Divide or unite?
Posted on September 4th, 2016

By A Special Correspondent  Courtesy Ceylon Today

Absence of the Joint Opposition (JO) leaders at the 65th anniversary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) shows another split – this time almost vertical – in the national political party that ruled the country for three and a half decades compared to the United National Party (UNP) rule of three decades.

Thus, the 65th Anniversary of the SLFP was marked by a deep crisis within the party. The crisis is not limited to personality clashes but also its grass roots level organizational structure and, more importantly the policies of the party.
We are aware that the SLFP was formed by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, breaking away from the UNP in 1951. But Bandaranaike’s dream of a new party and its policies goes back to the 1930s. He formed the Sinhala Maha Sabha and as many as seven ministers and five other members of the 1936 State Council joined the party founded by the young Oxford-returned politician. They include C. W. W.Kannangara, A. Rathnayake, R.S.S. Gunawardane, Bernard Aluvihare, A.P. Jayasuriya, Jayaweera Kuruppu and Harris Ratwatte.

Prominent politicians

Meanwhile, a group of prominent politicians, including George E. de Silva, Siripala Samarakkody, Dudley Senanayake, J.R. Jayewardene, and E.A.P. Wijeratne reorganized the Ceylon National Congress.
When the UNP was formed, the two groups joined the new national party headed by D.S. Senanayake, which came to power in 1947 General Election.
Bandaranaike left the UNP before the completion of its first five-year tenure of the government. Although the newly formed SLFP could win only nine seats in the first election it faced, the party came to power five years later in 1956.

Two-party system

Formation of the SLFP introduced a healthy two-party system, which is considered a prime requirement for a parliamentary democracy. The results of general elections in Sri Lanka show that these two parties command 25 per cent to 30 per cent solid vote base each. However, this fluctuates from time to time with the incumbency factor working against the party in power.
Sunday (4 September ) SLFP Anniversary was labelled as a show of strength between the two groups within the party. The SLFP headed by Maithripala Sirisena wanted to use the anniversary rally to show its strength by large attendance, the dissidents headed by Mahinda Rajapaksa wanted to show strength by the absence of numbers.
The UNP has the advantage of the solid party vote bloc to come to power by gaining a fair portion of the floating vote. On the other hand the SLFP, almost always, could come to power when the party formed an alliance of like-minded parties, mostly leftist and socialist parties. They did not have any difficulty in forming alliances despite theoretical differences, because the leftists always considered SLFP to be a pro-socialist centrist party.

Sinhala-Buddhist bias

The main difference between the leftists and the SLFP was that the SLFP always had a Sinhala-Buddhist bias and orientation and it believed that as a national party it could not ignore the interests of the majority. The only leader who attempted to veer away the party from this policy was Chandrika Kumaratunga who came to power in 1994. However, the ruthless terror tactics of the LTTE prevented her from implementing a devolution package and she too had to take the party back to the traditionally accepted pro-Sinhala path.
The Unity Government has given an opportunity for Maithripala Sirisena to make the SLFP truly a national party that could attract the people from all the communities. Furthermore, he has the double advantage as a leader of a party that could be the rallying point for all the forces including the leftists, socialists, centrists as well as nationalists, rightists and conservatives in the UNP.
The crisis in the SLFP is not different from the crisis the party faced earlier due to Anura-Chandrika spat and Chandrika-Mahinda spat or the issues within UNP in different decades – Dudley-JR, Premadasa-Dudley, Lalith, Gamini-Premadasa power struggles within the UNP.

The results of the Presidential elections in January 2015 and the Parliamentary Elections of 17 August gave a new strength to the SLFP second-level leaders to act decisively as the former leadership underwent a complete change. Initially the old guards were over cautious, but gradually they managed to regroup.
The new SLFP leadership is yet to reconcile with the new political scenario of Unity Government. In Colombo or in the Cabinet they have no problem of cohabitation with the UNP leaders. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc, the SLFP also had to veer away from strong socialist policies and move towards market economic principles. Hence, there is hardly any difference between the economic policies of the SLFP and the UNP.
However, at the grass root level it is not easy to introduce the policy of cohabitation. The local government bodies have become heavily political institutions with strict demarcation by party lines, the sworn enmity between the UNPers and SLFPers cannot be erased merely because President Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe succeeded in finding political harmony.

Future options

Now that the 65th Anniversary is over, the two factions will have a time to review and evaluate future options. Division of the SLFP will not serve their personal interests or the party interests. It will only help the UNP to assert its position. The grass root level UNP organizational structure, which was in disarray for ages have been rejuvenated in recent months and the party will romp home easily at the next local government elections if the SLFP splits in the middle and contest elections as two different parties.
A political party cannot have two leaders and now Maithripala Sirisena is firmly seated as the Chairman of the SLFP. The supporters will have to accept this fact – a fact accepted by party heavyweights such as Nimal Siripala de Silva, Susil Premajayantha, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, S.B. Dissanayake, John Seneviratne, Sarath Amunugama, Thilanga Sumathipala, Mahinda Amaraweera, Lakshman Yapa Abeywardane,Dilan Perera and Vijithamuni Soysa and many others. Whatever the reason – whether their party loyalty or the fact that they did not want to be in the opposition for five years -, they remained in the party and the government.

Those who are on the fence will have to decide now whether they take the risk of going into the political wilderness or grab the hand extended to them by Maithripala Sirisena when he addressed the media last Friday stating, “Let us work together to develop the country, eliminate poverty, reduce the debt burden and to establish a free, democratic nation of contended citizens with equal rights, living in perfect harmony.

Let us unitedly face the challenges such as the UNHRC resolution and ensure unity among the communities while zealously guarding the honour of the valiant war heroes.”

2 Responses to “Divide or unite?”

  1. NAK Says:

    “Future Options”
    Kurunegala amply showed that there is no future for Sirisena and and his band of SLFP. Sirisena’s facial expression’s alone said it all.
    With or without another party but with another symbol Mahinda Rajapakse will take the party away from Sirisena and Sirisena will not be left with even his loyalists today.
    Sooner Sirisena accepts that fact better for the party and the country.

  2. plumblossom Says:

    The prima factory has been provided a ten per recent tax break by this treacherous UNP government. This amounts to 135,000 million rupees. We wonder how much of this ended up funding the UNP election campaigns? This vast amount of money, 135,000 million rupees could have been used to purchase rice at Rs.50 per kilogramme minimum from all rice farmers.

    Meanwhile, while Thailand, Burma etc. eats rice, even their presidents eat rice, our idiotic Sinhala people’s rice consumption in kilogrammes per annum has gone down. Instead Sinhala people’s wheat consumption per kilogramme per annum has gone up. We are today spending vast amounts of foreign exchange purchasing wheat making US farmers happy and the prima company rich while we keep consuming wheat. All the while our Sri Lankan rice farmers are suffering due to reduction of rice consumption.

    We should urge the treacherous UNP Government to reinstate the ten per cent tax on wheat and bring on a programme to increase rice consumption in the country. However this US imperialist worshipping subservient government will do no such thing.

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