UNP infighting heats up

By Skandha Gunasekara

The United National Party (UNP) backbenchers yesterday (21) alleged that Party Leader Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was attempting to fill vacant positions in the party Working Committee (WC) to attain the presidential candidacy.

UNP MP Heshan Withanage, speaking to The Sunday Morning, said they had been made aware of the Prime Minister’s alleged plans.

“We were just informed by sources within Temple Trees that the Prime Minister wants to appoint members in his camp to the WC. We see this as a clear move to increase the number of loyalists in the WC so as to win the vote to select the presidential candidate,” Withanage said.

He said that at present, there were 22 vacancies in the UNP WC.

Withanage also pointed out that there were limitations for a newly-appointed WC member.

“A newly-appointed WC member cannot cast a vote till three months have lapsed. That is what our party constitution says,” he said.

He went on to say that any attempt to violate the UNP Constitution would be met with protests and that the backbenchers would not allow the presidential candidate to be selected by the WC alone in an unconstitutional manner.

“If they try to take steps that are against the party’s constitution, we will not stand by idly. We will forcibly enter and take part in WC meetings if we have to,” he said, adding that as members of the UNP, the entire parliament group had a right be a part of the process of selecting the presidential candidate.

“Even when Sarath Fonseka and Maithripala Sirisena were selected, the UNP parliamentary group had a say. Likewise, this time around too, we will make sure our voices are heard.”

However, Assistant Leader of the Party Minister Ravi Karunanayake said that these were baseless claims made by backbenchers.

“There is nothing of the sort going on. No one is filling WC vacancies. These are just unfounded allegations,” Minister Karunanayake said.

He challenged those making the claims to provide proof.

UNP General Secretary Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam also later denied claims of moves to appoint new members to the UNP WC.