By The “Sunday Times” Political Editor
This week’s two major political developments over the presidential election took Sri Lankans by surprise and portend a major change in alignments.
One is the declaration by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe that he would be the United National Party (UNP) candidate. On Friday he told a meeting of party leaders he would obtain approval from the Working Committee, the main policy-making body, and launch his campaign.
Malik Samarawickrema, Onetime close confidante of Mr Wickremesinghe and now a key backer of Sajith Premadasa, appealed for the two leaders to meet. Though it has been set for 9 a.m. today at Temple Trees, the Sunday Times has learnt Mr Premadasa will not attend the one-on-one talks raising wide speculation over his as well as the political future of his backers.
The other is a new set of demands by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party
(SLFP) from their more powerful offshoot, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). This has cast serious doubts over their proposed partnership for which a deal was wrapped up.
Both President Sirisena and SLPP leader Mahinda Rajapaksa reached informal accord, but the SLFP is now insisting that the opposition presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa contest under the Chair symbol – a demand which the SLPP is not willing to heed on the grounds that its original symbol the pohottuwa had become its brand name.
Other demands include an SLPP commitment in advance over the quota of SLFP candidates during a parliamentary election. The SLPP is describing the demands as being aimed at forcing it to withdraw from the arrangement and placing the blame on it.
The new demands, endorsed by President Sirisena have been conveyed to the SLPP during the last round of talks last Friday.
These developments come as President Sirisena declared at the 68th annual convention of the SLFP that it was not the presidency but the prime ministerial position that would become important.