By fielding Sajith Premadasa as its presidential candidate, the UNP has put its best foot forward. As a political party, it would not have been feasible to ignore the demonstrations that the Sajith camp put up to prove the fact that he was by far the preferred candidate of the UNP rank and file. For the past decade, the UNP’s style of electioneering was to come to an arrangement with like minded political parties to add the latter’s vote to the UNP’s base vote in contesting presidential elections and indeed even other elections. For instance, at the last local government elections held in February 2018, what appears as the ‘UNP’ vote includes the bloc vote of the SLMP, ACMC and the Tamil Progressive Alliance as well. In such a situation, the base vote of the UNP is all important.
Unless the candidate they put forward is able to galvanize and obtain the base vote of the UNP, the whole exercise will be doomed to failure. So the UNP had no option really from the time Sajith threw his hat into the ring. Neither did the UNP’s partners have any choice even though they may not have had as cosy a relationship with Sajith as they did with RW or even with Karu Jayasuriya. The elephant symbol has been ditched once again in favour of the swan. The JVP which had an issue with supporting a candidate contesting under the elephant symbol is no longer in the UNP led coalition and all the other parties that are now with the UNP have no issue with contesting under the elephant symbol.
The only reason for selecting the swan symbol this time as well appears to be to enable the TNA to channel votes to Sajith the way they did to the common candidate at the previous two presidential elections. By adopting the swan symbol, Sajith too can be portrayed as a common candidate of sorts in a situation where there would be a certain reticence among the Tamil voters of the north and east to explicitly vote for a southern political party. Perhaps there was also the fear that the elephant symbol would evoke certain bitter memories of the 1980s in the north and east and thereby act as a damperner on voter enthusiasm in those areas.