Strategies work in politics. But, the same strategy is unlikely to work twice. It will yield on the first occasion, but not on the next. Ahead of the Presidential Elections, the two main political forces are now occupied with strategizing for the purpose of mustering more than 50 percent of votes to be polled at the presidential elections.
The political force led by the United National Party (UNP) worked out the finest ever election strategy in 2015 by cobbling together an electoral alliance of the parties that were sometimes at odds with each other to field President Maithripala Sirisena as the common candidate. The well-planned strategy delivered results by eventually installing Sirisena as the president. But, things started falling apart afterwards over the policy and personal contrasts of the parties that stood together in 2015 to unseat then President Mahinda Rajapaksa. So, it is difficult to expect these parties to agree on an outsider as the common candidate this time.
So, the concept of a common candidate is not going to be a politically prudent strategy this time. The UNP, at least a large segment of it for that matter, believes it committed a blunder by choosing someone from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) to be fielded as the common candidate last time.
- Karunanayake was even averse to the idea of nominating Premadasa for the post of prime minister
- SLPP acts currently under the banner of the Joint Opposition (JO)
- It is widely believed that he would nominate his brother former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa
With that bitter experience in mind, the party is under immense pressure this time to field its own candidate instead of opting for a common candidate. Last time, the UNP parliamentary group was weak, and therefore it had to import someone popular from outside the party to field. Today, the UNP is the ruling party, and it has a strong parliamentary presence. Therefore, it will be difficult for the party leadership to go for a common candidate regardless of the views expressed by the parliamentarians belonging to the party.
Against such a backdrop, a bitter feud has emerged within the UNP with one section of the party, large enough to be reckoned with, mounting pressure on the leadership to nominate its Deputy Leader Housing, Construction and Cultural Affairs Minister Sajith Premadasa as the presidential candidate. It has caused a furore within the party.
The UNP stalwarts who support Premadasa’s bid for candidacy include Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, Public Administration Minister Ranjith Madduma Bandara, Justice Minister Thalatha Athukorale, Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrama, Non- Cabinet Ministers Dr. Harsha de Silva and Ajith P.Perera etc. They voiced themselves at the party’s parliamentary group meeting last week.
Also, Premadasa is getting his act together by forming village level teams to be activated for electioneering when necessary. In the wake of such developments, a dozen of UNP MPs who are loyal to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe met on Tuesday evening to discuss the current status of politics in view of the elections. Among the participants were Ministers Ravi Karunanayake, P. Harrison, Vajira Abeywardane, Lakshman Kiriella and John Amaratunga. They were well mindful of the demand for Premadasa by the rank and file of the party at this hour. So, they asked Wickremesinghe not to neglect that aspect. They asked the Prime Minister to be the presidential candidate, but nominate Premadasa for the post of Prime Minister in the event of the UNP-led coalition winning the presidential elections.
Karunanayake was even averse to the idea of nominating Premadasa for the post of prime minister at least. Karunanayake has personal enmity with Premadasa. He has sharply criticized Premadasa in public. However, the other participants were not ready to entertain Karunanayake’s views in this regard. They insisted that the Sajith faction should be accommodated. Karunanayake is a lone fighter in this issue now.
At the JO party leaders’ meeting conducted with Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa in the chair on Tuesday evening, SLPP Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris extended formal invitation to other parties to attend the convention on August 11
Dissension is simmering within the UNP in this manner. It will take a turn for better or worse after Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) announces its candidate on August 11 at its convention.
SLPP acts currently under the banner of the Joint Opposition (JO). At the JO party leaders’ meeting conducted with Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa in the chair on Tuesday evening, SLPP Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris extended formal invitation to other parties to attend the convention on August 11.
The SLPP will formally appoint Mahinda Rajapaksa as its leader at this convention. Afterwards, he is slated to announce the presidential candidate. It is widely believed that he would nominate his brother former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
The following day, the SLPP leaders along with the presidential candidate to be announced will head for Anuradhapura to mark religious observances at Jayasiri Maha Bodhi. From there, they would leave for Kandy where similar Buddhist religious ceremonies would be conducted to invoke blessings at Sri Dalada Maligawa. After the events in Kandy, similar religious ceremonies will be conducted in Kataragama and Seenigama before the SLPP representatives return to Colombo. Upon return to Colombo, they would call on other religious dignitaries including Malcom Cardinal Ranjith.
Once candidacy is announced, it would prevail upon the UNP-led political force to announce its candidate. The party would be under pressure to reconcile its differences and reach common position.
The selection of the candidate is not going to be at the sole discretion of the UNP. Instead, it will be decided by the alliance to be formed on August 5. It will be an amalgam of the parties in the governing coalition. The leaders of these parties had a discussion on Monday to finalise its Constitution.
It will have a collegial leadership with not less than ten members. Besides, an executive council of 50 members would be established. The leadership council, comprising representatives from each party, will take vital policy decisions subject to majority approval. When any vital policy is put to vote, the UNP will have 51 percent of voting power.
All in all, the country would witness two crucial political developments in the month of August starting today as far as the two main political parties are concerned. Each development would have a direct bearing on the future of the country.