The Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) alliance launched yesterday with its leader Sajith Premadasa insisting that it will be a long-term effort to build a new political culture beyond the Parliamentary Elections but the decision over the alliance symbol remains in doubt.
The SJB, a largely United National Party (UNP) creation, will be led by Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa. It was launched with the participation of a number of UNP parliamentarians, minority party politicians and civil society supporters at a function held at Nelum Pokuna Theatre.
The launch saw the 12 political parties and civil society groups sign a MoU, formally joining the SJB alliance. Addressing the gathering, SJB Leader MP Sajith Premadasa said that the launch signified a democratic, progressive people’s revolution targeted at the Parliamentary Elections. Addressing the gathered, SJB General Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara said that 95% of UNP electoral organisers and parliamentarians were present at the launch.
“Unlike political alliances or fronts formed in the past for winning elections, this alliance will have longitude and we plan to take our motherland in a new direction, through a new political culture,” Premadasa said, pointing out that the country the SJB plans to create will be a unitary and inclusive State, where there is no discrimination and where ‘positive nationalism’ will be a national policy.
“I was tasked by the UNP Working Committee to lead the SJB, and I will not take back the step I have put forward today,” he stressed. Premadasa’s comments came in the wake of confusion over the SJB symbol and who gets to head the nomination board, which was taken up at a Working Committee (WC) meeting held on Sunday night.
UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe fronting a late night press conference said that the WC had decided that the UNP will contest under the Elephant symbol. However, the decision was disputed by several UNP MPs who support Premadasa.
Speaking at a press conference after the SJB launch, MP Premadasa disputed the UNP Leader’s version of the WC outcome. “There was no vote taken at the Working Committee, traditionally all members are informed prior if a vote is to be taken, this was not the case, and there was no attempt to seek the views of the parliamentarians,” he argued. “I wanted to dispel these myths and misinformation that is circling,” he told the press.
He claimed that a majority of UNP MPs were at the SJB launch in solitary with the movement.
“On Sunday, there was no split, there was no proper vote taken and many of the working committee members were not present at the meeting,” he explained. Premadasa questioned why the party leadership was going back on the Working Committee decision taken on 30 January, where he was tasked with the duties of being the leader of the SJB, authorised to appoint the General Secretary and to head the nominations board.
When questioned about a statement by UNP General Secretary Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, who stated that the UNP working committee decided to allocate 60% of the SJB Working Committee to the party leader and 40% to Sajith Premadasa as SJB Leader, Premadasa said he had no idea where that decision came from.
Premadasa questions why the UNP refuse to give the alliance the Elephant symbol. “Why entrust me with the SJB leadership and say that I am to be the UNP prime ministerial candidate and now decide not to give the party symbol?” he argued, pointing out that he did not seek any of the positions or responsibilities given to him in his absence at the Working Committee meeting.
Premadasa expressed dissatisfaction at the UNP Working Committee for meeting on the SJB frequently but failing to come to any decision over the period of two months, saying that it wasted valuable time that could have been used to mobilise the masses against the present Government for the General Elections.
When asked if the Working Committee announcement on Sunday had dented the SJB’s plans, Premadasa said that they were moving ahead with renewed enthusiasm.
“I am only executing the responsibilities vested in me by the UNP Working Committee, through a decision on 30 January to lead the SJB alliance to an election victory, I am ready to use the Elephant, Swan or any other symbol that is legally given to the SJB alliance,” he stated. Premadasa also stressed that another symbol can be if the current options are not made available.
“I will fulfil all the duties assigned to me by the UNP Working Committee directive of 30 January,” he stressed.