8 April 2023 01:16 am – 0      – 523



It is Ranil who stands out among potential contenders in a future Presidential poll. He is like Gulliver among Lilliputians there.  What Ranil is aiming to do is to forge a broad alliance presumably named the United National Front (UNF) with the Elephant symbol and be its Presidential candidate.


D.B.S. Jeyaraj

The leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa and his party, the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) are very much in the news lately. There have been many reports in the mainstream as well as social media that a large number of MPs from the SJB are planning to join the ranks of the Ranil Wickremesinghe Govt soon. Some reports speculate that the number of SJB Parliamentarians contemplating a crossover is between 20 to 40.

Predictably Sajith Premadasa has denied that his party MPs are going to defect. He has lashed out at the Govt and said such misleading reports are being planted in the media by the Govt.

He has also accused the Govt of conspiring to entice MPs from his party by offering Rs 200 Million to each MP. Premadasa has asserted that none of his party MPs will be tempted by such offers. He also claims that some Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) MPs have joined the SJB. A news report in a morning newspaper stated as follows -.

“Members of the current Government create various news media and plant them in social media in an attempt to mislead the public,” said the Leader of the Opposition of Sri Lanka, Sajith Premadasa.

He noted that a new political conspiracy was currently taking place in which the Government lies that a large number of MPs of the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) are going to join the Government.

“But Chandima Weerakody and Jayarathne Herath and a large number of MPs in the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) have joined our party and there are many more in line waiting to come,” he said.

The Government, however, has weaved this lie against the country’s only solution, the country’s only answer, which is the SJB, he noted.

“We have gotten to know that the Government’s estimate for an MP is Rs.200 million, the Government thinks that when they show Rs.200 million to our MPs they will beg to join the Government,” said Mr Premadasa.

“I would like to say that the MPs of the SJB are not ready to take part in the Government’s auction of Mps,” he concluded.

Sajith Premadasa taking umbrage over the alleged attempt by the Wickremesinghe Govt to take away his MPs is quite understandable. After all, no party leader would like his MPs to split and join another party or form a new one.

The irony in this is that Premadasa himself took away the majority of MPs from the United National Party (UNP) of which he was a member and formed the SJB anew.

When that happened the UNP or its leader Wickremesinghe did not accuse him of offering financial “incentives” to woo the green elephants.


Pre-emptive measures
Notwithstanding Sajith’s denial and assertion that his MPs would not split, it does appear that the SJB Leader is aware of a potential mass defection and is engaging in pre-emptive measures to prevent it.

Premadasa’s allegation that MPs are being offered Rs 200 million can be seen as an attempt to deter potential defectors.

He is indirectly warning his party MPs that if the MPs break away, it would be insinuated that they did so for cash and that each MP’s reputation would be tarnished.

Moreover, Sajith organized a dinner for his party MPs at the Monarch Imperial Hotel in Battaramulla on April 3rd.
Earlier it had been fixed for April 5 but was suddenly advanced by two days. One of the reasons attributed for this change was the “rumour” that a number of MPs from SJB were going to shift to the Govt when Parliament met on April 4. Sajith wanted to prevent this from happening by appealing to the MPs collectively and individually. Hence the dinner was held on the 3rd. 23 MPs including the host Sajith were at the dinner.


Mistrust of SJB MPs
Premadasa’s anxiety and insecurity over the possibility of his MPs joining the Govt of President Ranil Wickremesinghe stem from his mistrust of his fellow SJB MPs.

It may be recalled that almost all the SJB Parliamentarians were UNP members in the past.

Most of them had no problems with Ranil Wickremesinghe’s leadership and were not favourably disposed towards Sajith Premadasa’s leadership ambition.

Yet, they deserted Wickremesinghe and the UNP en masse and together with Premadasa formed the SJB. This was not due to any ill will towards Ranil or any goodwill towards Sajith. They had gauged the mood of the electorate through various means including opinion polls and had assessed that Ranil’s stock was low while Sajith’s was high.

They realised their electoral prospects were dismal if they remained with Ranil and the UNP.

So, they hitched their wagon to the Sajith star and turned to SJB. Politically what they did then seemed correct when the UNP was wiped out at the 2020 Parliamentary poll. The UNP hit an all-time low by not having a single elected MP. The party got only one MP on the National List.

Now the wheel seems to have turned full cycle. Ranil’s stock seems to be rising. It appears that Ranil Wickremesinghe has the best chance of winning in the next Presidential Election.

His party the UNP or his tactical ally the SLPP doing well in Local authority, Provincial Council or Parliament elections are very, very slim.

However, this scenario is not prevalent in the Presidential hustings.


Gulliver among Lilliputians
It is Ranil who stands out among potential contenders in a future Presidential poll. He is like Gulliver among Lilliputians there.

Ranil knows it and therefore is firmly opposed to any other poll being conducted before Presidential Election.
What Ranil is aiming to do is to forge a broad alliance presumably named the United National Front (UNF) with the Elephant symbol and be its Presidential candidate.

This new pro-Ranil alliance will consist of the UNP, elements of the SJB and SLPP and parties representing the ethnic minority communities in Sri Lanka.

Since Sajith knows fully well that most of his fellow MPs lay down with him on the SJB bed only because of the desire to be in Parliament and not because of any love or admiration for him, the party leader is suspicious to the point of paranoia that they could desert him and return to their first love the UNP.


UNP-SJB rapprochement
Sajith Premadasa, therefore, is ultra-sensitive about any move to bring about UNP-SJB rapprochement or promote unity between both. Some months ago two former UNP stalwarts, one an Ex-Cabinet Minister and the other an ex- Corporation head, held an informal discussion with some SJB personalities about a tie-up between the UNP and SJB.

When Premadasa heard about this, he lost his cool and issued a harsh statement. In that, he mentioned the two ex-UNPers by the first letters of their names and accused them of a ‘Kumanthranaya’ (Conspiracy) to break up his party.

More recently TPA leader Mano Ganesan and SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem engaged in an ‘Amity Mission’ to bring about unity between Ranil Wickremesinghe and Sajith Premadasa with the Presidential Election in mind.

Ranil was amenable, subject to some conditions. He would be the Presidential candidate in 2024 backed by an alliance comprising the UNP, SJB and minority community parties. Sajith would be Prime Minister. Ranil will retire in 2029 clearing the field for Sajith to become the leader.

Apparently, this proposal was welcomed by SJB stalwarts like Thalatha Atukorale, Kabir Hashim, Eran Wickramaratne, Harsha de Silva, Rajitha Senaratne and Rohini Kaviratne.

But others like Ranjith Madduma Bandara, Tissa Attanayake, Imtiaz Bakeer Markar, Lakshman Kiriella, Sujeewa Senasinghe and Hirunika Premachandra opposed it.

Members of the Premadasa family too did not like the idea. Finally, Sajith Premadasa rejected the unity proposal.
Upon hearing this Ranil Wickremesinghe too hardened his stance. So, Hakeem and Ganesan abandoned their unity moves (I have referred to this in these columns on 25 March 2023).

It is clear therefore that despite his statements to the contrary Sajith Premadasa is acutely aware that a defection from opposition/SJB ranks to the Govt/UNP ranks is very much on the cards. He is trying hard to prevent this from happening but events seem to be overtaking his efforts. Sajith and the SJB are certainly facing a political storm.


Dr Rajitha Senaratne
It is learnt that efforts are underway within the SJB to convince the hierarchy that the party should throw in its lot with President Wickremesinghe for the betterment of the country.

If the leadership remains unwilling, a group of MPs are likely to declare themselves independent and go over to the Govt.

A news report in the Daily Mirror of 6 April 2023 quoting Dr Rajitha Senaratne indicates this. Here is an excerpt –
“Several Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MPs are willing to support President Ranil Wickremesinghe and will do so as a group if the party fails to take a decision, SJB MP Rajitha Senaratne said today.

“MPs like Harsha de Silva are willing to support President Wickremesinghe no matter what anyone says. We will support the President as a group if the party fails to make a decision,” the MP said responding to a question raised by journalists at a media briefing.

“Also, he said the notion that the President has put the country to a better position is a reality”

What then has caused this change of mind among the UNP-turned-SJB Parliamentarians? Why are those who abandoned Ranil and accepted Sajith’s leadership in 2020 now prepared to do the opposite?

There are three probable reasons.


Ranil: From loser to winner
The first reason is the fundamental change of perception towards Ranil. His image has changed from a loser into that of an achiever and winner.

Though attacked viciously as an unelected President lacking legitimacy and a Rajapaksa stooge, Ranil Wickremesinghe has done well.

Ranil has entrenched himself as President despite having only a solitary MP in Parliament. He has progressed considerably towards the goal he set himself namely the repairing of the economy.

Despite all the negativity of his critics and detractors, Ranil has been able to – with the collaboration of the Central Bank and Treasury-secure the much-awaited Extended Facility Fund (EFF) finances from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This has been a political game-changer.

Whether Wickremesinghe’s critics acknowledge it or not, the reality is that his efforts in pulling Sri Lanka out of the dire economic straits it was in, are resonating with the ‘ordinary’ people who comprise what is termed as the silent majority.

Despite his faults and lapses, posterity will judge Wickremesinghe on what he did for the economy. Likewise, all MPs in the present Parliament will also be judged on those lines. Therefore these SJB Parliamentarians would opt to change sides now.


Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna
The second reason is the perceived increase in popular support for the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the corresponding decrease in support for the SJB.

An important pointer in this regard is the Sri Lanka Opinion Tracker Survey (SLOTS) undertaken by the Institute for Health Policy (IHP). The survey gauges the level of support for political parties if Parliamentary elections are held currently.

According to the SLOTS, the JVP-led NPP and the SJB are the leading contenders. Both the SJB and NPP were running neck to neck for the months of November and December 2022 and January 2023. There was a marked change in February 2023. Support for the JVP-led NPP surged in February, giving it a clear lead with 43% of likely General Election voters, compared to 30% for the SJB.

The analysis also disclosed that in the 12 months from February 2022, the JVP-led NPP gained 30 points while the SJB gained 11 points.

So the SJB politicos are getting jittery about the rising popularity of the JVP and want to close ranks with Wickremesinghe, who they feel is the best option to counter the JVP.


Sajith’s leadership style
The third reason is growing intra-party resentment and dissatisfaction towards Sajith Premadasa and his leadership style.

It is said that Sajith ignores senior partymen and runs things autocratically relying on a clique. This Cabal consists of Premadsa family members, a handful of MPs and an ‘adviser’. This adviser, a businessman whose surname begins with a ‘F’ is supposedly influencing Sajith in many ways and has incurred the wrath of several MPs.

The disenchantment with Sajith Premadasa’s leadership is a key reason for many MPs toying with the idea of exiting the SJB. Even minority party allies are disillusioned with this state of affairs.

The Samagi Jana Balawegaya party and its leader Sajith Premadsa are facing a gathering political storm.
This storm is likely to erupt anytime after the April New Year festivity.

D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached at dbsjeyaraj@yahoo.com