Perhaps, politicians are exempt from compulsory retirement for a reason; maybe, years of experience compensates for progressively diminishing cerebral function. After all, Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamed came back from retirement of 15 years, to be Prime Minister again at the age of 93 years and is clearing up the mess his successor created in Malaysia. But this may be the exception than the rule. As the leaders of the major political parties in Sri Lanka are well past their retirement date, we badly need the second rung leadership. Sajith Premadasa fits the bill, very well, not merely because of his ancestry. Though born and bred in Colombo, he had been able to set up his base in the deep south, by his own effort. Further, he has been loyal to the United National Party (UNP) throughout his political career, an uncommon occurrence in modern day fickle politics.
He is desperately keen to get to the top and he may have achieved this ambition if not for the stoicism, both the strength and weakness, of Ranil Wickremesinghe. No political leader has been on the top of the helm in spite of multiple defeats; lack of success displacing political leaders very quickly. Ranil has weathered many a storm and whether his actions have weakened the UNP is yet another matter. But it has to be admitted that he is a clever manipulator having perfected the trade at the feet of the master, his uncle JR. In his haste, Sajith has unfortunately overlooked this fact.
"The Party Chairman taking his side, Sajith may consider another coup but to any right-thinking person it is an act of lunacy. The Party Chairman is not there to take sides and demonstrate indiscipline"
Sajith attempted to oust Ranil in 2014, his supporters starting a march from Devinuwara. In spite of Kurundupolu attacks in Matara, they marched undaunted to Colombo to be stopped short of their final destination, Siri Kotha, thanks to road resurfacing work that started mysteriously. He ended up being deputy leader.
Perhaps, he missed a golden opportunity when the bond scam and the subsequent failed cover-up was exposed, that tainted the ‘Mr Clean’ image of Ranil. Ranil was very vulnerable at that juncture and had Sajith tried, grassroots level supporters would have been with him, as it would have saved the face of the UNP, as well. It could even have led to a better working relationship of the now divided Yahapalanaya, as the President is supposed to have offered Sajith the post of Premier more than 60 times. Why Sajith did not make use of the opportunity can only be a conjecture. Maybe, it was in the true spirit of party discipline or faithfulness to the leader. Or it may be simply due to the lack of political maturity; not knowing when to strike.
Sajith presented himself as the UNP’s presidential candidate to the public, long before the party took a decision. In fact, the UNP is yet to decide. It may have been an attempt to force the issue but it is a pity, Sajith did not realise that it was a demonstration of indiscipline. Sajith’s wife was not very helpful either, declaring herself as the future first lady. Maybe, she tried to help but it misfired eliciting many sarcastic comments and hilarious cartoons.
Sajith’s unofficial campaign was launched at Matara by Mangala Samaraweera, who is believed to be the mastermind behind the Kurundupolu attacks in 2014, according to a court case which is still pending. In fact, following that attack Sajith issued a statement which included the following: “The entire country is aware that Mangala Samaraweera became a member of the UNP to contest the 2010 general election from a recognised political party and not because of his love for the UNP. Mangala Samaraweera who entered the UNP as a political refugee came in second in the district. He was also not even able to increase the UNP voter percentage in the Matara district during the provincial council polls held in march.”
Why did Sajith get Mangala to launch his campaign? Did he consider it to be a smart move to show that even Mangala, who opposed him vehemently, is now with him? But, unfortunately, he overlooked what he stated in his own statement of 2014. Mangala is not a popular politician even in the Matara district, coming third in the preferential votes for the UNP. Though he may be the darling of some American politicians and held in high esteem by globalist liberalists, most Sri Lankans consider Mangala to be a politician sans any patriotism; justifiably so, as he is the only foreign minister who supported a resolution against his own country; a unique achievement. For reasons best known to himself, Mangala has gone out of his way to hurt Buddhist sentiments. Is Sajith totally oblivious to these facts?
"Sajith presented himself as the UNP’s presidential candidate to the public, long before the party took a decision. In fact, the UNP is yet to decide. It may have been an attempt to force the issue but it is a pity, Sajith did not realise that it was a demonstration of indiscipline"
After rallies in his support at Badulla and Matara, there was a meeting between the Ranil and Sajith factions. In spite of an agreement not to have any more rallies, one was held in Kurunegala which amply demonstrated Sajith’s defiance, wherein he stated that he would definitely contest the next presidential elections and he will not take, not a foot but not even a millimetre back. Was that not the point of no return?
The Party Chairman taking his side, Sajith may consider another coup but to any right-thinking person it is an act of lunacy. The Party Chairman is not there to take sides and demonstrate indiscipline. Two of Sajith’s most vociferous supporters were guilty of trying to dilute the COPE report on the bond-scam and have gone against party discipline. When explanations were called from them, the Party Chairman pronounces they have not done anything wrong. Sajith claims this is democracy in action. Why cannot he understand that these disagreements should be at party meetings not public meetings? Does he not understand that he is opening the flood gates of rebellion even before he becomes party leader?
He claims absolute honesty and offers to work from 4.00 a.m. to midnight but Sajith has forgotten to file his declaration of assets. He has made a vast number of promises and vows to continue the Premadasa legacy but Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka, MP of his own party, openly declared the unimplementability of his promises while reminding the nation, his father’s support for the LTTE. Derana 360 degrees interview of Sarath Fonseka, surely, is ideal material to be used against Sajith, if he is in the fray.
Sajith’s silence after the last meeting with Ranil speaks volumes. Even if Ranil relents and allows Sajith to be nominated the UNP candidate, it is a wounded Sajith, a tainted Sajith that faces the electorate, with a significantly reduced chance of a UNP victory.
Ranil, as the leader of the governing party and the current Prime Minister, has all the right to contest the presidency, if he wishes to, irrespective of the past record. Instead of persuading Ranil at party level, Sajith took the battle to the open and showed what he really wanted; to dislodge Ranil. He cannot go back on his pronouncements and the only option left for Sajith, in the event of not receiving UNP nomination, is to contest under a new alliance. Soundings from Chandrika Kumaratunga, as well as unreasonable demands on the SLFP from the SLPP delaying an agreement, are pointers in this direction. If this happens, it will be interesting to see who comes second and who is the third.