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UNP a Changing of the Guard

UNP a Changing of the Guard

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Published by Thavam

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Published by: Thavam on Oct 16, 2013
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October 17, 2013UNP Chief Ranil Wickremesinghe left on a two-day visit to Singaporeafter a marathon day of discussions that centred on his leadership of SriLanka’s main opposition party on Tuesday (15).
 Nearly two weeks ago, the United National Party’s internecine war turned bloody on the streets of Matara. Three days ago, as a belated result of thatviolence, Matara Police sought the arrest of the party’s Communications Chief, aformer Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, Mangala Samaraweera in connection withorganising an illegal protest and more incongruously, the petty theft of two megaphones.Samaraweera’s role in provoking the Matara clashes have been roundly criticised by both UNPmembers and the general public for bringing back ugly memories of his days as a minister inthe Chandrika Kumaratunga administration. Yet as he left the Matara Police Station on Tuesdayclutching a plastic bag of his belongings, Samaraweera cut a sympathetic figure.Video footage of club wielding hooligans from both the pro and anti-Ranil factions within theUNP were mostly overshadowed by images of a doddering 70 year old in a green shirt and cap,firing his gun willy-nilly into the crowd. That man was Herman Guneratne, author andconfidant of senior members of the ruling administration. He is the father of one of the UNP’sleading rebels who organised the anti-Ranil March from Matara to Colombo, Attorney-at-LawMaithri Guneratne.Guneratne Junior was recently expelled from the UNP for his role in the violence at Sirikotha,the Party’s Headquarters in December 2011. Remanded almost immediately after he injured atleast three people by his indiscriminate firing, Guneratne the elder now resides at the MerchantWard of the Colombo National Hospital. Ordered to make an appearance at the MataraMagistrate’s Court on Tuesday, Herman Guneratne failed to show up. The fundamentalquestion of why a Provincial Councillor’s father was carrying a loaded firearm into a crowd of would-be peaceful protestors remains unanswered. Greek tragedyIn lightof whathas
transpired in the past two weeks, it is safe to say that the woes of the country’s oldest political party have begun to resemble a Greek tragedy. Tragic heroes, with their tragic flaws, a would- be heir apparent and absolute dictators are scattered throughout the stage.The calls for Ranil Wickremesinghe to step down from the leadership of the UNP have far fromsubsided, but perhaps for the first time since Sajith Premadasa emerged as his chief challenger,the party’s ‘rebels’ are being seen as part of the problem rather than a viable solution. This hasseen Premadasa’s influence and support within the party’s Parliamentary Group in particular greatly diminished.The public calls for the arrest of Samaraweera that emanated from Maithri Guneratne and other sections affiliated with the Premadasa faction seemed to suddenly embolden law enforcementto act 10 days after the fact based on what it said was new evidence, has disillusioned the party’s organisers and activists on the ground, say UNP stalwarts.The UNP believes that Samaraweera’s arrest is part of a larger Rajapaksa Government plan tocripple the party’s Matara organisation a few months ahead of the Southern Provincial Councilelection. Under the circumstances, Premadasa’s own repeated attacks against Samaraweeraafter the Matara clashes on 5 October ties him inextricably to the fate that will befall the SLFPdissident who discarded several ministerial portfolios in the Rajapaksa cabinet when he crossedover to a much weakened opposition party in 2007 and has been a relentless and fearless criticof the ruling administration ever since.In the eyes of hardcore UNP supporters, this is betrayal not to be borne. That the home-and-home clash is being turned into a political advantage for the ruling UPFA regime simply doesnot sit well with UNP members and further erodes confidence in the alternative leadershipfaction led by Premadasa.Poor tasteThis crucial understanding of the UNP supporter’s mentality caused even staunch anti-Ranilrebels like Provincial Councillor Shiral Lakthilake to acknowledge that the witch hunt againstMangala Samaraweera and Co. was in poor taste. Lakthilake was to privately acknowledge toSamaraweera’s aides on Monday, when the Parliamentarian’s arrest seemed imminent, that theUNP’s internal battles need not be waged on behalf of either faction by the Government or itslaw enforcement arm. He told Samaraweera aides that he did not support the arrest and believed the matter needed to be settled between the two factions. Lakthilake’s sentimentscontrasted sharply with the position adopted by his compatriot Maithri Guneratne who hasconsistently advocated for tough action against Samaraweera.Between Samaraweera’s arrest that had resulted in significant sympathy for the pro-Ranilfaction and the self-defeating antics of the pro-Premadasa faction, including reckless statementsfrom the young MP from Hambantota himself since the current leadership battle commenced,Wickremesinghe finally seemed to be standing on much firmer ground. Premadasa’s reluctanceto meet for discussions with the UNP Leader and Karu Jayasuriya last week had cast him in a poor light, especially since he is the party’s most vocal proponent of leadership reform.Tuesday’s meetings on the new proposals for a change in the UNP’s leadership structurecommenced with a series of separate meetings Wickremesinghe, Jayasuriya and Premadasawould hold with senior monks of the United Bhikku Front, an organisation of Buddhist monksaffiliated with the party. Wickremesinghe met with the senior monks at 2:30 p.m. at a temple inColpetty, where the monks strongly advised him to assume the position of senior leader anddelegate all powers of the party leader to the Leadership Council that would function under 
Jayasuriya’s chairmanship. The monks proposed that Premadasa should also be a member of this Council.A previous proposal from the Bhikku Front was for Wickremesinghe to give up the position of UNP Leader altogether and sit as a member of the proposed Leadership Council. But withWickremesinghe willing to share the party leader’s powers with the Council but expressing astrong desire to remain Leader and retain the position of Opposition Leader, the monks havealtered their proposals somewhat.The United Bhikku Front has now called on Wickremesinghe to function as ‘senior leader’,Opposition Leader and head of the party’s Parliamentary Affairs. The Leadership Councilmeanwhile, should be one with complete authority and executive power over the UNP’s political affairs. Wickremesinghe told the monks on Tuesday afternoon that any decision on thesenior leader position would need to be approved by the UNP Working Committee, the party’sapex decision making body. JumbotriomeetWickremesinghe then proceeded for his meeting with Jayasuriya and Premadasa at the party’sThimbirigasyaya office. The UNP Leader’s consistent refusal to give up the reins of the GrandOld Party and backtracking on reform has resulted in a lack of faith in his pledge to devolve power in this round of the crisis surrounding his leadership. Premadasa himself has been astrong sceptic of Wickremesinghe’s bona fides, telling a preferred television channel after theUNP Leader agreed to share power that he was not willing to buy into the handout of goodiesin place of a real leadership change. In fact, Premadasa went into the meeting insisting on the

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