UNP backs Maithripala’s candidacy

Saturday, 22 November 2014 00:42 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Main Opposition clinches Opposition candidate deal by endorsing SLFP General Secretary at Working Committee
  • G20 elections committee also overwhelmingly favour move
  • Karu pushes for UNP to support the Maithripala option
  • Common Opposition alliance to be inked soon
  • UNP and SLFP finally coming back together: Rajitha

 The United National Party Working Committee, the party’s apex decision-making body yesterday endorsed the candidature of Maithripala Sirisena as the common Opposition candidate.

Following months of uncertainty about whether UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe would contest President Rajapaksa in the 2015 election, the Working Committee formally endorsed the selection of the former Health Minister. Earlier in the day, the UNP’s special committee on elections, dubbed the G20, met to discuss the issue of Sirisena’s candidacy. UNP Leadership Council Chairman Karu Jayasuriya spoke in favour of the SLFP General Secretary, saying it was a viable choice and urging the UNP to throw its weight behind his candidacy. UNP MP Ravi Karunanayake has also been a vocal backer of common Opposition candidacy. Overwhelmingly, the G20 was in favour of supporting Sirisena and saw his candidacy as a real chance to beat the incumbent President, sources with knowledge about the meeting told Daily FT. Wickremesinghe and Jayasuriya were both front-runners for the common candidacy, but disagreement within the party diminished their chances as negotiations reached fever pitch during the last week. Despite UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa’s insistence that Wickremesinghe must be the candidate and contest under the elephant symbol, yesterday he agreed to go along with the decision of the party. Party General Secretary Tissa Attanayake said all those opinions were ultimately subservient to the Working Committee decision. “Now the party has decided. That is our choice. That is who we will support,” he said. Sirisena will campaign on an explicit platform to abolish the presidency. The Working Committee meeting was held at Sirikotha last evening, with several members expressing their opinions and putting forward conditions, party sources told Daily FT. A strict agenda will be set out as part of the alliance agreement according to which the common candidate will be expected to work, sources added. An agreement on the Opposition alliance is likely to be inked in the coming days, with final modalities now being hammered out between the UNP, former President Chandrika Kumaratunga and other opposition groups. The UNP, as the main Opposition party, will be the nucleus around which the alliance will form. The party’s grassroots machinery and organisation will play a large role in the Sirisena campaign. Both sides have hailed the opportunity to show bipartisanship. “UNP members are overwhelmingly in favour of this move,” UNP National List Legislator Eran Wickremaratne told Daily FT. “It’s surprising, despite Maithripala being a SLFPer,” he said. Fisheries Minister Rajitha Senaratne, who quit the Government yesterday, said that after more than 50 years, the SLFP and the UNP were coming back together. “After years of separation these two parts of the whole will be reunited,” he said during the press conference at New Town Hall. The two parties have been split ever since S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike stepped out of the UNP in 1951 - three years after independence - to form the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.