The Never Ending Saga of UNP Leadership

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Aug 29 2020
Ceylon Politics The Never Ending Saga of UNP Leadership

By Gagani Weerakoon

The attempts made to arrive at a final decision regarding the vexed issue of the UNP Leadership by the present Party leader through staging of several Working Committee (WC) and related other meetings has still not ended. 

The UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, headed to Sirikotha last Thursday morning in order to attend few such talks. 

Most inquired from the leader whether a new leader would be selected on 5 September or whether that decision would be deferred further. 

“We will see. There is no provision in the UNP Constitution for me to take decisions on my own. It is the WC that will take the final call. It is also the WC that has to decide what changes should take place and how it should be carried out,” he responded to those who were inquisitive.

Several former UNP MPs asked the leader whether the focus is on a young or senior member to take over the leader’s post. Wickremesinghe then responded that there were both youths and seniors in the fray such as Akila Viraj, Ruwan Wijewardene and Vajira Abeywardena. After this, a group of UNP activists had told the Party Leader that some who had been tasked with the responsibility of the General Secretary and trade union work had failed to live up to expectations. 

However, those who are closely associated with the present leader had opined that whoever the new leader of the party they should be able to gain the attention of the public and they should also be able to serve both party and the country or else it will be a hard task to revive a party that has been routed at the last election. 

Wickremesinghe, after listening to it, noted that it will be initially difficult to disrupt the political journey of the present Government as it currently commands a two-thirds majority in Parliament. Hence, the Party Leader observed that, whoever is selected as the new leader he would have to go about his or her work with political brilliance to gain the backing of all those connected to the party if it is to be reignited politically. 

Karu’s bid to leadership

Another group present at Sirikotha wanted to know what would be the strategy to reunite the divided party. The leader noted that the symbol of the UNP would be the Elephant forever. When eight people had been clamouring to get the Party Leader’s post former UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya had also come to the fore last week. 

Several groups in society including the Buddhist clergy came forward to back the candidature of Karu Jayasuriya to the Party Leader’s post by holding Media briefings. It was during this time that Karu had submitted a letter to the UNP leadership stating of his intention to take up the post. But, the UNP insisted that neither had it received any letter from Karu nor the latter had obtained the membership of the Party.

Former Speaker Jayasuriya informed the UNP Leadership that he is ready and willing to take over the party reins and to bring it back to its former glory.

 “I also believe that this party could be politically revived through the implementation of new reforms and make it geared up to face the challenges imposed on it by the present society with the right kind of leader at its helm” Jayasuriya issuing a statement asserted.

Hence, having carefully considered the requests made to me to take over the Party Leadership by various segments (members of the Buddhist clergy, priests from other religious faiths, ex-UNP Ministers, Parliamentarians, civil society activists, UNP supporters, party trade unionists, youth organisers, party organisers at the grassroots level and patriotic Sri Lankans sans any political affiliations, among others), I have already informed the current leadership of the party that I am ready and willing to take over the party reins and to reinstate it back to its former position of glory, he added.        

He stated, “The UNP has been the largest political force that was instrumental in ushering independence under the patriotic stewardship of the late Premier D.S. Senanayake, 72 years ago. Since then, the UNP has weathered many political storms in its political journey, and it now looks to give leadership as this Nation charters its journey into the 21st century. Still, however, the present political state of the UNP is not something that neither its supporters nor patriotic forces will be looking benignly at. After the conclusion of the last General Election, scores had urged me to seriously consider taking over the Party reins, to steer it out of its present political doldrums. Among them had been members of the Buddhist clergy, priests from other religious faiths, ex-UNP Ministers, Parliamentarians, civil society activists, UNP supporters, Party trade unionists, youth organisers, Party organisers at the grassroots level and patriotic Sri Lankans sans any political affiliations, among others. They had all in one voice observed that this was the last time for the UNP to be protected or else it will be difficult to prevent it from being banished to political oblivion for a long time more to come.” 

“After having taken the UNP Membership 26 years ago, I had worked for the betterment of this Party, having held various portfolios throughout that period, culminating in being nominated as the Speaker of the United National Front-led regime in 2015. Throughout my entire political career, I had dedicated my life towards the ensuring of democracy and the introduction of political reforms. My contribution towards the formulation of the 17th Amendment and the Right to Information Act need not be reiterated,” he further added.

Membership Saga

It is in the midst of this, UNP Leader Wickremesinghe and Legal Secretary of the UNP informed the Party Working Committee which met on Tuesday (25) at Sirikotha that as Karu Jayasuriya was not a member of the UNP WC, he cannot be appointed as the Leader. WC also discussed summons issued on Wickremesinghe to appear before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) on the Easter Sunday attack. 

An official from the UNP legal unit said: “He went to strengthen the hands of the Rajapaksa Government for three years. And after that he returned to the Party. Five years ago he became a UNP MP through the National List. For such an appointment the party membership is not warranted. Also though he now talks about a lifetime membership he had not mentioned about it through his initial communiqué.”

Meanwhile, it has been decided that the WC will meet next month and take a decision on party leadership after Wickremesinghe testifies before the PCoI. The Deputy Leader and Vice Chairman are also to be elected at the next meeting. 

The letter sent to Wickremesinghe was also discussed and several senior members said as Jayasuriya was not a member of the WC, a decision should be taken only after he joins the WC.

Various views had been expressed regarding the leadership crisis and former Minister Vajira Abeywardena has levelled several allegations against Jayasuriya. Abeywardena has thrown his lot into the fray stating that he is qualified to lead the Party and that the Party should only give the leadership to someone who is committed to the Party. Accordingly, some Party members objected to the Party being led by someone who has betrayed the Party and left the Party.

However, in all of this, Wickremesinghe has remained silent and not made any comment. 

The UNP leader then explained: “The UNP is presently in need of a strong leader. Similarly the same predicament is faced by the SLPP. There is no strong leader for them as well after the exit of Mahinda. Therefore, it is clear that this country could experience a severe political vacuum in 2025 for want of a strong leadership. The youths here seek a leader who can fulfil their hopes and aspirations and go with them toe to toe in all aspects of the development drive.” The UNP legal unit advised the party leader to be present at the Presidential Commissions probing the Easter Sunday attack and the Political Victimizations under the previous regime. 

The UNP leader noted that he has no intention of shunning the Commission probing the Easter attacks but affirmed that the people do not have a positive impression regarding the conduct of the other Commission. A prominent UNP member then said that the Director of the SIS had told the Commission that despite him having given nine calls to the former President the latter had not responded to it. He said that this would be the only country in the world where its leader had not bothered to answer calls given to him by the head of the SIS.

Meanwhile, WC members have stated that it is taking steps to hand over the leadership to a youth as soon as possible. The majority were of the view that the Party should not be handed over to those who betrayed it. 

Legal experts have pointed out that if there are provisions within the Party constitution and if there is a genuine need, there is no impediment on him laying claim to the party leadership, a release from Jayasuriya’s office said as a response. It added that he was made a lifetime member of the Party in 2000 and after quitting as Chairman of the Constitutional Council (CC) he had again applied for the annual membership of the Party and had now obtained the Party membership for 2020. 

“After the defeat suffered by the UNP at the last General Election, its incumbent Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe had clearly stated that he intended to resign from the Party Leadership. Later, scores from the society urged Jayasuriya to lead the campaign to revive the Party after its political debacle at the 5 August Poll. Having decided not to desert the Party at this critical juncture of the Party’s history, Jayasuriya informed Wickremesinghe of his aim to resuscitate the Party and helm it for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, the decision to helm the Party had been taken by Jayasuriya with the majority consent of the Party activists and all progressive forces connected to the Party. However, after Jayasuriya announced his stance, several baseless fabrications and claims have begun to be made about Jayasuriya in the local media,” the release added 

‘One claim is that Wickremesinghe had proposed to conduct a disciplinary inquiry against Jayasuriya on allegations of the latter supporting the Samagi Jana Balawegaya candidature of Eranda Weliange who contested the last General Election. However, the proposed inquiry against Jayasuriya had been halted after it had come to light that the latter had not campaigned on behalf of Weliange. The other claim is that during the UNP Working Committee meeting held on 25 August, another baseless and unfounded claim had been made concerning Jayasuriya.

“The first of such unsubstantiated claims is that Jayasuriya has no legal right to aspire to the UNP Leadership due to him not being a member of the UNP Working Committee. However, legal experts had pointed out that if there are provisions within the Party constitution and if there is a genuine need, there is no impediment for Jayasuriya to lay claim to the Party Leadership. 

The second allegation is that Jayasuriya is not a member of the UNP. This is also a claim that has been made sans an iota of knowledge about the constitution of the UNP. Jayasuriya and Wickremesinghe had obtained the lifetime membership of the Party in 2000. Furthermore, after leaving the position of the Head of the CC, Jayasuriya had again applied for the annual membership of the Party and now he had obtained the Party membership for 2020,” the statement further read.     

Sajith’s invitation fuels crisis

As there were statements being traded against each other, Opposition and SJB Leader Sajith Premadasa on Wednesday (26) invited former Speaker Jayasuriya to leave the UNP and join his Party, instead of keeping mum in the face of undue criticism being directed at him.

He said, due to the spate of criticism that is levelled against Jayasuriya, by a faction of the UNP led by Party Leader Wickremesinghe, he would question whether there was any logic in Jayasuriya continuing to throwing in his lot with the UNP.

Premadasa noted that the only viable alternative left for Jayasuriya would be to join the SJB and continue his public service further.

The invitation extended by the SJB to Jayasuriya is proof that the latter is having an underhand deal and is conspiring to sell the United National Party to the SJB, UNP Working Committee Member Vajira Abeywardena alleged on Thursday (27).

Speaking to the media, Abeywardena said that an individual, who defected from the UNP with 17 others to join the then Rajapaksa Government, talking about having lifetime membership in the UNP is nothing but a joke.

“As they cannot bring the UNP under their clutches legally, they conspired to seize the power of the Party through conspiracies,” he added.

He insisted that they will not allow the UNP to fall into the hands of conspirators who will only destroy it.

Jayasuriya’s office once again made arrangements to point out that for 2020, a new membership card had not been printed by the United National Party and that the card printed for 2019 after the placement of the official logo of the Party General Secretary has been accepted as being valid for this year as well.

Issuing a media release, they stated that their attention had been drawn to recent claims made to the effect that Jayasuriya had not obtained the UNP membership.

They stated that these claims had been made by those very people who had allegedly been responsible for the political demise of the UNP.

The media unit of Jayasuriya also released to the media, copies of the UNP membership card bearing number 0459 (issued following a payment of Rs 20) and the UNP membership card bearing No. 749047 (issued following a payment of Rs 1,000) issued by the UNP officially.

By Gagani Weerakoon | Published: 2:00 AM Aug 29 2020

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