Sri Lanka’s governing party picks Premadasa as candidate
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka’s governing party on Thursday named its charismatic deputy leader, Sajith Premadasa, as its candidate in November’s presidential election, ending a long tussle with the party leader, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, over the nomination.
The United National Party’s official Twitter account said a working committee endorsed the 52-year-old Premadasa.
Premadasa is the son of former Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa, who was assassinated by now-defeated Tamil Tiger separatists in 1993.
Wickremesinghe retained the party leadership, but his prominence both within the party and the government is likely to wane with a victory for Premadasa in the presidential election.
Premadasa’s nomination gives a new face to the party, which has long been considered pro-West, pro-capitalist and distant from the grassroots. It will also give the party a nationalistic appearance, with Premadasa presenting himself as a devout Buddhist Sinhalese compared to Wickremesinghe’s liberal and pro-West outlook.
Premadasa graduated from the London School of Economics and Political Science and then held an internship in the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee before returning to Sri Lanka after his father’s death.
He entered politics the following year and was elected to Parliament in 2000. He served as deputy minister of health from 2001 until 2004. For the next decade he was an opposition lawmaker and then became minister of housing in 2015 when his party returned to power.
Premadasa has challenged Wickremesinghe for the party leadership for several years and as a compromise was appointed deputy leader.
His supporters within the governing party have revolted against Wickremesinghe in recent months, claiming he was only popular with middle-class urbanized people and that Premadasa’s reputation as a grassroots politician would give the party a better chance in the election.
Premadasa’s main rival in the Nov. 16 election is a candidate from another prominent political family, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the brother of former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was credited with defeating the Tamil Tiger separatists in 2009.