Gotabaya Rajapaksa is undoubtedly viewed as a formidable candidate for the much looked forward presidential elections
Well ahead of the presidential elections, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) announced its candidate for the Presidency. By announcing the name of Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the party created a momentum. But, there is still time for electioneering. Therefore, the party is now grappling with the challenge of sustaining the momentum till the election is declared next month. It’s a challenging task for the campaign managers of the SLPP-led political alliance to keep the momentum enlivened each passing day.
In the midst of such challenges, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, for the first time, participated at the Tuesday evening meeting of the leaders of the political parties functioning under the banner of Joint Opposition under the leadership of his brother Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa.
- UNP faces challenges in sorting out differences
- The premature nomination of presidential candidate created challenges for SLPP and UNP
- The party leaders gave discretionary power to Gotabaya Rajapaksa to strike such electoral arrangements
As yet another move for keeping the momentum alive or elevating it to the next level during this trying time, the party leaders decided, on this occasion, to form a broad alliance led by the SLPP in a formal sense shortly. Already, most of these parties such as Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP), Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU), and National Freedom Party (NFF) are working together with the SLPP. By forming the alliance, the SLPP intends to make it a well-knit organization to operate under formal arrangements.
Besides, a number of organisers had offered to reach an understanding directly with Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the presidential candidate, but not as parties to the SLPP-led coalition which is now being formed.
The party leaders gave discretionary power to Gotabaya Rajapaksa to strike such electoral arrangements with such individual organizations, independent of the SLPP in view of the presidential elections.
The premature nomination of presidential candidate created challenges not only for the SLPP itself, but also for the United National Party (UNP). Gotabaya is undoubtedly viewed as a formidable candidate. Earlier, doubts were raised whether he would actually be able to get nomination for the presidential elections because of his dual citizenship. Speculation was rife that someone like MP Chamal Rajapaksa would be considered instead of Gotabaya. Later, the air was clear that he renounced his U.S. citizenship. Finally, he was nominated as the presidential candidate.
This prompted the UNP, as the other main contending party, to decide on its nominee for president, though prematurely. It hastened the UNP to be clear on its candidate to be chosen to counter Gotabaya successfully. This led to a bitter struggle within the party with one faction strongly lobbying for candidacy to Housing, Construction and Cultural Affairs Minister Sajith Premadasa, and other group standing for Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Also, there is a third group identifying Speaker Karu Jayasuriya as a candidate. This group, in fact, sees the Speaker as the compromise candidate acceptable to both sides.
The tussle became acute after Premadasa, in a public address in Ambalanthota in the Hambantota district last Saturday, spelled out that he would contest the elections as the presidential candidate no matter what. He vowed that he would not go back on his words in this regard. By doing so, he reached a point of no return. Now, he cannot give up his struggle halfway. He has to fight it to the finish line or suffer an irreparable political setback. Such a setback could be detrimental to his future career in politics.
The group which is loyal to Premadasa said it had stepped up its efforts to secure candidacy for Premadasa this week, by handing over a letter bearing signatures of 54 out of 77 of its MPs to Wickremesinghe asking for convening the Working Committee and the parliamentary group jointly to select the candidate through a secret ballot.
However, the UNP team which is loyal to Wickremesinghe keeps denying the receipt of such a letter formally.
Had the SLPP not nominated its candidate, the UNP would also have played for time. Then, the present internecine warfare would not have erupted. Besides, it would have also afforded the opportunity for Wickremesinghe to cobble together the alliance called ‘National Democratic Front (NDF)’, a political move that would give him an upper hand in the selection of candidate for president.
Now, the formation of NDF itself is a challenge for the UNP.
In a move to sort out the issues, the leaders of the UNP and its alliance partners sat together at the residence of Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne. Before the meeting, Premadasa met Dr. Senaratne and Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) leader Megapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka separately. He informed his intention to contest at these meetings.
According to political sources, Dr. Senaratne is reported to have told Premadasa that his father R. Premadasa ascended to the country’s presidency after an arduous journey and a long struggle.
“You have enough time. So, there is no need for you to take hasty political decisions. Likewise, it is important to make sure that the UNP nominee should be able to get the support of minority parties. In your group, other than Minister Mangala Samaraweera, no one has spelled out anything on minority rights,” he had told Premadasa.
Minister Ranawaka is also reported to have told Premadasa that it is up to the UNP to nominate the candidate if it thinks that it can win as a single party. He informed Premadasa that he could decide on his party’s position afterwards.
All in all, the UNP crisis is unlikely to settle any time soon as both factions are adamant on their stands.