Future course of action to be decided on:
UNPers await National Convention
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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