By Anurangi Singh and Uditha Kumarasinghe
Hotly contested debates are underway in the pro-Rajapaksa Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna/Joint Opposition faction as to which member of the former ruling family should contest the presidential election due in 2019, highly placed sources told the Sunday Observer.
UPFA MP and New Left Front Leader, Vasudeva Nanayakkara, who is a JO frontliner in Parliament told the Sunday Observer, that it was the preference of Left groups within the Joint Opposition to nominate former Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa as the presidential contender from the Rajapaksa camp.
“I frankly propose Chamal Rajapakse as a candidate that the JO should choose. That is because his performance and his function as the speaker of the house was excellent and his character is very soft and open to any group for negotiations.
Nanayakkara said Chamal Rajapaksa was a “left of center” politician, who was ideal for a centre-left Government, which is what we propose to set up,” Nanayakkara said.
But there was no real discussion on the subject underway, he said.
Meanwhile, Chamal Rajapakse told reporters that he believed there were candidates better suited for the job. He said a “stable and strong” person should be nominated as the JO presidential candidate.
“We witnessed the good and the bad of executive presidency. The development the country reached was due to the independent decision-making ability of the executive presidency. Therefore I am for the executive presidency,” he said.
However, Sunday Observer learns that members of the SLPP and the JO met on Thursday night to attempt to iron out their differences over who will represent the pro-Rajapaksa camp in the next presidential election, due by the end of 2019. Sharp divisions have arisen in the SLPP/JO ranks over which of the Rajapaksa family members will contest the 2019 presidential poll.
The pro-Rajapaksa camp is split on the issue, with half of the group preferring a benign candidate like the former Speaker and elder brother of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Chamal Rajapaksa would go into the full backing of the former President, whose political brand remains strong in the country.
However, a second faction, repeatedly referred to by the JVP in Parliament recently as the ‘Gotabaya kalliya’ prefers to nominate the former Defence Secretary, a strongman they believe could attract the ultra-nationalist southern vote and middle class professionals.
This group which includes NFF leader Wimal Weerawansa and PHU leader Udaya Gammanpila recently met former President Rajapaksa to insist on the former Defence Secretary being the SLPP candidate at the next presidential poll, highly places sources told the Sunday Observer.
The Gotabaya faction strongly supports an early announcement of his candidacy by the SLPP/JO group that will insulate the former powerful official from further investigations or arrest since it would be tantamount to a witch-hunt against a political opponent. Some sections of this group support an announcement as early as tomorrow, when the SLPP holds its May Day rally at the Samanala grounds in Galle.
The Sunday Observer learns that members of the Rajapaksa family met at the former President’s Wijerama Road residence last week to discuss the issue and iron out differences about who would be the candidate to represent the Rajapaksa faction, and virtually settled on the former Defence Secretary as the preferred candidate.
The former ruling family also reportedly discussed launching two new newspapers to support Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s presidential bid, with one of the publications to be run by Mahinda Illeperuma, a former journalist, highly places sources said.
However, speaking to the Sunday Observer, JO frontliner and UPFA Ratnapura District MP Ranjith de Zoysa insisted that no decision had been taken by the Rajapaksa faction so far to nominate a presidential candidate.
“This announcement will only be made after the presidential election is declared,” de Zoysa added.
“At present attempts are being made by certain sections to portray that the SLPP is divided into two camps as Gota and Basil. We categorically reject these claims. There is only one group in the SLPP headed by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa,” the JO MP asserted.
De Zoysa said none of the 54 SLFP MPs in the JO would participate in the SLFP May Day rally in Batticaloa, but invited the 16 Ministers who left the Government following the failed No Confidence Motion against the Premier to join the JO rally.