Over two-thirds of UNP MPs back Sajith – Mangala

Claiming that United National Party (UNP) Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa has the backing of over two-thirds of the party’s parliamentary group, UNP heavyweight Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera said Premadasa must therefore be the main contender for the party’s presidential candidacy.

Speaking to journalists in Colombo this morning, Samaraweera said though a number of potential UNP candidates have thrown their hat into the ring, the Minister of Housing enjoys the widest support within the party.

“I would say there are about four or five possible candidates – even Hon. Daya Gamage has said he’d like to come forward. But [Premadasa] has to be the main contender because more than two thirds of the parliamentary group have already endorsed him,” he said.

Samaraweera also dismissed reports of disciplinary action to be taken against Premadasa loyalists MPs Sujeewa Senasinghe and Ajith P. Perera who stand accused of publicly criticising the party leadership.

“A letter isn’t the same as a disciplinary inquiry. A single person, whether it’s the General Secretary, the Chairman or anyone else, cannot decide on their own to hold a disciplinary inquiry. Only the UNP Working Committee can take a call on that. No such decision has been made,” he said, responding to a question about letters sent to the two MPs bearing the signature of UNP General Secretary Akila Viraj Kariyawasam.

Kariywasam wrote to the MPs on Tuesday (27), asking them to show cause for their conduct before 9 September.

Samaraweera insisted that internal debates about the party’s candidate for the upcoming presidential election reflects the democratic nature of the UNP.

“Yes, there is an ongoing dialogue in our party about who ought to be the candidate. There is nothing wrong with that. Such dialogue is an essential component of a democratic country and a democratic party,” he said.

“It’s only in autocratic countries that candidates and leaders are selected sans consensus,” he added.

Pointing to examples in the West, Samaraweera said the United Kingdom is not considered to be unstable just because eight MPs moved against Former PM Theresa May resulting in the appointment of Borris Johnson as Prime Minister.

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“In the US, about 15 aspiring candidates from the Democratic Party are engaged in weekly televised debates. Does this mean the US is unstable? You have gotten too used to living in an authoritarian society. The servile mentality of living under a dictatorship is what brings people to ask such questions,” he said.

The Finance Minister went on to say that the UNP is transitioning to a modern political party whose democratic values are well suited for the 21st century.

“Today, Sri Lanka is a seven-star democracy. That’s our strength. There is complete freedom and democracy in this country. We don’t run away from the media. We don’t block them from covering our events.  We are a modern, democratic party, and we have established a modern deomcratic country,” said Samaraweera.

“I feel sorry for anyone who sees this is a weakness,” he added.

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