"I’m ready to lead the party,’’ says Sajith

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Sajith Premadasa, MP, who has emerged as the main challenger to incumbent UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe says he is ready to lead the party.

The Hambantota District MP says he has the strength, capacity and confidence to revive the party though the SLFP-led UPFA seems undefeatable now.

In a brief interview with The Sunday Island, Premadasa emphasized that he didn’t have a personal agenda and expected the party to unanimously agree to a change at the next annual convention.

He said that the UNP was a patriotic and progressive party which would never betray the country. Appreciating the victory over LTTE terrorism under President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s political leadership, Premadasa said that he would never hesitate to take on the government in case of wrong decisions.

Nothing could be as appalling as the 18th Amendment to the Constitution which envisaged dictatorial powers to the ruling party.

A major effort was needed to face the overwhelming UPFA political dominance, he said.

Responding to a query, he said that the 18th Amendment had taken away even the semblance of a level playing field in the public sector. It was nothing but a piece of legislation to strengthen the ruling coalition by effectively taking control of the Election Commission, the Public Service Commission, the National Police Commission, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lankan, the Permanent Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption, the Finance Commission and the Delimitation Commission.

He didn’t believe in cosmetic changes just to make everybody happy, Premadasa stressed. What the UNP needed was a total facelift to attract the voter and end the misconception that they were anti-Sri Lanka.

``My conduct during Sri Lanka’s war against LTTE terrorism proved my unstinted support to the war effort,’’ Premadasa said.

Referring to the threat of a group of UNP MPs to act as an independent group in parliament unless steps were taken to sort out the various problems confronting the party, he said he appreciated various actions taken by MPs to push the leadership to take corrective measures.

Opposition sources say the Opposition Leader should be able to stand up to the government in the wake of 18A which envisaged a Parliamentary Council empowered to make observations with regard to appointments to so-called independent commissions.

The fresh move to force Wickremesinghe to take into consideration reformists’ concerns come close on the heels of the UNP parliamentary group being reduced to 43 MPs following 17 MPs deserting the party at Wednesday’s vote for the 18th Amendment.

Well informed sources told the Sunday Island that as many as half of the remaining parliamentary group may secede unless the beleaguered Wickremesinghe quit the leadership paving the way for a successor who could muster the widest possible support from among the remaining parliamentarians.

A veteran UNPer said that the rebels had stepped up their campaign, though the Wickremesinghe camp believed the reformists would be weakened by Deputy Secretary General Lakshman Seneviratne, MP, switching his allegiance to President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The UNPer alleged that Badulla District MP had lost his credibility when he gave evidence against General Sarath Fonseka at the first court martial which cashiered the war hero on August 13.

The reformists would push for Wickremesinghe’s removal not only from the post of UNP leader but from the position of Leader of the Opposition as well, these sources said.

They pointed out that the much weakened Opposition involving the JVP/DNA (7 MPs), TNA (13) and UNP (43) would now have to reach a consensus on a post-18A strategy and that Wickremesinghe cannot be allowed to jeopardize the Opposition for his personal benefit.

UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya, who had bought actress Upeksha Swarnamali into active politics and helped her campaign at the April 8 general election, also ended up with egg on his face due to her treacherous defection.

Swarnamali, Paba on the small screen, first captured the limelight supporting General Fonseka in the run-up to the January 26 presidential election. She ran at the last general election on the UNP ticket in Gampaha, though the JVP wanted her to contest on the DNA ticket.

The reformists will not accept cosmetic changes as the party was no longer in a position to create posts to appease all. There should be one undisputed leader as in the case of the SLFP which is now overwhelming the largest single party in the country.

The SLFP group comprises of 118 MPs. There’ll be at least six new members when those who recently switched sides take SLFP membership, sources say.

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