United National Party leader and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is to hold crucial talks with his deputy Sajith Premadasa on Sunday amid a deepening crisis over the presidential candidacy.
Wickremesinghe denied he demanded the nominations to contest up coming presidential elections, a source within the party leadership said adding that a final call would be made by the party’s working committee.
A meeting between the premier and his party seniors ended inconclusively on Friday sparking rumours that Wickremesinghe wanted to be the presidential candidate overruling Premadasa who had publicly staked a claim for it.
However, sources close to both factions of the UNP said Wickremesinghe made no direct reference to seeking nominations and left the issue wide open.
Premadasa staged mass rallies in Matara and Kurunegala drumming up support for his claim to secure the candidacy. Premadasa has been backed by an influential section of the UNP, including Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera.
With the party hierarchy polarising on the candidate issue, another group within the party is also attempting to broker a compromise to ensure broader support for a UNP-led coalition.
Sri Lanka’s king-maker Tamil coalition, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), is openly supportive of Wickremesinghe but was also concerned about his electability, party sources said.
They said they were concerned about Premadasa’s credentials on the national question, particularly the “Premadasa policy” of objecting to devolution of power as envisaged in the 13th amendment to the constitution.
Setting up of provincial councils in line with the 13th amendment was which was bitterly opposed by Premadasa’s late father, President Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1987.
“Sajith has talked about introducing Premadasa policies and that is quite worrying,” a Tamil politician said recalling that the late president had even boycotted then Indian premier Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to sign the Indo-Lanka peace accord which brought about the 13th amendment to the constitution.
As a compromise, Tamils were amenable to supporting Speaker Karu Jayasuriya should he throw the hat into the ring, the Tamil legislator said adding that they would have to take a final decision based on the outcome of UNP talks on Sunday.
Failure to agree on a UNP candidate could lead the Tamils to side with the Janatha Vimukti Peramuna (JVP) candidate Anura Kumara Dissanayake who is seeking the support of civil society groups that in 2015 supported Maithripala Sirisena to defeat Mahinda Rajapaksa.
A constituent member of the TNA, the Democratic People’s Liberation Front (DPLF), had a one-on-one meeting with Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP) candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa recently and made it clear that it was unable to endorse his candidacy.