The pro-reforms group in the UNP has decided not to budge from their stance in bringing deputy leader Karu Jayasuriya to the party leadership in order to unify the party and the issue is to be raised at this week’s parliamentary group meeting.
The parliamentary group meeting scheduled for Tuesday (9) is the first meeting to be held following the announcement made by the pro-reforms group that the battle lines have been drawn once again.
The reformists led by Co-Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa say that the fight for a change in the party leadership is not against any individual, but a struggle to revive the UNP.
UNP parliamentarian Thalatha Atukorale says that party seniors have to think of the plight of the party membership, which is facing harassment at different levels under the current administration.
The continuous defeats of the party under Ranil Wickremesinghe’s leadership have pushed the morale of the village UNPers to an all-time low.
The pro-reformists say that regardless of the “games” Wickremesinghe is trying to set in motion once again in the face of a leadership crisis, the fight this time around has to end with a definite change in the leadership.
The pro-reformists observe that Jayasuriya is the best person to unite the party.
The fact that Jayasuriya has also remained resolute in his decision to intervene according to the majority request has also given strength to Premadasa’s group.
Wickremesinghe meanwhile has commenced a campaign to muster support for himself and to get his loyalists to attack Jayasuriya, Atukorale said.
Nevertheless, the issue about the leadership is expected to figure prominently at the parliamentary group meeting.
UNP parliamentarian Rosy Senanayake says that the issue has to be resolved soon since the party has to face elections to several crucial local government bodies in October.
She observes that the changes in the party would be done in a legitimate and constitutional manner. According to Senanayake, although there have been attempts to divide the group none of them have been successful.
She added that the grassroot level campaign was already in motion and the aspiration of the UNP membership is to see a united and formidable party facing elections and winning.
Meanwhile, parliamentarian Dayasiri Jayasekera, who has opted to maintain a balanced stance, says that Jayasuriya is the only option to unify the party.
Jayasekera said that the leadership crisis should have ended after the last convention and the passing of the new Constitution.
However, the actions of the party leader afterwards had resulted in another round of a battles for the party leadership, he said.
Jayasekera observed that the country needs a strong opposition and the UNP was not up to the challenge until the internal crisis was resolved.
He explained that the government has called for the final round of local government elections, and that Wickremesinghe did not have a proper strategy for the polls. “The crisis is going to continue and the question is how to save the party and not any individual,” he said.
According to Jayasekera, all party seniors need to decide whether the party is going to be allowed to destroy itself because of one person or resolve the crisis and build a strong opposition.
Workers Draw Battle Lines
President Mahinda Rajapaksa is once again to face the wrath of the working masses with about three months to go for the next budget presentation.
JVP front liner and head of the party’s trade union wing, K. D. Lalkantha last week fired the first salvo by saying that the workers were once again going to commence an agitation campaign to win a salary hike of Rs. 10,000.
While the JVP affiliated National Trade Union Center (NTUC) last week commenced the struggle for a salary hike with an island-wide poster campaign, trade unions representing key sectors under the NTUC have already commenced massive agitation campaigns.
The NTUC is to write to the President requesting a discussion on the salary issue.
However, Lalkantha says that the letter would be written as a formality, as the trade unions did not have faith in Rajapaksa to resolve the issue and provide relief to the workers.
NTUC trade unions in the education, electricity and health sectors have already commenced massive agitation campaigns islandwide.
The education sector trade union, the Ceylon Teacher Services Union (CTSU) headed by Mahinda Jayasinghe first commenced an agitation campaign against the government over its forcible acquisition of the Education Department Cooperatives Society (EDCS).
One of the CTSU campaigns against the EDCS interim administration held in Kurunegala came under attack by armed thugs.
The JVP backed Lanka Viduli Sevaka Sangamaya (LVSS) headed by Ranjan Jayalal meanwhile has launched a massive campaign calling for the payment of salary arrears to the CEB employees.
The health sector trade union All Ceylon Health Services Union headed by Gamini Kumarasinghe last week commenced a protest campaign that would be expanded to the district hospitals calling on authorities to address long standing issues faced by workers in the health sector.
Although, there has not yet been any talk of an islandwide strike, Lalkantha has hinted that it would be a final resort to win their demands.
He has said that following the victory of the working masses during the struggle to get the private sector pensions scheme withdrawn, the working masses are geared to face any obstacles to win their demands.
Lalkantha added that if workers come under attack when fighting for their rights, they have the right to retaliate.
CEB Woes And Champika’s Plight
Power and Energy Minister Champika Ranawaka has called on the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) employees to raise their issues regarding salary arrears with the Finance Ministry.
Ranawaka says that since the period in question was not under his tenure, the CEB employees needed to raise the matter with the Finance Ministry.
The CEB employees have been agitating for several months calling on the authorities to pay their salary arrears. The agitation campaign has now turned more aggressive with large protests being held outside the CEB regional offices as well as the head office in Colombo and a sick note campaign last week.
The trade union action is gathering momentum with more employees joining the campaign every day. The sick note campaign last week saw about 13,000 workers participating in it.
In a bid to bring order back to the CEB, Ranawaka has said that strict action would be taken to ensure an uninterrupted power supply to the country.
He has said the CEB employees were public representatives, who have been paid well and that the employees should not forget their responsibilities.
However, the Finance Ministry is facing a dilemma in paying the salary arrears to the CEB employees since it would set, what the Ministry feels, a “bad precedent” to other state institutions.
The Finance Ministry is afraid that other state institutions would also commence agitation campaigns over salary issues in the event the CEB employees were paid their salary arrears.
The Finance Ministry has therefore said that there were certain issues over the demands made by the CEB employees.
UNP Crisis May Have An Adverse Impact On LG Polls
The government has timed the final round of elections for several key local government bodies to take place in the midst of the crisis in the UNP.
The UNP’s internal crisis has had an adverse impact on the party’s performance at the first and second rounds of local government elections held in March and July this year.
The party’s advisory council that met last Thursdays has made the initial decisions with regard to the local government polls.
The party seniors, excluding Co-Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa who was away in Hambantota, have decided on the criteria to decide on nominations, the nominations board and the days when the board would meet.
Party Secretary Tissa Attanayake says that the initial work on the local government elections has been set in motion.
However, he said it is yet to be decided on who would lead the party campaign at the elections.
Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya led the local government elections campaign in March while the last campaign in July did not have a proper leadership.
Be that as it may, the current struggle between the pro-reforms group and the party leadership is expected to have an adverse impact on the party’s performance at elections.
Attanayake said that the internal crisis had played an adverse role during the last few elections.
He said it is the duty of the senior party members to act with the best interest of the party in mind and realise that clashes would only result in the UNP being defeated once again.