A veteran UNPer on Monday accused a party frontliner of sabotaging UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe`s presidential election bid. The Working Committee member slammed Milinda Moragoda for making a damaging statement vis a vis the LTTE, thereby prompting an unprecedented LTTE-ordered polls boycott in the northern and eastern provinces.
The Working Committee meeting at Sirikotha, the first since the recent presidential election defeat, revealed the simmering dispute over the party`s relations with the LTTE.
The Island learns that Wickremesinghe prevented the Tamil representing the decision making working committee from making a statement. `He was asked to sit down,` a well informed source said, asserting that Wickremesinghe opposed criticism of Moragoda, who had claimed that the UNP engineered the Karuna-Prabhakaran split, in an interview given a few days before the November 17 presidential election. The UNP claimed that the interview was taken out of context.
Wickremesinghe is believed to have told the dissenting official that he was not prepared to discuss the issue.
The outgoing UNP Chairman Malik Samarawickreme recently told The Island that Wickremesinghe could have secured a comfortable victory if the LTTE did not interfere with the election process. The US, EU and the foreign funded polls monitoring groups, CMEV and PAFFREL, rapped the LTTE for denying the Tamils a chance to exercise their franchise. `We were taken aback by Wickremesinghe`s attitude,` a party source said.
A former minister is believed to have asked on what basis Samarawickrema was attending the Working Committee meeting. Wickremesinghe is believed to have said that Samarawickrema offered to quit even before the poll and he would be leaving with the appointment of a new Chairman. Although veteran partyman M. H. Mohammed is being mentioned as a possible replacement, party sources emphasised that no final decision has been taken.
`There are a lot of back door dealings taking place,` another party source said. Wickremesinghe appears to have overcome the imminent threat to his leadership, primarily due to Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya`s refusal to take command of the rebels. Speculation is rife that the rebels had been angered by Jayasuriya`s rebuttal and are in the process of discussing strategy to undermine Wickremesinghe.
The sources acknowledged that a leadership battle would be damaging ahead of the forthcoming local government elections. Among the MPs seeking far reaching changes as part of their strategy to revamp the party are, Rajitha Seneratne, Naveen Dissanayake, Sarath Ranawaka, Ranjith Madduma Bandara, M. H. Mohammed, Darmadasa Banda, Bandula Gunawardena, G.L.Peiris, Mahinda Wijesekera and Susantha Punchinilame.