Last week s heavy PC polls defeat at Sabaragamuwa and North Central Provinces has driven a group of UNP MPs to urge UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to quit the leadership.
Lakshman Seneviratne, Johnston Fernando, Thalatha Atukorale and Indika Bandara have asked Wickremesinghe to hand over the leadership to UNP Chairman Rukman Senanayake. Wickremesinghe has said he would consider their request.
Well informed sources said that the MPs had had consultations with several members of the parliamentary group before they met Wickremesinghe. The sources dismissed reports that Wickremesinghe had reacted angrily to yesterday s call to step down from the leadership.
Wickremesinghe succeeded D. B. Wijetunga in the early 90s. He spearheaded the UNP-led United National Front (UNF) to parliamentary elections victory in December 2001.
Another source said that the group hadn t called for Senanayake to take up the party leadership. He speculated that this could have been planted by an interested party to cause another dispute. Had Wickremesinghe agreed to step down, the decision making Working Committee would meet in an emergency session to decide on his successor, he said.
To Wickremesinghe s credit, his choice as chief ministerial candidates, Ranjan Ramanayake and Major General (retd) Janaka Perera topped the UNP lists at Sabaragamuwa and North Central Provinces at last week s polls. Wickremesinghe has declared that Ramanayake and Perera would join the Working Committee. They have been already nominated as the Opposition Leaders of the Councils.
In the run up to the August 23 polls, a section of the party including a Ratnapura District MP and a former minister strongly opposed the appointment of Ramanayake as their Samaragamuwa leader. Party sources acknowledged that although the UNP boasted of increasing its representation at both councils, its failure to retain five electorates which it had won at the last presidential election had been a severe loss. The UNP lost all 27 electorates in the four districts.
The elections were preceded by a damaging dispute in the party over Wickremesinghe s refusal to step down after two influential UNPers including a leading financier called for an end to his leadership.
Shortly after the November, 2005 presidential election, a group of UNP MPs led by its Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya switched allegiance to President Mahinda Rajapaksa after Wickremesinghe dismissed a previous attempt at leadership change.
Meanwhile, another dispute is brewing in the UNP with a section of the party calling for the re-appointment of former Sabaragamuwa Opposition Leader A. A. Wijetunga as the Leader of the Opposition. But Wickremesinghe has insisted that Ramanayake would take over the post on the basis of his performance and he wouldn t go back on his word. Political sources said all five candidates nominated by two sitting UNP MPs had failed at least to enter the council whereas Ramanayake, a newcomer to politics in Ratnapura had made his mark.
Although Ramanayake s opponents had earlier planned to press Wickremesinghe to re-appoint both former Opposition Leaders of NCP and Sabaragamuwa, the ex-NCP leader hadn t even managed to retain his seat at the recent poll.
The sources said that Ramanayake had accepted the challenge after Upul Shantha Sanasgala and S. B. Dissanayake declined to contest Sabaragamuwa.