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Mammoth crowd for Sajith’s inaugural rally

A huge crowd that filled every inch of the Galle Face Green joined in launching the campaign of New Democratic Front (DNF) presidential candidate Sajith Premadasa on Thursday (10 Oct).

The proceedings of the rally proper were preceded by a musical performance by popular band Sahara Flash. Many hundreds gathered at the Green danced to the band’s patriotic music that was tinged with a distinctly nonstop baila flavour.

The first to speak was Assistant Leader of the United National Party (UNP) Ravi Karunananake, followed by National Organiser Navin Dissanayake who took the crowd down memory lane.

Recalling that he and Premadasa embarked on their political journey together when they were first elected to Parliament 19 years ago, Dissanayake spoke of their comradery as fellow deputy ministers in the 2001 UNP government and as cabinet ministers in the government of 2015.

Dissanayake stressed that his colleague had come as far as he has from the grassroot level, having faced four general elections. This, he said, was while Premadasa’s opponent Gotabaya Rajapaksa has yet to even face a ‘ගම් සභා’ (Village Council) election.

Minister of Women and Child Affairs Chandrani Bandara who spoke next said that the dream of having a UNP president has come true at last after 25 long years.

As a mother, wife, sister and daughter, said Bandara, she could attest to the UNP’s commitment to giving women their due recognition. She also took a swipe at Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa who had claimed the current administration hasn’t done anything for women.

“The women of this country who make up 51 per cent of the population haven’t forgotten the sense of insecurity they felt during his period in office,” she said, chastising the Rajapaksa government for turning a blind eye to the rapes committed by Pradeshiya Sabha and Provincial Council members affiliated with it.

The respect Sri Lanka had won over the years for electing the world’s first female Prime Minister and also electing a female president for two consecutive terms had eroded due to the actions of the previous government, said Bandara.

“The country’s image changed to one where a woman tourist couldn’t even spend her holiday here in peace,” she said.

Soon after her speech, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe arrived at the rally from the side of the stage. A giant garland was placed around his neck the moment he took centre-stage to greet the crowds.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe arrives at the rally from the side of the stage / Amith Tennakoon RepublicNext

The garland was so big that Wickremesinghe only could have one side of it around his neck, with the other side hanging over his shoulder. 

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe with the half-worn garland/ Amith Tennakoon RepublicNext

Security was tightened after the arrival of the Prime Minister to the point where Special Task Force (STF) and police officers could be seen on the balconies of the Taj Samudra hotel.

Amidst the cheerful roar of the crowd, UNP General Secretary Akila Viraj Kariyawasam who spoke next said that the presidential election this year is like the coin toss before a cricket match. Instead of the usual ‘heads or tails’, however, he said, this time, the question is “පවුල ද? රට ද? (family or country)?”

“If you want a president imported from America, you can vote for the lotus bud. If you want a ‘made in Sri Lanka’ president you can vote for the swan,” he said.

Civil society activist Dambara Amila Thero got the crowd going with a colourful speech littered with such pithy phrases as දුම්මල වරම, vegetarian හාදයා and හන්ච් පයිස්.

The firebrand monk said that Sajith Premadasa as President will do all the things ‘අර එහා පැත්තේ ඉන්න හාදයා and vegetarian හාදයා (referring to incumbent President Maithripala Sirisena and candidate Rajapaksa) couldn’t do and did not allow us to do.”

Through the 19th amendment, he said, the current government was able to reduce the executive powers of the president to a great extent.

“But Sirisena thinking that he has the same powers that existed before 8 January 2015 took the දුම්මල වරම of dictator powers during the 52-day government,” he said.

“එවා කොහෙද සිරිසේන එවා හදේ තමයි කියලා අන්න දැන් හන්ච් පයිස් හතර ගතේ ගලා තනි පංගලමේ තනියා වගේ දැන් ඉන්නවා අර මාළිගාවට වෙලා (Those dreams were shattered, and now he finds himself alone and miserable in his palace)”, he added.

The Thero further said that Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who as Defence Ministry Secretary had terrorised the media to the point that journalists would run away at the sight of him, is now running away from the media. Those who refused to run, like Lasantha Wickramatunge and Prageeth Ekneligoda were killed, he added.

Candidate Premadasa’s arrival was announced in the middle of the Amila Thero’s speech, which was promptly interrupted to make way for the theme song: “එකම අරමුණින් මේ මිහිතලයේ රටම එක්වන අද දිනයේ… එක්ව ඉදිරියට යන මඟ හැදුනා.”

With the music as a backdrop, the STF and Premadasa’s bodyguards started clearing the way for his vehicle and entourage.

As he set foot on the Galle Face Green, a musical chanting of “Sajith, Sajith” was heard in the background.

A large number of balloons in green, red, orange and yellow were released as Sajith was moving forward through the crowd which had gathered to see their future leader face to face.

Presidential Candidate Sajith Premadasa arriving at the rally / Amith Tennakoon RepublicNext

After getting on the stage the same garland that was put on Wickremesinghe was put on Preamdasa but unlike his party leader, he was able to support its sheer bulk.

At this, all party leaders representing the alliance took to the centre of the stage, greeting and waving at their supporters who had come in the thousands. UNPers Ajith P. Perera and Dr. Harsha de Silva could be seen fighting hard for a spot in front of Buddhika Pathirana who had, out of nowhere, managed to make his way to the very front of the group, apparently having pushed his two colleagues aside.

Sajith Premadasa, Ranil Wickremesinghe, Buddhika Pathirana and Ajith P Perera waving their hands to the excited crowd while Harsha De Silva is trying to recording the moment / Amith Tennakoon RepublicNext

The Prime Minister was also given his due place in the front but it was Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) leader Patali Champika Ranawaka’s hand that Premadasa held and waved with at the crowd.

The Police and Prime Minister Security Division personel trying to prevent the crowd from breaking the barrier which separated the stage from the crowd / Amith Tennakoon RepublicNext

The PM, who took to the podium after Amila Thero, began his speech with a faux pas. He referred to Premadasa’s wife and would-be first lady as Jalani Jayakody, when it should’ve been Jalani Jayawardena Premadasa.

Addressing the gathering, Wickremesinghe said that since the opposition has started to criticise late president Ranasinghe Premadasa, the father of Sajith Premadasa, it is his duty to respond to those criticisms as he was a minister in Premadasa’s government.

Ranasinghe Premadasa was the one who started the fight against poverty, nepotism, feudalism and castesm in the J. R. Jayawardena government, said Wickremesinghe, adding that, now ,another Premadasa is there to carry on that fight.

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