- Kariyawasam says UNP cannot allow another party to use elephant symbol
- Dissanayake questions legality of SJB constitution and symbol options, says there was no vote taken at WC
- Asserts that if party leadership needs to be changed it should be done constitutionally after election
- Calls for Karu to be Opposition Leader and guide party at polls
- Gamage appeals to both Ranil and Sajith not to split party
From left: UNP National Organiser Navin Dissanayake, UNP General Secretary Akila Viraj Kariyawasam and former MP Daya Gamage at the press briefing yesterday at Sirikotha – Pic by Ruwan Walpola
The United National Party (UNP) yesterday called for the unity of the party to be upheld amid the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) formally launching its election run the day before.
The SJB alliance, a UNP creation which is headed by Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, was launched with the signing of an MoU with 12 political parties and civil groups sans the UNP on Monday.
Addressing a press conference at the party headquarters of Sirikotha, UNP General Secretary Akila Viraj Kariyawasam advised UNP supporters not to align with those who may force them to break away from the party. He was joined by former UNP Parliamentarians Navin Dissanayake and Daya Gamage. “We want to protect the party and the party symbol. No matter what the cost, we will protect the party. It may not be a popular decision, however, we don’t want to alienate our leaders,” he stated, recalling the time when the party’s Deputy Leader Gamini Dissanayake tried to break away and form a new party. “We have no need for a victory which alienates our leaders. We don’t need a victory like that,” he added.
Kariyawasam explained that the Working Committee did not want to risk handing over the party symbol to the SJB as it was constitutionally a separate political party and had not yet been formally accepted by the Election Commission nor had it amended its constitution to become an alliance.
“The Working Committee did not want to take the risk of giving our proven party symbol of the elephant to another party,” he said.
He said that the UNP was ready to continue discussions with all factions and aimed to present a united front. He called on Premadasa and party loyalists to work to maintain party unity.
Addressing the media, Dissanayake admitted that there was no formal vote of any sort taken at the special Working Committee meeting on Sunday.
“We didn’t take an official vote. Our leader Ranil Wickremesinghe asked for our views and a majority said that the UNP should contest the elections under the elephant,” he revealed.
Dissanayake said that other than the swan or elephant, no other symbol was discussed and questioned if the Election Commission had given another symbol to the SJB.
“We don’t want to gamble with our political future on a party or alliance which is neither legally recognised nor has a legal symbol, “ Dissanayake stated, pointing out that individual UNP MPs risked their nominations being rejected if the legality around the SJB and its symbol was unresolved. He said that the SJB was still a political party on paper, and as such only individuals could join the SJB and it could not form alliances. “We need all parties to be considerate when making requests and proposals. If a change in the party leadership is required, it has to be done constitutionally, after the elections and in a transparent manner, not through different approaches,” Dissanayake opined, highlighting the underlying unresolved issue of the party leadership, which has sparked a tug of war between Premadasa and Wickremesinghe which predates the Presidential Elections.
“I have a proposal that Karu Jayasuriya should be given the Opposition Leader post to lead us at the elections,” Dissanayake suggested, pointing out that the UNP was not a place for ‘’princes or princesses”.
Gamage pointed out that all eyes were on the UNP and what it was going to do. He called on all UNP supporters to stay united and work to keep the party unified. Gamage alleged that some segments of the media were also working to split the party and called on them to halt these attempts. He also called on other media personnel not to assist in the dismantling of the party.
“I appeal to both Ranil Wickremesinghe and Sajith Premadasa not to split this party,” Gamage appealed.