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Final Presidential slate uncertain as another candidate enters the fray

There is still uncertainty as to who the final candidates will be in the forthcoming Presidential Elections, although one is already campaigning around the country and another will enter the race today.

This afternoon the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) will announce a Presidential Candidate from its party, making it the second major political formation after the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) to enter a horse into the race slated to run before December 7 this year.

The candidate tipped to be the JVP Leader MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake, will be announced at a mass rally at Galle Face Green in Colombo.

While Dissanayake and the SLPP’s Gotabaya Rajapaksa appeared easy unanimous choices for the respective political formations, the United National Party (UNP) led political alliance dubbed the National Democratic Front (NDF) is still embroiled in a tussle over who its candidate will be.

UNP to choose the alliance candidate

Yesterday 17 Aug, an NDF meeting ended without conclusion, except that there was a consensus that the candidate for the Presidential elections should be from the UNP.

The alliance partners proposed that since at the last two Presidential elections the group had put up a non-UNP candidate, this time the anchor party should be allowed to choose the nominee.

However the candidate, they said “must be able to attract the broadest possible alliance.”

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at the launch of the Gurunagar Fisheries Harbour improvement project on August 15/PM Media

Yesterday’s meeting was attended by alliance partners Rajitha Senaratne, Patali Champika Ranawaka, Mano Ganesan, Rauff Hakeem and Arjuna Ranatunga, while the UNP was represented by Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, Mangala Samaraweera, Ravi Karunanayake and Kabir Hashim. Two key alliance partners Rishad Bathiudeen and Palani Digambaram were absent.

The NDF was to have been ceremoniously launched at the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium on August 5, a week before the slick made-for-TV public anointing of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the candidate for the burgeoning SLPP.

However, those plans were abruptly cancelled as the UNP went into disarray just days before the public announcement over who should be the Presidential candidate with a strong faction pressing for Housing Minister Sajith Premadasa to captain the side while Party Leader Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe refused to give way.

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Whoever the UNP chooses as the Presidential Candidate has to become the Party Leader, and Wickremesinghe has stoutly refused to budge from that position which he has held for nearly 25 years.

Premadasa has been gathering support inside the UNP in the past few months, however, Wickremesinghe, who has indicated that he wishes to be the candidate this time around, has stalled efforts to choose the UNP candidate.

The internal UNP tussle spilled over to yesterday’s meeting during the initial exchanges when Finance Minister Samaraweera proposed that the alliance accept Premadasa as the candidate.

According to several sources, the Jathika Hela Urumaya leader Ranawaka and Senaratne had interjected saying that the UNP should sort out its own issues about who their candidate will be before the alliance decides to back that person.

There had also been some discussion that whoever the NDF chooses should appeal to other formations such as JVP voters and possible minority allies such as the Tamil National Alliance.

Disputes among the alliance partners over its Constitution are also yet to be sorted out and that task has now been handed over to Senaratne.

Sirisena won’t run but who will he support?

Another party in a quandary is the Sri Lanka Freedom Party whose once-declared candidate President Maithripala Sirisena will not run, according to a top adviser. The party is yet to decide which candidate it will support at the polls and there is speculation that the party would split between the NDF and the SLPP.

Meanwhile, the first man out of the blocks Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been touring the country on a “religious week,” paying his respects to various places of worship. His cavalcade has been met with enthusiastic crowds and has at times been accompanied by his brothers Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa and former Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa.

But these are early days and a gruelling four months-long campaign stretches ahead. Much can change during that period and as Political Analyst, Rasika Jayakody told RepublicNext, “you can’t be sure who it is until they hand in their Nomination Papers.”

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