It is expected that Parliament will be dissolved in March this year (2020). Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya at a press conference held on December 4, 2019 said that if Parliament were to be dissolved in March 2020, general elections could be held on either April 25, 27 or 28. President Rajapaksa in response to foreign correspondents at the Presidential Secretariat on December 19 confirmed that Parliament would be dissolved after March 3, 2020. It is definite therefore, that parliamentary elections will be held in the later half of April this year.
As this election date approaches, most people in the country will have it in the front of their minds, that on April 21 last year, suicide bombers who happened to be of the Islamic faith, detonated their deadly explosives with terrible effect in three churches and luxury hotels in the country’s capital and in Batticaloa. That at least claimed over 350 innocent lives inclusive of children in the deadly explosions, is still fresh in people’s minds. Country-wide, people hold the government of the day, responsible for the security lapses which resulted in the human tragedy and also hit the country’s economy pretty badly.
The United National Party (UNP), the then governing party, will be thus starting off its election campaign with a huge handicap. One would therefore, have expected that in the face of these tremendous odds, the party would come together unitedly to face the election, despite its internal strife.
Once presidential election was announced last year, rather than getting united to face that election, though it had a good eight months to ‘plaster over’ its internal squabbles, the party split into factions over who its presidential nominee would have been.
At the eleventh hour, Sajith Premadasa was nominated party candidate for the 2019 presidential election. The result; a weakened political party and a lacklustre political campaign. Candidate Premadasa was ‘hamashed’, being unable to win even a single province in which Sinhalese are predominant. In the aftermath of the trouncing at the presidential poll, the party was further weakened, in a squabble for the post of Leader of the Opposition.
Today, facing general elections due in two months, and another massive defeat staring the party in the face, and the warning lights apparent to all others, the UNP leadership does not seem to see the writing on the wall. Today the UNP is once again the party that is tearing itself apart. This time over the post of party leader.
Losing presidential candidate Sajith Premadasa is demanding the post of party leader. The incumbent leader, who has been in the leadership position since 1994, is not willing to give up that position, claiming he is the lawfully elected leader.
The constitution of the UNP protects Mr. Wickremesinghe’s position as party leader as not very long ago, Mr. Wickremesinghe with support of his party leadership changed the party constitution. Mr. Premadasa alone opposed the proposed changes. Under the changes which were enacted, the party leader once elected, holds sway for a fixed period of time. At the last party election held two years ago, Mr. Wickremesinghe was again elected as the leader. Under the party constitution therefore, Mr. Wickremesinghe’s position as party head cannot be challenged or changed!
Mr. Premadasa’s backers threaten, they will be forced to form a new alliance with like-minded political parties outside of the UNP to contest the forthcoming general elections. A registered political party has indicated its willingness to accommodate the breakaway group.
Today, the UNP appears to be on the verge of splitting over the post of party leader and is in danger of suffering the same fate as the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, now led by Maithripala Sirisena - reduced to nonentity status and clinging onto the SLPP to save it from going into oblivion.
Be that as it may, today general elections are on the horizon and for democracy to flourish, a country needs a strong opposition. It is obvious the divided UNP will not be able to fit that bill.
Perhaps it is time the UNP leadership takes time off from its petty squabbles to read, learn and take a lesson from Aesop’s fable of the bundle of sticks, which many of us read while we were around 10-years-old.
The party and its leaders can stand united or fall in a heap, taking the country back to an era when it was divided on the basis of ethnicity