United National Party (UNP) Parliamentarian Dayasiri Jayasekara is making a habit of generating headlines for controversial reasons, announcing yesterday that he would resign from Parliament and contest as chief ministerial candidate of the ruling United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA).
The rumour mill first went into overdrive a few weeks ago, when it was reported in the media that President Mahinda Rajapaksa raised this possibility during a meeting with his own Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) in the context of the upcoming elections to the North Western Province.
"Jayasekera’s popularity also stems from his public appearances which he manages with aplomb. He is a much sought after guest at television talk shows, an accomplished singer and was also a celebrity contestant in a reality television competition"
Rajapaksa reportedly asked his chief ministerial aspirants whether they had any objections to Jayasekara entering the fray from the SLFP and they all agreed to abide by the President’s decision. These reports were not contradicted and many thought Jayasekara’s cross-over was imminent.
If the President was attempting to create divisions within the UNP on the eve of the provincial polls, he may have succeeded. Yesterday’s announcement categorically stated that Jayasekara would not merely contest the provincial polls but that he would also be the UPFA’s chief ministerial nominee.
It was only a few days ago, that the UNP announced that disciplinary inquiries against Jayasekara had been concluded and that he would not be penalised. Jayasekara went through a similar phase in 2012 when there was feverish speculation that he was to join the Cabinet-but that too did not happen.
Forty-four-year-old Jayasekara Pathirannahelage Dayasiri Pathmakumara Jayasekara hails from Kurunegala, and had his education at Hettipola Junior School, Harischandra College and Mayurapada Central College before entering the Law College where he qualified as an attorney.
Perhaps it is not surprising that Jayasekera invites speculation about joining the SLFP because his political journey began there. As a young lawyer, he was a protégé of Minister G. L. Peiris and was an enthusiastic SLFP youth activist with an impressive track record in the party.
In 2001, when his mentor Minister Peiris and others crossed over to the UNP, Jayasekera followed suit. However, he entered Parliament only in 2004, when he polled over 52,000 preferential votes from the Kurunegala district, being fifth in the UNP list.
Unfortunately for Jayasekera, the UNP lost that election and has been in the opposition since then. However, being a skilled debater in both Sinhala and English, this has allowed him to emerge as one of the government’s strongest critics both in and out of Parliament.
Jayasekera’s popularity also stems from his public appearances which he manages with aplomb. He is a much sought after guest at television talk shows, an accomplished singer and was also a celebrity contestant in a reality television competition.
However, what has earned him the most headlines are his differences of opinion with the UNP leadership, particularly party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.
In giving vent to his frustrations about being in the opposition, he has often been critical of Wickremesinghe’s style of leadership. This has got him into strife within the UNP on many occasions.
"The rumour mill first went into overdrive a few weeks ago, when it was reported in the media that President Mahinda Rajapaksa raised this possibility"
Sometimes outspoken to the point of brashness, Jayasekera has made no secret of the fact that he believes the UNP is in need of a leadership change. His constant sniping at Wickremesinghe through media interviews led to the UNP launching disciplinary inquiries against him.
At the height of the UNP’s most recent leadership crisis in December 2011, when the Sajith Premadasa faction put forward Karu Jayasuriya to challenge Wickremesinghe for the party leadership, Jayasekera was a leading campaigner for the Premadasa faction.
Wickremesinghe beat Jayasuriya easily by 72 votes to 24 votes in that contest. Premadasa himself contested for the post of deputy leader and won against Ravi Karunanayake with a lesser margin: 52 votes to 44.
In that election, Jayasekera was the Premadasa faction’s nominee for the National Organiser post but he lost to Daya Gamage by 56 votes to 40. Since then, Jayasekera has been claiming that he has been accorded step-motherly treatment by the party hierarchy.
After that leadership contest which left the UNP badly bruised; its party headquarters, the ‘Siri Kotha’ offices in Kotte was attacked by protestors. Jayasekara continued to agitate for reforms within the UNP while even the likes of Premadasa and Jayasuriya were maintaining a relatively low profile.
This is the likely cause of the speculation that Jayasekara was about to join the government. It is also possible that some overtures were made as Jayasekara did not contradict the statements attributed to President Rajapaksa saying that he was interested in becoming a chief ministerial candidate.
It now appears that Jayasekara has finally decided to shift his loyalties. Having been a fierce critic of the UPFA, how he could now present himself as a chief ministerial candidate for that party is a moot point. However, his decision is also a slap in the face of the UNP.
Jayasekara’s decision highlights the factionalism within the UNP and its leadership clearly needs to do more if it is to emerge once again as a force to reckon within national politics. A key to this would be a true reconciliation between the Wickremesinghe and Premadasa factions.
A major complaint from the Premadasa faction since the December 2011 party leadership elections is that its supporters have been victimised or marginalised. This has led to a loss of grassroots support for the party, leading to more election defeats. Jayasekara was among those who complained bitterly.
In his short span as a parliamentarian, Dayasiri Jayasekara emerged as a colourful and entertaining personality and a forthright politician. Perhaps he finally decided that being a chief minister is better than being an opposition parliamentarian with little prospects.