COLOMBO: Sri Lanka's former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya on Monday offered to lead the Opposition United National Party (UNP) after it suffered a humiliating defeat in the recent parliamentary elections.
Jayasuriya, who will turn 80 next month, in a statement, said that he has informed the party leadership that he is capable of leading the UNP.
"In the backdrop of the current complicated situation, I have carefully considered numerous requests that came from many quarters. I have informed the party leadership and party seniors that I am capable of taking up the challenge to lead the party," Jayasuriya said.
The UNP, Sri Lanka's oldest political party formed in 1946, polled just 2 per cent of the national votes in the parliamentary elections held on August 5.
Former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who has been leading the party since 1994, failed to win a seat to Parliament for the first time in his 43-year-old career.
The UNP breakaway SJB of the former deputy leader Sajith Premadasa emerged the second largest and the main Opposition party by garnering 23 per cent of the vote in the elections.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa-led Sri Lanka People's Party (SLPP) won a landslide victory in the elections.
The SLPP and its allies won a record 150 seats in the 225-member parliament.
Wickremesinghe since 2001 resisted calls to resign as the party leader even in the face of repeated electoral defeats.
He has indicated his willingness to step down only after the party could find a suitable younger candidate.
He continues to hold on to the party leadership claiming that he had been endorsed last year to hold the position until 2021.
There was no immediate reaction from the UNP leadership to Jayasuriya's intention to lead the party.
Jayasuriya was the Speaker between 2015 to 2019 and was at the forefront of a pro-democracy campaign alongside civil society to introduce reforms.
Jayasuriya, who did not contest the August 5 elections, has been identified as a staunch defender of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution which depoliticised key areas of governance, including elections.
The 19A, which was the main election plank of the previous government, depoliticised the government administration by ensuring the independence of key pillars such as the judiciary, public service and elections.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa last week vowed to abolish the 19th Amendment that curtailed the powers of the President and strengthened the role of Parliament.