At a meeting of party seniors, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is known to have expressed his desire to contest the presidential elections.
He had said this in the wake of a UNP faction loyal to Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa conducting another public rally at Kurunegala to urge the party hierarchy to nominate Mr. Premadasa as the party's presidential candidate.
In addition to the Prime Minister, ministers Kabir Hashim, Lakshman Kiriella, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam who is also the General Secretary of the party, Malik Samarawickrama, John Amaratunga, Gamini Jayawickrama Perera, Ravi Karunanayake, Sarath Fonseka, Daya Gamage, Navin Dissanayake, Ranjith Madduma Bandara, Ajith P. Perera and Mangala Samaraweera attended the meeting.
"I will contest the presidential election. I am the party leader. I have every right to do so. I will submit my nomination for approval by the working committee. If there is anyone opposing, they can do it there," the Prime Minister said.
Premadasa loyalists, ministers Hashim and Samarawickrama had said it would divide the party.
Mr. Wickremesinghe replied saying if he decided to contest as the party leader then everybody should back him.
Minister Sajith Premadasa did not attend today’s meeting and the seniors backing him were not receptive to the Prime Minister's idea. Therefore, it was decided that Mr. Wickremesinghe and Mr. Premadasa should meet tomorrow to sort out the matter.
Meanwhile, Mr. Hashim said there was a huge crowd present at Thursday's Kurunegala rally today. Minister Gamage said a large crowd was present because Mr. Premadasa had declared that he was the party's candidate.
"If we announce the party's candidate, we can bring a crowd ten times larger than it," he said.
However, Mr. Fonseka and Mr. Kariyawasam were critical of the rally saying it was against the party's collective decision.
They discussed the best possible options for the UNP to win the presidential elections. Those loyal to Mr. Premadasa said the party leadership should make a decision based on ground realities. (Yohan Perera and Kelum Bandara)