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Future course of action to be decided on:

UNPers await National Convention


Gayantha Karunathilake

The United National Party (UNP) is the second oldest political party in the country and was founded by D.S. Senanayake in 1946 with the consensus of all communities. D.S. became the first Prime Minister of then Ceylon and subsequently was accredited as the Father of the Nation.

The party which ruled the country under the leadership of D.S. Senanayake in a democratic framework, had been in power for over 30 years under a number of leaders since independence.

All previous UNP leaders had been successful in achieving the ruling power of the country at the very first election they faced after becoming the leader of the party. The National Government, headed by Dudley Senanayake from 1965-1970, was comprehensively defeated by the United Front led by Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Its strength in the House was reduced to a mere 16 members. Most of the senior ministers lost their seats and the entire UNP membership was in total disarray and heavily demoralised. Dudley Senanayake passed away in 1973 and deputy leader.

Astute leadership

J.R. Jayewardene was unanimously elected as the party leader. J.R. Jayewardene with his far-sighted political vision and astute leadership, completely re-structured the party mechanism to suit the political atmosphere of the country. It was the first occasion that people from ordinary backgrounds were appointed as electoral organisers from the party, hitherto reserved for elites from higher echelons of the society.

Rukman Senanayake

Under J.R.J's leadership, the UNP achieved a mammoth five-sixth historic victory at the general election in 1977 and the Opposition was driven away to political wilderness for 17 years. Soon after attaining power as the Prime Minister, JRJ introduced the new Constitution and became the first Executive President of the country, from which point on wards there were dramatic changes in all spheres of the country and socio-economic standards of the people.


Thalatha Athukorala

Free trade policies were introduced; many mega development projects were initiated by which the people were immensely benefited and the United National Party was well consolidated and became a force to be reckoned within the political arena of the country.

After completing his second term of office, JRJ stepped down from national politics and Ranasinghe Premadasa, who was the then Prime Minister took over the leadership of the UNP.

He geared the party to victory at the subsequent Presidential election and was elected as the second Executive President of the country. However, President Premadasa could rule the country only for a short period of three years and was assassinated by an LTTE suicide bomber while participating in a May Day rally in 1993.

Party debacle

There were dramatic changes in the party with President Premadasa's demise and the subsequent developments led to the gradual weakening of the party. UNP lost the general election marginally in 1994 and the subsequent presidential election; UNP candidate Gamini Dissanayake was assassinated by the LTTE, resulting in an easy victory for People's Alliance candidate Chandrika Kumaratunga.

Ranil Wickremesinghe became the leader of the United National Party in 1994 and since then it had performed in a very pathetic manner in the political arena.

However, Wickremesinghe managed to form a Government in 2001 with the support of six dissidents from the ruling PA including its general secretary S. B. Dissanayake and some senior ministers. But he was unable to consolidate the power he received and continue in his position due to his mild attitude towards vital political issues. The Government was unexpectedly dissolved by President Chandrika Kumaratunga and the UNP lost power at the general election due to the aggressive election campaign launched jointly by the JVP and SLFP.


Akila Viraj
Kariyawasam

Since 2004 there had been a number of elections and the results revealed that the popularity of the UNP had gradually and steadily deteriorated. After every election defeat, the party membership called for some reforms to be effected for the revival of the party.

However, no solid reforms had been introduced; instead, some patchwork was done to suppress the mounting pressure from the membership.

However, with the humiliating defeat suffered by the party at the last Presidential election and subsequent general election, Ranil Wickremesinghe's leadership has been openly challenged by Hambantota district young parliamentarian Sajith Premadasa who commands the respect and support of a substantial percentage of the membership.

According to the United National Party Constitution, all powers are vested with the leader and the leadership cannot be changed unless it falls vacant with the voluntary resignation or with the death of the incumbent leader. The UNP membership has been clamouring for the last few years to amend these clauses of the Constitution.

The apex body of the party has finally accepted the reforms suggested by various interested groups and individuals and the party hierarchy has decided to convene the national convention of the party on December 12 where these reforms will be ratified and will come into effect subsequently.

National Convention


Dunesh Gankanda

The Sunday Observer contacted some of the vociferous speakers of the United National Party to seek their views on the forthcoming National Convention of the party.

Media spokesman of the United National Party and Matara District Parliamentarian Gayantha Karunathilake said that all arrangements have been finalised for the national convention on December 12. It will decide the future course of action with regard to the top positions of the party such as the Leader, Deputy Leader, Chairman, National Organiser and Assistant Leader. The post of General Secretary of the party will be decided by the leader-elect and there will not be an election for the position.

"After the reforms are ratified by the National Convention, they will come into effect within a maximum of 120 days. There can be changes in high positions in the party and whatever these changes may be, the entire membership has already agreed to launch an aggressive protest campaign against the present regime and re-establish democracy in the country," he said.

Ratnapura District Parliamentarian and party Women's League head Thalatha Athukorala is of the view that the proposed reforms would completely revolutionise the party mechanism and pure democracy would prevail within the party to its fullest. This was something that most of the party supporters have been agitating for over the last few years. "Had these reforms been effected then, our party would still be in power. The Party membership can now heave a sigh of relief that this long-felt need is being fulfilled. People from the corners of the country wanted some change in the party hierarchy and the occasion has now risen for the membership to decide their choice," she said.

Ratnapura district Parliamentarian, Dunesh Gankanda said that the party reforms suggested are good and whatever the final outcome may be it is the duty of all right-thinking people to rally round the United National Party and march forward on the battle against the present administration.

Former UNP Assistant leader and ex-minister Rukman Senanayake said, once these reforms are effected, the present feeble leadership will be replaced with Sajith Premadasa who commands the majority membership support and the party will regain its lost glory within a short period.

He said that he was quite confident that most of the strong UNPers who left the party due to weaknesses in leadership will return to the party and rally round the new leader to form a future UNP Government.

Young parliamentarian, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam of Kurunegala said Clause 8.1 of the party constitution will be amended and thereafter the membership will decide on electing the most suitable person as the party leader.

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