Reformists fear latest SLFP-UNP initiative may weaken bid to revamp party

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Amidst a deepening rift between UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and MP Sajith Premadasa’s camp over the proposed party reforms, the decision making UNP Working Committee will meet on Monday (July 19) afternoon to discuss the issues, including the latest bid to reach a consensus with the SLFP regarding far reaching amendments to the Constitution.

Responding to a query by The Island, UNP sources said that those demanding meaningful measures to overhaul the party believed that the six-member Reforms Committee, headed by Joseph Michael Perera, MP had been biased towards the incumbent leader. Sources said that committee members had rejected their call to accommodate Provincial Councillors and Local Government members among the ‘Electoral College’ as they feared the majority of them would vote against Wickremesinghe in the event of a secret ballot to elect the next leader.

Sources said that they expected the leadership not to exploit the ongoing deliberations with the government either to delay or postpone the implementation of party reforms.

Sources alleged that they would not allow the leadership to make use of talks with President Rajapaksa to strengthen its position ahead of the forthcoming National Convention of the party.

Although those opposed to Wickremesinghe expect the National Convention to take place within the next three weeks, well informed sources asserted that they would not be able to complete the process in a hurry.

An MP said that UNP leader Wickremesinghe would brief the members on Monday regarding the progress made in talks with the SLFP. He pointed out that the talks involved the SLFP and the UNP, thereby giving the two largest parties in Parliament an opportunity to reach a consensus. Asked whether MP Wickremesinghe had been under pressure to come to an understanding with President Rajapaksa due to a threat to his leadership, sources asserted that they may have sought to prevent several UNF (United National Front) MPs from switching their allegiance to the UPFA. Had President Rajapaksa lured some MPs into crossing over to UPFA ranks, UNP and Opposition Leader Wickremesinghe would have had to face heavy flak. "That would have been disastrous," an MP told The Island, adding that UNP Chairman Gamini Jayawickreme Perera, during last Monday’s meeting with President Rajapaksa, had sought an assurance from the SLFP leader regarding an end to further crossovers as exclusively reported in Thursday’s issue (Page 3) of The Island.

Government sources indicated that the JVP, which spearheaded a campaign for abolition of the executive presidency, would not be invited to talks for the time being, though all political parties could join the process once the government and the UNP reached an agreement on the creation of executive premiership in place of the executive presidency.

In the run-up the last presidential election in January 2010, the UNP and JVP offered to vote for the abolition of executive presidency to pave the way for executive premiership.

Opposition sources said that the government would not have given up its plan to further strengthen the Office of the President at the behest of the Rajapaksas, had it not experienced severe difficulties on the international front.



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