The identity blues of the SLFP
Posted on July 11th, 2015

By Uditha Devapriya -Courtesy The Nation

In 2010, the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) obtained 144 seats and a parliamentary majority. There were those who voiced concerns. Some yelled End of Democracy!” Others hoped for the best. This majority after all was obtained through a system that confers virtual dictatorial powers on the man at the top and his party.
To be sure, some of those who protested this had themselves been beneficiaries of a party-majority before, i.e. when the United National Party (UNP) ruled” throughout the 1980s. They chose to go dumb over democracy-deficits back then. Pots calling kettles black? Certainly.

Times have changed however. Some of those who rode high on the 2010 majority have switched loyalties. Some haven’t. Others continue to hover midway. Their loyalties remain multi-colored. That’s politics. That’s natural. Blame the UNP-manufactured manapa kramaya.

Rumors that stalwarts from the UPFA are to cross over to the UNP have surfaced within the past few days. These would-be defectors cite the decision by the UPFA to nominate Mahinda Rajapaksa for the General Election as reason for disgruntlement. Fair enough. After all, why should the former president come back, given that he lost on January 8? More importantly, why is his party hell-bent on giving him a return ticket?
That’s just at one level though.

Those expected to defect included Arjuna Ranatunga, Nandimithra Ekanayake, and M. K. D. S. Gunawardena. To these we can add those who jumped the ship to help the then Common Candidate Maithripala Sirisena, including Rajitha Senaratne and Duminda Dissanayake. But that’s speculation. Meanwhile, here’s food for thought.

Both Ranatunga and Chandrika Kumaratunga distanced themselves early on from Rajapaksa. Kumaratunga didn’t help her own party’s candidate during his bid for presidency in 2005 for reasons best known to her. Ranatunga subsequently hobnobbed with the likes of Mangala Samaraweera, Sripathi Sooriyarachchi, and Tiran Alles in the (pro-Chandrika) Mahajana Wing. When the former joined the UNP and the latter moved back as an independent candidate, Ranatunga continued to oppose Rajapaksa without going green”.

Now here’s my question. If fidelity to party was a priority for these people, how would they save face upon defection? The likes of Gunawardena and Ranatunga were vociferous champions of Maithripala Sirisena’s takeover of the SLFP. They spoke little about those with dubious records who crossed over to their side. They spoke nothing about how the UNP tactically positioned itself to attack the SLFP by dividing the party and granting a blank cheque to the Sirisena Faction.

Now here’s the pincer. Who’s really loyal to the SLFP?
Granted, at a time when the man who heads the party appears divided between the Blues and Greens, it’s hard to tell. But I’ve stated again and again that the likes of Rajitha Senaratne cannot and will not salvage the Blues. This isn’t because of his own ambivalent background with regard to party loyalty. This is also because he and the rest of the Sirisena Faction are doing a despicably good job of trashing the UNP while batting for them. I was at the rally for the 20th Amendment. I heard chest-beating words. I saw the Greens being trashed. Rhetoric is cheap, though. Mr Senaratne should know this.
If party-loyalty figures in their opposition to Rajapaksa (whose loyalty to the SLFP is stronger than theirs) then what explains their silence over the UNP’s questionable handling of the economy, media freedom (and neutrality), and good governance? Are they so worried about Rajapaksa’s return that they prefer the Greens to anything else, including their own party? If that is so, why are they in the SLFP in the first place?
Not for nothing was Maithripala Sirisena’s campaign called a Rainbow Coalition”. He owes the Greens for where he is now. One can conclude that his base among SLFPers has increased, particularly among those who (like their counterparts rooting for the UNP) would vote for anyone who leads their party (I’d like to call them kepuwath nil). Again, that’s speculation. Leading a party is one thing. Kowtowing to the enemy is another thing. No one, not even those who bleed blue”, likes that if they support the SLFP.
Both Sirisena and Rajapaksa have shown loyalty to the SLFP. Both count in more than four decades of sustained allegiance to it. Currently however, those whom Sirisena placed as its top brass on February 14 (including S.B. Nawinna, who – surprise, surprise! – defected last week) have ambivalent records when it comes to such allegiance. Does the president really expect us to think that his faction, if given a choice between staying with his predecessor and going green, wouldn’t choose the latter option?

Let me make one point clear. To claim that the former president isn’t loyal to the party while going dumb over the ruling party’s policies is duplicitous. In the present context, it would pay to come out of the closet. It would pay to declare fidelity (or absence thereof) to the SLFP.

Politics isn’t about honesty. But it pays. Here’s why. The likes of Senaratne were voted in by SLFPers. Big disappointment if he keeps one foot blue and the other green while bemoaning Rajapaksa’s concern for his party’s (detrimental) alliance with the UNP. If he continues this way, we can conclude: Morally bankrupt!”He needs to come out, hence. So should the rest of his faction. That’ll save face. Easily.

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