In the wake of a heightening contest for presidential candidacy within the ruling United National Party (UNP), deputy leader and Minister Sajith Premadasa on Tuesday said the party must hold a “secret ballot” to choose the most-preferred contender.
Addressing a media conference, the son of late President Ranasinghe Premadasa said he had written to UNP leader and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe expressing his interest to run for presidency, in the polls scheduled before the end of the year.
“If there are contra-opinions, we should follow a democratic process within the party,” he said, pointing to “consensus buildings meetings”, involving the parliamentary group and party working committee, and a possible vote within the party. So far, Leader of Opposition and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has named his brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa as presidential candidate from their Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), while the leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) is fielding its leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake.
The UNP has three contenders for the office of the country’s executive president — PM Wickremesinghe, Mr. Premadasa and Speaker Karu Jayasuriya. Though many in the party, especially its grassroots activists, are said to be backing Mr. Premadasa, his critics argue that he may not be the “unifying force” that is needed to consolidate both the Sinhala-majority and minority vote.
Meanwhile, referring to his possible candidacy for the first time, Mr. Jayasuriya on Tuesday said the Buddhist clergy and civil society had urged him to consider contesting in the presidential race. “Any prospect of my accepting a nomination to contest as a presidential candidate would be conditioned upon the support of all forces united behind the critical objective of abolishing the executive presidency, which has been the objective of civil society since 1995,” he said in a statement, reviving a promise made by different presidential hopefuls since 1994, and kept by none.
Mr. Premadasa, apparently ambivalent on the issue, earlier told media persons that there was “no scientific survey” so far establishing that the people of the country wanted executive presidency abolished, and that he would act “according to the people’s will”.
Amid persisting uncertainty in the UNP, TNA Leader R. Sampanthan and his team of parliamentarians on Tuesday met Mr. Wickremesinghe. The TNA’s position is being closely watched, given that the minority Tamil vote is likely to play a crucial role.
“Our leader conveyed to the PM that the presidential candidate was a matter for the UNP to decide, and that the TNA will neither interfere, not influence that decision,” TNA spokesman M.A. Sumanthiran told The Hindu .
Further, the TNA said their expectations were clearly laid out — a political solution to the national question with no further delay, and the abolition of executive presidency. Mr. Sampanthan also told the PM that while the TNA would talk to all candidates, a final decision will be taken later.