The impasse over the symbol has compounded internal squabbling of the United National Party(UNP) beyond redemption. The party led by former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe refuses to budge an inch from its stance that the elephant symbol should be on the ballot paper at the upcoming General Elections .
Nevertheless, the faction led by Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa has stiffened its position that the UNP should be party to the newly formed alliance ‘ Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) and settle for a common symbol. Or else, it argues that the UNP should make way for the SJB to adopt the elephant symbol in accordance with the provisions of the Parliamentary Elections Act.
It has now led to a gridlock situation. The Sajith Premadasa faction should either contest under the elephant symbol or part ways with the party. The ball is now in Premadasa’s court.
The Working Committee, which is the UNP’s decision making body, has decided on March 1, as announced to the media, that the party should file nominations to contest the Parliamentary Elections under the Elephant symbol. The party leader informed of the decision to the media.
However, the Premadsa faction moved ahead with the formal launch of the SJB at Nelum Pokuna. Several political parties signed the agreement with its secretary UNP MP Ranjith Madduma Bandara, but there was no signature representing the UNP. Two Muslim Parties - Sri Lanka Muslim Cingress (SLMC) and and All Ceylon Makkal Cingress (ACMC), the amalgam of three parties representing Estate Tamils (DPF, NWC, UPF titled Tamil Progressive Alliance and the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) were the only recognised political parties that signed the agreement. All these parties contested the last General Elections as well as the Local Government Election under the elephant symbol.
The SJB is yet to finalise its constitution. It has obtained legal recognition, though. The party initially informed that it would adopt the heart as its symbol to contest the polls. But, the Election Commission has not listed the heart as a symbol. So, the SJB ‘s original plan went awry. Now, it is working out arrangements to contest under the telephone receiver as its symbol at the election.
The UNP, led by Ranil Wickremesinghe, will not drop the elephant symbol to be adopted by the SJB even in its wildest dream. Now,at the same time, the SJB is determined to proceed with according to its own planning. The current impasse over the symbol will herald yet another split of the UNP.
It has always been the end result of any internal conflict that cropped up in the party in its history. The pattern became more apparent during the past two decades. Whenever a crisis emerged, there was much wrangling between factions. Finally, it died down with a mass exodus from the party to join the ruling party at the time . The revolt against the party leadership ended with 17 MPs leaving it and joining hands with the government in 2007 as the latest example.
This time around, the UNP leadership has left the Premadasa faction with two options; to contest under the elephant symbol or to leave.
The Premadasa faction has already decided to participate in the elections under the telephone receiver as its symbol.
Hence, the split is certain.
The UNP knows for sure that this is not an election that the party is going to win. Instead, it may be planning for the future.
It seems to be believing that it can position itself as a viable opposition to the government led by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in the future after dispensing with the present dissenting lot.
If the UNP is divided this time, it will definitely pose a far bigger blow to the party than on previous instances. For the first time, the UNP will lose the support of the minority allies. Already,the Muslim and Tamil parties have thrown their lot behind SJB led by Premadasa. Likewise, a fair number of UNP MPs with some form of electoral bases has teamed up with Premadasa.
In this instance, the Premadasa faction is trying to imitate the path followed by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa after his electoral debacle in 2015. He defected from Sri Lanka Freedom Party(SLFP) and formed the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna(SLPP).
The SLPP made a comeback with Rajapaksa at the helm. In politics, the same strategy hardly works twice. At the same time, a strategy that works under certain circumstances will not work under different circumstances.
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