UNP in crisis as deep divisions emerge at Working Committee

Just weeks before the political campaign for the forthcoming Presidential Election begins in earnest the United National Party plunged deep into crisis today (Aug 1) as a raucous meeting of the Working Committee exposed the deep divisions within the Grand Old Party.

For the third meeting in a row, the defiance of the Party Leader Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe reached a crescendo.

Wickremesinghe has faced such storms before but this is the first time that a majority of members in the Working Committee, as well as the Parliamentary Group, are opposing him.

The WC meeting held at Temple Trees was to discuss the formation of an alliance called the United Democratic Front that will back a candidate for the Presidential elections, slated to be formally instituted on August 5.

Wickremesinghe called on the WC to vote, agreeing to form the alliance and also on the Constitution for the new formation.

The UNP WC has in the past acted as a rubber stamp for Wickremesinghe’s proposals, but this time it did not.

From the outset the majority of the WC Members wanted to discuss the way forward and not hastily approve of the constitution for the new alliance.

Speakers including Ministers such as Gamini Jayawickrema Perera, Kabir Hashim, Malik Samarawickreme, Thalatha Atukorale, Ajit P Perera, Sujeewa Senasinghe, Mangala Samaraweera and Ranjit Madduma Bandara wanted further discussion.

Several members of the WC RepublicNext spoke with said that a clear majority of the members were of the view that that the UNP’s position in the alliance should not be weakened as it is the biggest party and anchors the formation.

“In any alliance, the biggest party has the decisive vote,” they pointed out.

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Housing Minister Sajith Premadasa has strong support in the party/ President’s Media Division

Before the meeting began a group of UNP Ministers had submitted a memorandum to Wickremesinghe objecting to several clauses in the Alliance constitution which gave discretionary powers to a Leadership Council that would head the alliance.

They said such powers to the Council which will consist of alliance members such as Patali Champika Ranawake could “change the very nature of who we are.”

They also vehemently objected to the proposal that the alliance headquarters be at 146/20 Sri Sambudda Jayanthi Mawatha (Havelock Road) which MP Chathura Senaratne, the son of the Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne has given as his private address to Parliament.

The “House” is a well-developed facility which was the headquarters of the movement that brought the Yahapalana regime to power and was previously owned by Kumar Rupasinghe.

Wickremesinghe had also suggested that the younger Senaratne be made the Secretary-General of the alliance to derisive laughter from the Members.

They said the alliance should be based at the UNP headquarters Sirikotha. State Minister Dr Harsha de Silva tweeted a picture of the proposed constitution with the remark “it must be Sirikotha, Secretary must be from the UNP” scribbled in pen.

Most of the members said Housing Minister Sajith Premadasa should be the General Secretary to the alliance. They also asked for more time to study the constitution before voting on it.

Some speakers said that the party must announce its Presidential Candidate before forming the alliance, and several proposed Premadasa’s name.

They also proposed that the party gather their supporters to Galle Face Green and acclaim their candidate rather than have a quiet ceremony to sign the alliance accords.  

Premadasa who also spoke said he was willing to accept the Secretary’s post in the alliance “or any other honour you wish to bestow upon me.”

But Wickremesinghe insisted that there should be a vote taken, and several members had said “this is not democratic.”

Wickremesinghe brooked no further discussion and insisted on a vote, but the majority of the members did not want a division. “Let’s stick together,” they said.

But eventually, a vote was taken with twelve members voting for the motion and the rest abstaining. Among the 12 were Ministers Navin Dissanayake and Tilak Marapana.

Temple Trees officially said that the motion had been carried unanimously.

The UNP Secretary General Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam told reporters that the alliance would be formed on August 5 and the constitution affirmed with the amendments suggested by the members.

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