Lanka's ex-PM Wickremesinghe chosen to lead main opposition UNP

Colombo, Jan 30 (PTI) Sri Lanka's former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will continue to lead the main opposition United National Party (UNP) despite mounting pressure on him to quit.

A crucial meeting of the party's apex body, the working committee, decided that Wickremesinghe should continue in his post, party general secretary Akila Kariyawasam told reporters.

In October 2018, the 70-year-old UNP leader was removed as Sri Lanka's prime minister by then president Maithripala Sirisena who then appointed former president Mahinda Rajapaksa as the premier, plunging the country into an unprecedented crisis.

Sirisena, however, reinstated Wickremesinghe after he refused to accept the sacking and approached a court.

The UNP meeting took place despite a boycott staged by members loyal to deputy leader Sajith Premadasa, who is the current official opposition leader.

'There are 59 members of the working committee and 37 of them were present at the meeting. It was decided to continue to have Wickremesinghe as the party leader while Sajith Premadasa would lead the new political alliance,' Wickremesinghe loyalist Kariyawasam said.

Premadasa was defeated in the November 16 presidential election. He had forced Wickremesinghe to make him the candidate against Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

After Premadasa's stunning defeat to Rajapaksa, Wickremesinghe named Premadasa the official opposition leader while retaining the party leadership.

However, many leaders wanted Wickremesinghe, who has led the party since 1994, to step down to be succeeded by Premadasa.

The UNP's political allies have said that they would form an opposition alliance under Premadasa's leadership to fight the parliamentary election due late in April.

Kariyawasam said Premadasa will also be the party's prime ministerial candidate.

There was no immediate reaction from the Premadasa camp on the working committee decision to retain Wickremesinghe as the party leader. PTI CORR CPS