Housing, Construction and Cultural Affairs Minister Sajith Premadasa took a step further in staking a bid for presidential candidacy- that is by holding a rally in Badulla on August 12, 2019. It is still uncertain whether he will receive nomination with the blessing of the party leadership. Let alone, the Badulla rally virtually turned out to be his maiden public event in view of the presidential elections. And, he outlined his policies in a broader frame at the event.
Interesting to note here is that he is advocating a policy approach that is fundamentally in contrast with what the UNP has been doing for the past four and half years. So much so that he is trying to project the UNP under him in a different outlook. The propaganda visuals created in view of the Badulla rally presented Premadasa as the leader of the poor, an aberration from the notion that the UNP is a Colombo centric party catering to the interests of the elitist strata of society. Premadasa is part and parcel of the UNP, but he is trying to carve out a different identity for himself and the party, for a better appeal to the wider electorate.
The UNP policies have been shaped by neoclassical economics right throughout, but Premadasa, a product of the same party, thinks otherwise in his vision. He appeals to the social segment that needs a fair measure of welfare arrangements from the state. Numerically, this number can be small in Sri Lanka which is now a country in the lower middle-income category, though. That the UNP not looking into the interests of the marginalised segments of society is one of the main allegations it has faced in recent years. It led to the erosion of the UNP vote base to a considerable extent. Premadasa, in making a bid to be the presidential candidate, promises to reverse it.
- Sajith seeks departure from traditional outlook of UNP
- Premadasa has initiated conducting public rallies in his lobbying spree for candidacy
- The UNP policies have been shaped by neoclassical economics right throughout
The UNP, during its rule for the last four and half years incurred a blame for corruption, particularly due to the bond fraud committed by the Central Bank. The names of many UNP stalwarts were implicated in the scam, but Premadasa is not. It is a plus point for him in his move to promote himself as a clean person.
Currently, the UNP is not on a firm footing at the grassroots level. It is the party in power. As such there is a groundswell of anti-incumbency sentiments against it in the country. Likewise, it is blamed for the present ills such as lapses in the security system that resulted in the Easter Sunday carnage, the poor performance in economy, the rising crime wave reflected in the form of underworld criminal activities, commitments made to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) etc. Against the backdrop, the UNP badly needs a sense of novelty in its candidate. So, a segment of the UNP tries to bank its fortune on Premadasa as the potential candidate.
Premadasa has initiated conducting public rallies in his lobbying spree for candidacy. Quite a number of the MPs have thrown their weight behind him. Albeit, he is yet to secure the blessings of his Leader Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his team. Wickremesinghe and Speaker Karu Jayasuriya are also aspirants in this case. This has led to a bitter political struggle within the UNP ahead of the presidential elections. The MPs who are loyal to Wickremesinghe are adamant that Premadasa should not be given nomination, come what may. Nonetheless, there is foregone conclusion by both factions that the UNP cannot win the elections as a single party, It is sine-qua-non that the UNP gets the backing of the political parties that can deliver Tamil and Muslim votes handsomely. In this instance, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) led by Minister Rauff Hakeem, All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) led by Minister Rishad Bathiudeen, Tamil Progressive Front (TPF) led by Minister Mano Ganesan are the parties that matter to a great extent for the UNP to win. Given infighting that’s present, these parties, along with others aligned with it, are at a loss these days.
ACMC thinks otherwise
According to well-informed political sources, some of these parties prefer Premadasa to Wickremesinghe or the Speaker, and the others vice versa. SLMC initially took the view that Premadasa should be the candidate whereas the ACMC thought otherwise.
Now, it is learnt that none of these parties would commit to any candidate until the election is declared. First and foremost, they will take stock of things and try to side with the winning side as has been their usual practice. Besides, they would bear in mind the parliamentary elections that follow the presidential elections. They have always secured more seats by contesting in alliance with the UNP and with any other party. It is always advantageous for them to be with the UNP at parliamentary elections.
Ganesan’s TPF is also a political force to be reckoned with, since he has a large vote base in the Colombo district and the estate sector in the Western, Uva and Sabaragamuwa provinces. He will also wait till the UNP reconciles its differences regarding the elections candidate.
Meanwhile, Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) which plaid a pivotal role in electing this government in 2015, is also in a dilemma over the tug-of –war in the UNP. JHU, led by Megapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka, does not favour Premadasa as a candidate.
Amidst the brewing political crisis, the UNP leaders including Wickremesinghe and Premadasa had a special round of talks at Temple Trees on Tuesday evening. The meeting was attended by Hakeem, Ganesan, Ministers Navin Dissanayake, Ravi Karunanayake, Palani Digambaram and Akila Viraj Kariyawasam.
The propaganda visuals created in view of the Badulla rally presented Premadasa as the leader of the poor, an aberration from the notion that the UNP is a Colombo centric party
The leaders exchanged views on the matters that led to the present crisis and scheduled another meeting for Saturday morning.
SLPP creates momentum, faces challenges in sustaining it
By nominating its presidential candidate even before the presidential election is declared, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) has created a momentum. It is now an arduous task for them to sustain it for the remaining period till the campaign is launched after nominations were handed over to the Elections Commission.
After being nominated as the presidential candidate, former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa headed for Anuradhapura for religious engagements. Later, he arrived in Kandy yesterday for the same. He called on the Mahanayake Theras. Interestingly, Mahanayake Thera of Malwatte Chapter Most Ven. Thibbatuwave Sithdhartha Sri Sumangala Thera presented him with a gold plated Buddha statue.
Kabir, Thalatha opposed to housing schemes in privately-owned estate lands
The Cabinet had its regular meeting on Tuesday. The meeting commenced at 7.30 am, but only five ministers were present. President Maithripala Sirisena was annoyed by the number in attendance. He said he wanted to finish off the Cabinet meetings as early as possible, so that the Ministers could return to their ministries to commence work.
“You are not ready for it,” he said.
At the meeting, Minister of Hill Country New Villages, Infrastructure and Community Development Palani Digambaram submitted a Cabinet memorandum seeking approval to construct housing schemes for workers in estates which are privately owned. However, he met with stiff resistance with Ministers Kabir Hashim and Thalatha Athukorale opposing the idea. Actually, these two ministers own estates in their respective areas. So, their objection is understandable.