By Amrit Muttukumaru –
There is speculation that Sajith Premadasa, UNP Deputy Leader will move to Colombo District from Hambantota District for the next General Election. If this is the case, there is reason to believe this is a wise move from his personal political perspective if he is to assert himself within the murky machinations within the UNP. To place matters in perspective, he has proved he is no pushover in some areas of Hambantota District considered a Rajapaksa bastion. Why then is there speculation he will move over to Colombo District?
The answer to this question possibly hinges on his prospects for leadership position in the UNP hierarchy, in particular to checkmate the moves of longtime UNP leader and present Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to prolong his leadership role by promoting malleable favourites with little all island electoral clout. Some of them are already placed in influential positions within the party hierarchy.
It is widely perceived that PM Wickremesinghe (RW) does not have much electoral appeal particularly in Sinhala Buddhist majority areas which effectively places him at a disadvantage. The 2005 presidential election which he narrowly lost mainly due to Tamils in the North and East largely not voting is an aberration. Even at this election by and large he lost in the Sinhala Buddhist heartland, hence the need for minority votes. Another aberration is where RW can effortlessly reap a rich harvest of votes in the Colombo District mainly due to the demographics of the area under the Colombo municipality which has traditionally been a UNP bastion. Even when the UNP Municipal nomination list was rejected in 2006, a Three Wheeler driver backed by the UNP was elected Mayor of Colombo defeating then ruling party list led by Vasudeva Nanayakkara. At the 2015 August General Election, RW amassed a whopping 500,566 preferential votes while the next highest was a relatively low 117,049 obtained by Sujeewa Senasinghe, State Minister for International Trade. This does not translate to RWhaving huge popularity in this area. It is reasonable to assume that the majority of the 500,566 preferential votes obtained by RW was not due to his popularity but was due more to the fact that the UNP voter allocates a preference vote to the party leader as a matter of duty.
Hence it is not difficult to conclude that RW would have effortlessly harvested preference votes from UNP electors who voted for their respective candidates who were UNP organizers for different areas in the Colombo District merely by virtue of being the UNP leader. Any other UNP leader would have also obtained this. This is over and above the block UNP vote he would have received from the area in Colombo in which he was an organizer. This would have also accrued to any other UNP member who was an organizer.
On the other hand if Premadasawere to relocate to the Colombo District in general and Colombo Central as UNP organizer in particular, RW in all likelihood will not get anywhere close to the500,566 preferential votes he got at the 2015 August General Election. If this were to happen it will not only embarrass RW but more importantly it will make his UNP leadership UNTENABLE. Colombo Central was a stronghold of Sajith’s late father former President, Ranasinghe Premadasa whose memory is widely thought to be still revered by many not only in Colombo Central but in many rural areas of the country as well.
One can safely bet one’s bottom dollar that RW will fight tooth and nail to prevent Premadasacoming to Colombo. It is not unlikely that RW may even throw in a candidate with a reasonable electoral appeal in the Colombo Municipal area such as Ravi Karunanayake to queer the pitch for him. (no pun intended)
RW has the wherewithal to electorally marginalize anyone who could pose a potential threat to his UNP leadership. Hence keeping Premadasaout of Colombo would not be very difficult for him. The UNP Constitution places the decision making Working Committee under the influence of the party leader by virtue of having the majority of members as his nominees. An excellent recent example is how he prevailed in getting his nominee, Education Minister, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam appointed to the key position of UNP General Secretary. This is as farcical as the ‘independent directors’ in quoted public companies being the nominees of the major shareholder.
The fallout of this will be many and will further destabilize the UNP. There is a school of thought that RW really does not care so long as he has all the trappings of opposition leader with which he has been comfortable for most of the time after he became UNP leader in 1994. If he was serious about the fortunes of the UNP (i) would he have not nurtured a credible second tier of leadership in the UNP now that he is on the eve of reaching his silver jubilee as UNP leader? (ii) would he have tolerated rampant corruption in the UNP which includes the egregious bond scam and absence of accountability? (iii) would he not have taken credible measures to make those concerned truly accountable for the egregious bond scam?
The UNP led by RW without REAL reforms to re-capture its once formidable vote base will not have a snowball’s chance in hell to succeed in an electoral contest with a former President Mahinda Rajapaksa led political formation if as is increasingly likely it is business as usual in the UNP.
In another act of apparent DECEIT RW has engineered another committee – a ‘Politburo’ more commonly found in communist partiesto bring about reforms. For any ‘reforms’ to be successful it is CRUCIAL to inter alia give its grassroots members a REAL SAY in decision making on key issues concerning the party. This does not appear to be even on the radar! A template with suitable modifications could be based on the UK Conservative Party. By the looks of it the ‘Politburo’ is another farce with no legal underpinning in the context of a ‘Working Committee’ largely under RW’s influence.
It appears that the main purpose of the ‘Politburo’ is to consolidate RW’s position which include setting up a mega conflict between Sajith Premadasa and Navin Dissanayake. To this list other names with leadership potential such as possibly Harin Fernando and Buddhika Pathirana could be added. Such internecine conflicts will further debilitate the UNP.
Under no circumstances should it be construed that this writer is rooting for Sajith Premadasa or any other for UNP leadership. All he is endeavoring to do in good faith is demonstrate how the UNP’s once FORMIDABLE vote base has been seriously UNDERMINED after RW became party leader in 1994. The only reason how RW has managed to be Prime Minister for this long since 2015 (by his track record!) is due to one of the most undemocratic features put into the 19thAmendment – parliament cannot be dissolved for 4 ½ years unless at least 2/3 of ALL members demand it. This has put paid to the MYTH of his purported democratic credentials.
UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has over the years RENEGED with impunity on many promises for the democratic governance of the United National Party. It will be detrimental for the governance of the country if there is a repetition. A strong, principled and accountable UNP and SLFP/SLPP are CRUCIAL for the democratic governance of this beleaguered country.
The so-called Yahapalana government has only itself to blame for keeping the door wide open to give the Rajapaksas another shot at leading this country prior to any CREDIBLE investigation with due process of allegations of egregious corruption, violence and abuse of power stridently hurled by frontline UNPers in the run-up to the January and August 2015 Presidential and General Elections. This includes now key Ministers CLOSE TO RW – Dr Harsha de Silva and Eran Wickramaratne who made DAMNING allegations against the Rajapaksa Presidency with a slew of FILES in tow at a press conference.
Here is the link to the 17 December 2014 press conference (watch from 10:41 onwards)