We need a UNP candidate for President – now | Sunday Observer

We need a UNP candidate for President – now

In less than two months, the Elections Commission will be calling for nominations from political parties to contest the upcoming presidential elections. The presidential poll, on January 8, 2015, was a watershed moment in the country’s history. This one will be no less decisive than the one before it. The stakes are no less than the very survival of the freedoms and democratic foundations that have been restored over the last five years.

There is no question that this government has made mistakes. No one will deny that it has not lived up to its expectations. But this regime was brought to power on a mandate to liberate the country from tyranny, and no doubt this mandate has been fulfilled. Democracy, media freedom, freedom of expression writ large, and the rule of law have been restored.

The independence of our institutions from the police, to the public service, prosecutors and the judiciary has been strengthened. It is the duty of every citizen who treasures the Constitution on which our Republic is based, to safeguard and advance these accomplishments, and ensure they are not ‘terminated’ by the darkness of dictatorship.

Throughout my lifetime, it is the party which I belong to, the United National Party (UNP), that has been the largest political force standing guard over these values. It is up to our party to give leadership to this cause.

The UNP must prepare immediately for the presidential election. Other political parties aligned with our vision, like those led by Rishad Bathiudeen and Palani Thigambaram, like-minded policy makers and civil society organisations must put their heads together and unite behind a presidential candidate who can take our values to the people, unite Sri Lankans behind our cause, and win.

In the past, the governing party has had its presidential candidate declared long before an election is called, and it is the opposition parties who struggle to choose their standard bearer. Whether Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1989, or Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2005, the governing party campaign benefitted from planning in advance.

To activate the progressive moments around the country, and galvanize our allies towards success, it is imperative that our presidential candidate be chosen and brought before the people without delay. Especially, knowing the strength and popularity of the candidate dominating the Rajapaksa ticket, our party needs to make a wise and strategic choice and put forward a candidate who would naturally inspire the people and win their trust.

As per the Constitution, the President, as Head of State, still has critical responsibilities. The President is the head of the Cabinet, nominates judges to the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal, and takes the lead in selecting a Prime Minister and Cabinet of Ministers.

The UNP must take responsibility for our mistakes of the past, and in doing so nominate a Presidential candidate from within our own ranks. The UNP is still paying the price for President Sirisena’s decision to align himself with the defeated Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and its policies, despite being brought to power by the UNP and other progressive forces led by the late Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera.

I believe, our candidate must be a person dedicated to uniting every element of the UNP, and a person who will defend and fight for the aspirations of the party members and the values we stand for. I believe our candidate must command respect and seniority to rally the forces of civil society and Sri Lankans of all age, background, ethnicity and faith. The candidate must be a person untarred by allegations of corruption, and ready to defend our freedoms to the end.

The movement for change led by Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera stopped authoritarianism in its tracks in January 2015. The vision of the scholar monk’s campaign for a more democratic nation was only partly fulfilled over these past few years. There are miles left to go. Picking a candidate who will dedicate his life to fulfilling Sobitha Thera’s vision, will be the greatest tribute we can pay the monk who lit our path five years ago, when fear and darkness was all around us.

As a young MP, I am convinced that our Presidential candidate must be selected among party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, deputy leader Sajith Premadasa and Speaker Karu Jayasuriya. In my view, these are the key people who will determine the future of the UNP.

The party must agree which one of them will be our Presidential candidate. Of the two remaining, one must be our candidate for Prime Minister. The third must be elevated to a senior advisory role with dignity, and with the gratitude of the party for his sacrifices.

For our party, defeat at this election would prove detrimental for the future. The UNP would have to spend a decade or more in the opposition, the party broken and weakened by internecine warfare, our provincial councillors and local government members may be forced to join hands with the Government merely to ensure their survival, political or otherwise.

It is my fervent hope, that the UNP leadership, the Working Committee, Parliamentary Group and all other responsible stakeholders in the party will put the country first, and find the moral courage to make the difficult choice that lies ahead.