United National Party (UNP) Deputy Leader and Housing Minister Sajith Premadasa yesterday doubled down on being his party’s presidential candidate, calling for the Working Committee and the Parliamentary Group to meet promptly to take a decision.
Speaking at an early morning press conference at Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s official residence, Premadasa addressed the media, flanked by UNP ministers Mangala Samaraweera, Malik Samarawickrama, Kabir Hashim, and Rajith Madduma Bandara, and recapped the request he had made to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Monday, regarding his desire to be the UNP’s presidential candidate and the need for a democratic decision to be made soon.
“I expressed my own intentions to come forward, and if there are contra opinions and various other interested persons who are keen on becoming the candidate, to follow the democratic procedures within the party, to go ahead and make the selection. I requested that there is an immediate meeting of both the Parliamentary Group and the Working Committee,” he said. He was of the opinion the meeting should be called as soon as possible.
Responding to questions, Premadasa said that he will obey any decision taken by the Parliamentary Group and the Working Committee, pointing out that it was the democratic way ahead. “The meeting of both the Parliamentary Group and the Working Committee can be a consensus-building meeting,” he explained, pointing out that there was a need for a frank and transparent discussion within the Parliamentary Group and the Working Committee. “If there is consensus so be it, but if there is a diversity of opinions, we can adopt the greatest democratic principle and model, and have a secret ballot,” he opined.
Premadasa claimed that by seeking candidacy he was reflecting the aspirations of the people as a whole, pointing out that a large number of them have asked him to run for President. He argued that there is no authoritarianism or oligarchy within the UNP, and that he has to abide by a democratic decision taken on the candidacy.
“Just because I want to become the candidate, I can’t have my own way. If there are others who are keen on putting forth their name, so be it. I have full confidence that I will get the UNP candidacy,” he claimed. Responding to a question as to who will become the Prime Minister after the Presidential Elections, he pointed out that he was focusing on the election at hand, and that what comes next should be determined at a later date.
Premadasa also declined to make clear his stance on the Executive Presidency, pointing out he has not seen any “scientific surveys” that warrant the prioritisation of abolishing it. When questioned about the 2015 mandate to do so, Premadasa remarked that the “world has moved on from the 2015 need”, claiming that other issues have come to the forefront and need priority attention.
“I don’t think there has been a scientific survey done as to what to do with the Presidency, whether it should be kept and maintained, or if it should be abolished, but at the end of the day, I’m always willing to listen to the people of the country. If the people so decide, I’m there,” he said.
Premadasa opined that the pledge made in 2015 saw drastic changes made to the Executive Presidency, and today, there is a debate as to what to do with it. He stressed that no scientific survey has been done recently on whether to maintain or abolish the Executive Presidency. Premadasa claimed that some of the surveys he had seen calls for cost of living as the most important and high-priority subject in the national political agenda.
Minister Premadasa pointed out that he was willing to give democratic leadership, and not autocratic leadership. He said that his personal views had no bearing on national policymaking, stressing again that he will listen to the people. Premadasa said that if the public made a request that he is not suitable for politics and should retire, he would do so. “If the public tell me to go home today. I will go home tomorrow. I will not cease to exist without politics. This is not something I cannot do without,” the Minister said.