Talks underway with dissident SLPPers: Chief Opp. Whip

Lakshman Kiriella

2024 presidential contest:

by Shamindra Ferdinando

Chief Opposition Whip Lakshman Kiriella, MP, yesterday (21) said that the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) was having discussions with two dozen SLPP MPs who had indicated their willingness to close ranks with the main opposition party ahead of the forthcoming presidential election.

The Kandy District lawmaker said that the SLPP parliamentary group was in a dilemma as an influential section of it openly backed incumbent President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s candidature at the next presidential election.

The latest to declare his support for President Wickremesinghe is Chief Government Whip Prasanna Ranatunga, who holds Urban Development and Housing portfolios.

A statement issued by the Urban Development and Housing Ministry quoted Minister Ranatunga as having told a group of ex-members of local government authorities in Minuwangoda and Gampaha, on January 15, that he felt that the incumbent President should be given an opportunity to rebuild the national economy. Minister Ranatunga warned his party of dire consequences of conducting political experiments at this juncture.

The SJB was confident that except for those who had switched their allegiance to the government earlier there wouldn’t be any fresh crossovers, MP Kiriella said. The SJB early last year declared its leader Sajith Premadasa’s candidature at the 2024 presidential poll.

Of the 54 member SJB parliamentary group, Diana Gamage (National List), Harin Fernando (NL), Manusha Nanayakkara (Galle district) and Vadivel Suresh (Badulla district) so far have joined the government. A. H. M. Fowzie, who succeeded Mujibur Rahuman as Colombo District MP early last year when the latter resigned to contest local government polls has also joined the government.

MP Kiriella said that since the UNP leader had received appointment as the Premier in the second week of May 2022, various UNP spokespersons at different forums declared that groups of SJB MPs were on the verge of switching allegiance to the government. Pointing out that MP Diana Gamage had joined the government during Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s presidency, MP Kiriella said that Manusha Nanayakkara and Harin Fernando had done so before the SLPP elected Wickremesinghe as President in July 2022 to complete the remainder of Gotabaya Rajapakasa’s five -year term.

Asked whether the JVP-led NPP posed a challenge to the SJB, Kiriella said that he didn’t want to comment on the weaknesses of that party, but would like to point out that their candidate Sajith Premadasa, who contested under the symbol of New Democratic Front (NDF) at the last presidential election, had secured 41.99 (5,564,239 votes) whereas Anura Kumara Dissanayake (NMPP) had polled just 3.16% (418,553) of the total number of valid votes.

MP Kiriella pointed out that the NPP parliamentary group consisted of only three members, including one National List lawmaker.

Referring to the indefinitely postponed Local Government polls which should have been held in March 2023, Kiriella said that both the SLPP and the UNP feared to face the electorate. The government acted contrary to a specific Supreme Court ruling issued in March last year pertaining to LG polls, MP Kiriella said, adding the SLPP would end up backing Wickremesinghe in a bid to avoid another split.

Responding to another query, MP Kiriella said that the SJB would take government party members whose views on matters of national importance were compatible with that of the SJB.

Prof. G. L. Peiris, Dilan Perea and Dr. Nalaka Godahewa of the dissident SLPP group recently followed Chandima Weerakkody to the SJB. Galle District MP Weerakkody is the first SLPPer to switch allegiance to the SJB after differences of opinion with the top party leadership.

MP Weerakkody yesterday told The Island that he had abandoned the SLPP at an early stage as he felt President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was leading the country on the path to destruction.

Kiriella said that the SJB was going ahead with preparations for the presidential election. The former UNPer said that regardless of whatever propaganda disseminated by the SLPP, the fact remains that the Supreme Court found fault with the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government for the current economic crisis. The electorate wouldn’t tolerate the UNP with just one National List MP in Parliament tying up with the SLPP, MP Kiriella said.

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