“The United National Party (UNP) has been roiled by internal dissension since the party lost the April parliamentary election. The dissent is a bit unfocused, but its main aim is to clip the wings of Ranil Wickremesinghe, the UNP and Opposition Leader, and/or remove him as party leader. (Wickremesinghe was prime minister from December 2001 until the UNP’s defeat in the April election.)” the US Embassy Colombo informed Washington.
The Colombo Telegraph found the related leaked cable from the WikiLeaks database. The cable is classified as “CONFIDENTIAL” and discuses the UNP’s internal crisis after the 2005 April parliamentary election. The cable is signed by the US Ambassador to Colombo Jeffrey J. Lunstead on May 12, 2004.
The ambassador wrote; “Two main challenges to Wickremesinghe’s leadership of the party have emerged recently: — In the first challenge, Sajith Premadasa, a UNP MP from Hambantota District in the south, has proposed changes to how the UNP selects its party officers. Premadasa, who is the son of former President Premadasa and a former deputy minister, told poloff on May 12 that he had introduced a proposal in a May 10 UNP parliamentary group meeting that all party officers be elected. (Some press reports state that Premadasa wants a ‘secret’ ballot, but he did not confirm this. Currently, the party leader appoints all the party’s officers.) Premadasa also proposed that a committee structure be set up to make policy decisions. Premadasa told poloff he had made these proposals out of ‘a genuine need for reform within the UNP on several levels,’ and because he felt the UNP needed ‘more internal democracy.’ Although he stressed to poloff that his proposal was not anti-Wickremesinghe in thrust, Premadasa has been known to have had a tense relationship with the former PM for some time. Premadasa said his proposal had been well-received by many party members, though the party leadership had not yet formally weighed in on them as of yet. The UNP was scheduled to have further meetings later this week to review Premadasa’s proposals as well as other issues. (In a May 12 meeting with the Ambassador, G.L. Peiris, a former minister, derided Premadasa’s proposals, asserting that the party leader had to have authority to make decisions and should not be constrained in doing so by a committee structure.)”
“In the second challenge, UNP party member and Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT) chairman Thilanga Sumithapala spearheaded an effort to replace Wickremesinghe as party leader last week. Sumithapala, in making this move, claimed that Wickremesinghe had failed the party and needed to be removed. Nimal Weeraratne, a UNP official, confirmed to Pol FSN on May 12 that Sumithapala had tried to oust Wickremesinghe and asserted that Sumithapala had also attempted to convince several UNP members to cross over and support the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) government. According to Weeraratne, members loyal to Wickremesinghe had told the former PM of these machinations and the effort was quashed. (Contacts have told Mission that Sumithapala, currently on bail for his alleged involvement in an immigration scandal, may be forced to resign from his position as SLT chairman shortly.) In fending off Sumithapala’s effort, there are unconfirmed reports that Wickremesinghe had to promise that he would undertake large-scale reform and ‘restructuring’ of the UNP. (Indeed, at the UNP’s May 10 meeting, Wickremesinghe had reportedly placed some reform proposals on the table, including the idea of developing ‘a UNP code of conduct.’ This latter idea is aimed at stopping corruption and ethical improprieties. Charges of corruption dogged a number of ministers and UNP MPs during the recent election campaign.) “Lunstead further wrote.