The United National Party (UNP) faction led by Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa legalized its alliance under the name, Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB), widening the existing split in the UNP ahead of the general elections, informed sources said.
Mr. Premadasa-led faction and its alliance partners acquired the rights to the political party known as, Ape Jathika Peramuna (AJP) before renaming it as the Samagi Jana Balawegaya with Mr. Premadasa appointed as leader and Monaragala district MP Ranjith Madduma Bandara as General Secretary.
Election Commissioner-General Saman Sri Ratnayake informed the party in writing that the Election Commission accepted the renaming of the AJP as the SJB and the appointment of Mr. Premadasa as its leader and Mr. Madduma Bandara as its General Secretary. The SJB had adopted the 'Heart' as its symbol.
The Premadasa-faction went ahead with the changes despite UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe insisting that the elections should only be contested under the 'elephant' symbol.
The UNP, also known as the grand old party, had suffered similar defections when in 1990 party stalwarts -- Gamini Dissanayake and Lalith Athulathmudali -- broke ranks with the party hierarchy and formed the Democratic United National Front (DUNF) with the eagle as its symbol while there had been instances MPs crossing over from the UNP. However, they did not form separate political parties that had the potential to dent the party’s vote base.
In 1999, a group of UNP MPs led by Sarath Amunugama teamed up with the government of former President Chandrika Bandaranaike while in 2007, 17 UNP MPs led by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya joined the Mahinda Rajapaksa government. (Kelum Bandara)