Leadership crisis persists in Grand Old Party | Sunday Observer

Leadership crisis persists in Grand Old Party

Following the UNP’s humiliating defeat at the General Election, the usual leadership crisis within the party surfaced once again raising many an eyebrow. Party General Secretary Akila Viraj Kariyawasam told the media last week that Ranil Wickremesinghe had decided to step down from the leadership reiterating that the party will be re-organised under a new leadership. There was media speculation that Wickremesinghe had blamed Kariyawasam for his public comments that he was ready to give up the leadership.?Reaffirming Wickremesinghe’s stand, the UNP Working Committee which met at the Sirikotha party headquarters on Friday (August 14) had decided to take another six months to elect the new leader.?

The UNP Working Committee met on Friday to discuss the party leadership and the post of the National List MP for over two hours. In the midst of the crisis, one of the oldest political party in the country is also struggling to nominate a suitable person for the National List seat secured in the 2020 polls. However, no agreement had been reached on that either. The UNP suffered a crushing defeat at the General Election after which Ranil Wickremesinghe who had been the party leader for 26 years decided to step down.

Accordingly, eight names were proposed for the new party leadership. Party General Secretary Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, Assistant Leader Ravi Karunanayake, National Organiser Navin Dissanayake, Party Treasurer Daya Gamage, Deputy General Secretary Ruwan Wijewardena, Vajira Abeywardena, Arjuna Ranatunga and Palitha Range Bandara have been nominated. Former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya had also said that he was ready to take over the leadership of the party if requested. It seems the leadership crisis within the UNP would further drag on as the party hierarchy has decided to take another six months to resolve it.

Unanimous decision

UNP Deputy General Secretary Ruwan Wijewardena stressed the importance of reaching a unanimous decision for the sake of the party’s future.? Issuing a statement, Wijewardena highlighted that the party has reached a critical stage and added that all members have reached a consensus to carry out reorganising and restructuring of the party under a new leader. He said there was a need to reach a unanimous decision by rejecting dissent as it was essential for the UNP to re-emerge stronger after its worst electoral defeat.?However, there was a subtle competition between the senior members of the party and their supporters. “The UNP is not a model of a family dominated political party that has emerged from time to time in the history of this country,” ?he said.

The Cabinet of Ministers and State Ministers of the new SLPP Government were sworn in before President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Wednesday (August 12). The swearing- in ceremony was held at the Magul Maduwa (Audience Hall) of the historic Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic precinct in Kandy. According to the President’s ‘Saubhagyaye Dekma (Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour) policy statement the composition of the Cabinet has been formulated in a pragmatic and a realistic manner to implement the national program. Special attention has been paid to the areas of national security, economic development, infrastructure facilities, education, health and sports in formulating the ministerial structure. The new Cabinet of Ministers comprises 25 ministers including the Prime Minister. There are 39 State Ministers. Twenty- three Members of Parliament have been appointed as District Coordinating Committee Chairmen.

Serious questions have arisen over the role of former President Maithripala Sirisena in the new Government as he was not given a Cabinet portfolio. Earlier there was media speculation that former President Sirisena was to be appointed Minister of Environment. However, he was not among the new ministers who took oaths before the President. Some speculated that the former President would be the next Speaker when Parliament convenes on August 20. Government sources earlier said Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena was likely to be appointed Speaker. Former President Sirisena topped the preferential vote list in Polonnaruwa obtaining 111,137 votes. However, two Cabinet portfolios and three State Ministry portfolios were given to the SLFP members who contested under the Sri Lanka People’s Freedom Alliance at the General Election.

It was also witnessed at the Wednesday’s swearing-in-ceremony of the new Cabinet that some powerful former Ministers contested under the SLPP- W.D.J.Seneviratne, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, Susil Premajayantha, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, Mahinda Samarasinghe, Dilan Perera and Chandima Weerakkody were not given any portfolios. However, senior politicians including Keheliya Rambukwella, Gamini Lokuge, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Dullas Alahapperuma, Mahinda Amaraweera, Bandula Gunawardena who contested under the SLPP received Cabinet portfolios. In addition, former Minister of Justice Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe PC declined the state ministerial portfolio offered in the new SLPP Government. Reportedly, Rajapakshe had rejected the portfolio of State Minister of Education Reforms. Nevertheless, he had said that he would support the Government in Parliament.

Breaking the tradition of assuming duties at the Ministry premises after being sworn in on Wednesday (August 12), Minister of Highways Johnston Fernando assumed duties on Thursday (August 13) by laying the foundation stone for the construction of the Umang Road which leads from Kurunegala to Negombo.?In addition, he also marked the occasion in Kurunegala by commencing the carpeting of Vajiragnana Mawatha, surveying Maliyadeva Vidyalaya for the construction of a basketball court and planting a sapling at the school premises. Speaking to the media about the Central Expressway, Minister Fernando said the Kadawatha-Mirigama phase will be constructed within three to three and a half years and added that the Mirigama-Kurunegala phase will be completed over the next six months.

Addressing the media, SLPP National List MP Mohommed Muzammil said JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake and General Secretary Tilvin Silva should quit in the wake of the latest electoral debacle. Pointing out UNP Chief Ranil Wickremesinghe, at last has decided to quit the party leadership having accepted responsibility for the worst ever electoral defeat suffered under his leadership, Muzammil urged the JVPers to follow Wickremesinghe’s example. Muzammil who represents the breakaway JVP faction, the National Freedom Front (NFF) said that the JVP Leader and its General Secretary should be ashamed to continue in their positions after the party was reduced to mere three lawmakers, including one National List member after virtually co-habiting with the previous UNP led regime. The JVP MPs in the last Parliament comprised six members, including two National List MPs. MP Muzammil further said the JVP Leader and its General Secretary owed an explanation to those who loved and respected the party. The incumbent JVP Leader and its General Secretary had weakened the party so much that it ended up with three members in Parliament.

Additional seat

Three political parties which contested the polls separately will be joining the SLPP to form a two-thirds majority Government. Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan’s (alias Pillaiyan) Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP), Douglas Devananda’s Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) and A.L.M. Athaullah’s National Congress Sri Lanka (NCSL) have already reached an understanding with the SLPP and will be joining them in Parliament to form the two-thirds majority Government. In addition, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) which had obtained one additional seat from Jaffna will also join the SLPP. The SLPP obtained 145 seats, while SLFP, TMVP, and All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) obtained one seat each and EPDP two seats.

Addressing a gathering in Kandy, the newly appointed Minister of Justice Ali Sabry said that he was committed to bringing those responsible for the Easter Sunday attacks to justice. Minister Sabry said that he didn’t enter politics to make money and that his sole intention is to bring people together. He said although some elements attempted to promote extremism by dividing people, most of the Sri Lankans have understood the true situation. He said “The minorities of the country have commenced a new political journey. We need to embark on a journey based on principles of national unity adding that the majority also has a responsibility to offer an hand of friendship to the minorities. “I assumed duties as the Minister of justice to serve all. I am not the Justice Minister for one community. I love this country. I can assure you that we will not do anything against the country, peace or the brotherhood among people. No one needs to doubt our commitment.” Minister Sabry further said most of the Muslims want extremism eradicated as the existence of extremists hindered their freedom.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is scheduled to present the new Government’s Policy Statement at the ceremonial sitting of the first session of the Ninth Parliament. The President is scheduled to chair the inaugural meeting at 3.00 pm and the Statement of the new Government’s policy as provided by Article 33(2) of the Constitution will be read by the President.

The newly appointed Minister of Sports Namal Rajapaksa told journalists that he would hold discussions with senior and former cricketers on the development and restructuring of cricket. He said “cricket is the only sport given prominence in Sri Lanka. I am not the Minister of Cricket but the Minister of Sports. There is a separate administration for cricket”, he pointed out. Rajapaksa, the youngest Minister in the newly appointed Cabinet of Ministers said that not only cricket but all other sports in Sri Lanka will have to undergo restructuring, adding that discussions will be held with the administrations in this regard in the future. Minister Rajapaksa further said he intends to find the shortcomings in different sporting administrations and help restructure and develop the sport.

The Election Commission has decided not to gazette the National List member of Our Power of People’s Party (Ape Jana Bala Party) owing to ambiguity with regard to the name that has been submitted for the National List slot by the party, it was reported. The Commission said two General Secretaries had submitted two names for the seat and added it had created a legal barrier since the Commission is unable to determine which name to be gazetted. Earlier, the National List post granted to Ape Jana Bala Party which secured 67,758 votes had been designated to Ven. Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thera.?Earlier reports speculated that a clash of opinions rose on whether the post should be designated to Ven.Gnanasara Thera or Ven.Athuraliye Rathana Thera. Later, the matter had been discussed in depth and a majority had been of the view that the National List seat should be designated to Ven.Gnanasara Thera.

A leader of a minority political party who represents the Opposition has begged for a ministerial portfolio in the Government. He has informed a prominent Government figure that if he is offered even a State or Deputy ministerial portfolio, he would be satisfied. However, the key Government lawmaker has informed the Opposition MP that the Government has no intention to embrace any Opposition politician offering them perks as the Government has already secured a two thirds majority in Parliament. The senior Government politician had also told the Opposition MP that he can very well remain in the Opposition whether supporting or opposing the Government moves.

The National Unity Front Leader Asad Sali told the media that half of the total number of votes received by the SJB was minority votes so that some sort of representation should be given to the minorities in the SJB National List. He said Imitiaz Bakeer Markar has been given a National List MP post as he is a personal friend of Sajith Premadasa and not as a representative of Muslims.

The new Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage on assuming duties said it is regrettable to note that some social media had made some ludicrous remarks on the subjects assigned for the newly appointed Ministers. The Minister told journalists ministers had been appointed to uplift the local economy. However, this has been taken as a joke by some of those in the Opposition. They all arer for a pro-west economic policy so that they are not in a position to understand the scientific formation of the Cabinet of Ministers.