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Enjoined to silence Wickremesinghe

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When the UNP working committee met last week, one of the matters taken up was the constitutional amendment to have a deputy leader and an assistant leader appointed. Tissa Attanayake read out the criteria decided on by the committee of party seniors. Among this was the criterion that whoever is appointed deputy leader should not have any personal agendas and should take on the government both inside and outside parliament. At this point S.B.Dissanayake stood up and suggested an amendment to the criteria to the effect that once the UNP formed a government, this deputy leader should also attack the opposition both inside and outside parliament!

Speaking at the working committee meeting, party leader Wickremesinghe said that some people were making defeatist statements to the effect that the UNP could not win and that this had to stop. The party had to unite and defeat the government. At this point, Dr Ranjith Atapattu had stood up and said that the party can win under Wickremesinghe’s leadership. The leader need not speak on everything; he should get others to do the talking while he handled things behind the scenes. Attapattu advised the leader to talk less.

When the UNP(D) parliamentary group met last week, the main topic of discussion had been the invitation extended to them by the SLFP and to discuss on what side they would be contesting the next election. They did a review of what had been achieved from the point that they decided to support the government. The main platform on which the group had decided to support the government was to end the war against terrorism and most of those present were of the opinion that this objective was being met. Those present expressed their satisfaction at the fact that their support had enabled the restoration of civil administration in the east and to clear large areas of the north including the entire Mannar district. However it was emphasized that there were certain policies and practices of the government with which they could not agree.

There had been a frank exchange of ideas with the SLFP in this regard and the UNP(D) group’s suggestions to the SLFP would be handed over to them before the end of this month. As we reported in past weeks, the initiative to rejoin the UNP had come more from within the UNP(D) group than from within the mainline UNP. This was mainly due to considerations of getting re-elected to parliament if a snap parliamentary election is held. Some members of the UNP(D) group feel that they will have no chance of getting elected on the UPFA ticket and if they make their way back to the UNP they may stand a chance.

It must be said that from the UNP side, there has been scant interest in getting the UNP(D) group back even though certain individuals like Rukman Senanyake have been trying to do some work in this direction. If there is any lack of enthusiasm on Wickremesinghe’s part, that is understandable, because the negotiations to get the 17 defectors back will once again raise the question of amending the party constitution and pruning the leader’s powers – a situation that Wickremesinghe obviously wants to avoid. Bringing up this topic of reforms once again may in fact spark a fresh rebellion within the party. The UNP(D) cannot hold discussions with the UNP unless the latter shows some flexibility with regard to the factors that led to the split. The UNP has to demonstrate that something has changed if the UNP(D) group is to be able to justify a return. So there’ll be a cost to the UNP and its leader if these defectors were to return. But what will be the net benefit to the UNP and its leader?


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