Sajith Premadasa has been promoting himself as the presidential candidate and had a massive rally in Badulla recently - pix by Prasanna Pathmasiri
Minister Sajith Premadasa is experiencing days where everyone is loving him. Interestingly President Maithripala Sirisena and opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa have had encouraging words for him. Recently Rajapaksa had asked Sajith whether he should congratulate him now or wait till the United National Party (UNP) names him as the election candidate. Sajith in a friendly manner had responded by saying it was Rajapaksa’s wish.
Even President Sirisena has said that Sajith is an epitome of clean politics. The head of state had added that Sajith is an individual who can feel the pulse of the common man. It’s time for Sajith to know that when praise comes from the opposition one must be careful. Are these indications that both Rajapaksa and Sirisena are comfortable dealing with Sajith because he’s not so dangerous as prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe?
In politics one must be focused on what the opposition is doing as much as on how one’s subordinates are progressing with the tasks given to them. Wickremsinghe is keeping a watch over Sajith as the latter is going about promoting himself as the future presidential candidate. Probably Wickremesinghe is watching Sajith tire himself as the latter engages in a hectic election campaign. For the record Sajith has a history of neglecting his health when engaging in political work. Wickremesinghe might also be waiting till Sajith breaches an article in the UNP constitution so that he can take disciplinary action against him.
Recently parliamentarian Rohitha Abeygunawardane said that though Sajith was promoting himself as the presidential candidate it would be difficult for the UNP Deputy Leader to break free from the traps that Wickremesinghe sets up to snare UNPers who go against him and the party. It seems very soon that Sajith would breach a party law and disciplinary action would be taken against him.
These are tricky days for both the UNP and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) because party members can be bought up by the much popular Pohottuwa party. Already SLFP members want disciplinary action taken against Dilan Perera, Sarath Amunugama and S.B Dissanayake for attending the recent Phottuwa Party ceremony where Gotabaya Rajapaksa was named as the future presidential candidate. Among the attendees at the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) rally were UNP lawmakers Ananda Aluthgamage and S.B Navinna. Both the Blue and Green parties are likely to take action against these individuals regarding the questionable acts they’ve engaged in.
Sajith has not flouted UNP policies or regulations. But he has interestingly walked on the line which divides what can be termed ‘a breach of the party’s constitution’ and ‘playing it safe’. Recently we saw Sajith’s wife making a statement that she was addressing a gathering as the wife of the country’s future president. For many this would have sounded silly, but for others who think deep it was clear that the wife publicly backing the husband in politics must be acknowledged and taken seriously. Have the wives of Rajapaksa and Sirisena ever done that on a public platform? If our politicians think that this is rubbish they only have to recall how Michelle Obama backed Barack during his tenure as USA President; often standing on the podium with her man.
Sajith has the backing of 52 party members who have placed their signatures on a document, handed over to Wickremesinghe. The document demands making the party’s deputy leader the next presidential candidate. But Sajith’s future presidential dream depends on whether he would agree to conditions forwarded by Wickremesinghe loyalists. The latter have made it clear that they’ll give Sajith the nod if he agrees to retain the Party leader, propose Wickremesinghe as prime minister and appoint a UNPer as the secretary of the alliance the UNP wishes to form with other political parties. The Sajith faction is yet to respond to this demand. Sajith loyalists meanwhile gave a letter to Wickremesinghe demanding that the presidential candidate be named before forming an alliance with other political parties in the run-up to the presidential elections; for which the date is yet to be announced.
The problem with the demands by the prime minister’s loyalists is that they haven’t understood that the ‘Green Man’ himself is the biggest obstacle stifling the progress of the grand old party. Most seasoned politicians in the party, those who thrive on parliamentary perks and privileges, would back Wickremesinghe and make hay while the sun shines. Members of the old brigade are holding on to power at the expense of the country’s progress. Many are of the opinion that the salaries paid to a good number of them are a total waste.
In the Sri Lankan political landscape people see two types of lawmakers. The majority, who Wickremesinghe represents, are opportunists. A few like Premadasa, who have a vision to serve the country, have made a clean journey in politics. So far the politicians with personal agendas have won, leaving the other group wondering whether treading on the ‘right’ or honest path would lead them anywhere.
One of the biggest mistakes made by Sajith is that he wasn’t ambitious enough in the past. There were times when he aired his views and wanted to be aggressive, but finally put up shutters and agreed to what Wickremesinghe offered him; akin to how an obedient student gives into the wishes of the teacher.
As for Wickremesinghe, politics is the air that he breathes. Despite being an academic, the premier knows that he would not have fitted into any other profession. Wickremesinghe may have wit in his speech, but he would do himself a favour if he speaks the least when on public platforms. He is forced to speak because he has failed to ‘walk the talk’. But Wickremesinghe has his strong points. The premier probably had a bad hand in the game of politics, but he has played his cards well.
Sajith can learn from Wickremesinghe, mostly how to pull out tricks from under the sleeve and survive, when the odds are against an individual who is metaphorically dead and buried. Given that the Tamil community will not vote for Gotabaya and the Muslim political parties are still undecided, it’s time for Sajith to step up on his election campaign and pull out victory from the jaws of a defeat staring in the face of the UNP!
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