ECONOMYNEXT – Speculation is intensifying on who will fill the vacant national list seat of the United National Party (UNP), with party officials saying there is agreement to nominate ex-Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe though he has reportedly declined the offer, leading to other names being suggested.
A UNP source told EconomyNext that some younger members of the party had discussed the possibility of naming incarcerated Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) former MP Ranjan Ramanayake to represent the UNP in parliament.
The source claimed that since Ramanayake is “technically” still a member of the UNP despite his contesting last year’s parliamentary polls from the breakaway SJB, there would be no legal obstacle to naming him.
There is also precedence for nominating a candidate who contested and lost from a different party, the source said, pointing to Field Marshall Sarath Fonseksa’s entry to parliament in 2016.
Fonseka ran on the Democratic Party ticket in August 2015 and lost, but entered parliament in February 2016 by filling the vacancy left on the UNP national list by the demise of then Land Minister M K D S Gunawardena.
Four years later, Fonseka would join the mass exodus of party seniors who formed the SJB under the leadership of former UNP deputy leader Sajith Premadasa defying Wickremesinghe.
Asked how the UNP would deal with the matter of Ramanayake’s ongoing prison sentence, the source said the party might consider putting pressure on the government to secure his release, possibly through a presidential pardon.
There is bipartisan consensus, the source said, that what happened to the outspoken MP was “unfortunate”. Ramanayake’s reputation as an independent voice in parliament would also help, the source further said, adding that it would not be hard to convince the UNP rank and file to back him.
The Gampaha district MP was sentenced to four years of rigorous imprisonment in January this year over charges of contempt of court. The actor-turned-politician stood accused of making disparaging remarks about the judiciary at a press conference in 2017. Earlier this month, the Court of Appeal dismissed a petition filed by Ramanayake seeking a writ order preventing the annulment of his parliamentary seat. The court held that there was no legal basis in the petition. Last week, his seat was declared vacant by the Speaker amid howling protest by SJB MPs and was filled by former MP Ajith Mannaperuma.
Earlier Thursday (15), UNP Chairman Vajira Abeywardena said that Wickremesinghe will be taking up the national list seat in about two months’ time.
A spokesman for the UNP leader told EconomyNext this morning, however, that the former prime minister is not interested and that he wishes to see a younger UNPer take it in his place.
There is unanimous consensus among party seniors – more precisely the party’s working committee – that it should be Wickremesinghe that represents the UNP in parliament, according to party officials.
The UNP suffered its worst defeat in its history at the August 2020 parliamentary elections, failing to secure even a single seat barring the one national list seat alloted to Sri Lanka’s grand old party. Eight months later, a candidate has yet to be officially nominated for the seat. (Colombo/Apr15/2021)