5 August).
His, ‘deciding to resign’ is long overdue. He should have ‘decided to resign’ and should have had actually resigned 21 years ago in 1999 after he lost that year’s Presidential Poll.
Besides these two national polls, i.e. the Presidential and Parliamentary polls, Wickremesinghe was also responsible for leading his Party to a countless number of defeats in several mini polls (Local Government and Provincial Council elections) as well.
Meanwhile, the UNP at Wednesday’s Parliamentary Poll recorded its worst-ever showing at an election by winning only a solitary seat, in its 74-year history as a political party.
Prior to this, its worst performance at an election took place 64 years ago when it was reduced to a mere eight seats at the 1956 Parliamentary Poll. The UNP at the 1956 Poll was led by Prime Minister Sir John Kotelawala, while the UNP at Wednesday’s Poll was led by Wickremesinghe.
Kotelawala, after the 1956 drubbing, resigned from politics.
The 1956 Poll saw the number of seats held by the UNP being reduced from 54 (won at the 1952 Parliamentary Poll) to eight in the then 95-member Parliament, a reduction of 85.19 per cent (46) seats between these two polls in a span of four years.
Sixty four years later in 2020, the number of seats held by the UNP fell from 106 (at the August 2015 Parliamentary Poll) to one at Wednesday’s Parliamentary Poll, a 99.06 per cent (105) reduction in the number of seats held between these two Polls in a span of five years.
The fate of the UNP is due to Wickremesinghe’s dictatorial attitude.
However, with still three days to go before the UNP Working Committee meets to decide on the Party’s future, Wickremesinghe could yet save face and avoid his Party from being obliterated, by inviting the SJB and the new Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa to take over the leadership of the Party.
Wickremesinghe knows that Premadasa was forced to form the SJB because of his dictatorial attitude. He could yet carve out a name as a Statesman even at this late stage, if he invites Premadasa to take over the UNP leadership, just as much as his uncle J.R. Jayewardene did 63 years ago in 1957 when he invited Dudley Senanayake to once more takeover the leadership of the UNP after his Party was all but obliterated at the 1956 Parliamentary Poll.