SLFP Faces Crisis Despite Having SLFP Majority in Parliament and an SLFP’er as President.
Posted on March 18th, 2015

By C.A.Chandraprema Courtesy:Sunday Island

Niroshan Padukka is the UNP organiser for Kesbewa and a member of the Western Provincial Council. Early last week, he wrote a letter to the lankaenews website under the title Is President Maithri under house arrest?” This letter just about sums up the present mood within the UNP and it is worth recounting what Padukka had written. He started off by expressing disappointment at the president for stopping the transfer of Samurdhi Officers whom he accused of spearheading Mahinda’s campaign at the village level. The immediate reason for writing this letter was the issue of transferring Samurdhi Officers, but at the same time, Padukka had touched on the broader question of the relationship between president Maithripala Sirisena and the UNP in the following words:

We in the UNP worked day and night for your victory. It was we who put up posters, got assaulted, and even laid down our lives, or were disabled for life due to gunshot injuries on your behalf. Those who organised meetings for you at the village level, distributed your publications, manned the polling booths and the counting centres were all UNPers. We never asked for a single rupee from either you or your multi-millionaire brother. Except for a limited amount of money provided by party headquarters, the rest of the expenditure was borne by UNP organisers. Some organisers mortgaged their properties and spent money on your election campaign. We are profoundly saddened that you have forgotten all this and have become a prisoner of Nimal Siripala de Silva and others who tried to defeat you. Dilan Perera who insulted you saying that he will lend you his car to go home, is now your media spokesman.

Have you forgotten that the statement you made to the effect that you would have been six feet under had you lost the presidential election applied in equal measure to us? We have questions about many officials you have appointed. We, the electoral organizers of the UNP are now losing the faith that we placed in you and if you continue to take the side of those who opposed you, we will part company with you on 23 April. If the leaders of the Alliance (UPFA) do not allow you to abolish the executive powers and bring in the independent commissions, we will be forced to present ourselves for a general election and obtain a mandate to do it.”

As the week progressed the UNP’s pronouncements became even more strident. On Wednesday, the UNP held its working committee meeting and in announcing the decisions arrived at, party spokesman Akila Viraj Kariyawasam said that the party has come to a very firm (dedi) decision that parliament should be dissolved after 23 April and that the next parliamentary election should be held under the present proportional representation system because the elections commissioner has informed them that implementing a new electoral system will take months. Like Niroshan Padukka,  Kariyawasam also stressed the fact that it was the UNP that took the lead in ensuring Maithripala Sirisena’s victory by putting up stages for him, organizing meetings, doing house to house canvassing for him etcetera. Most significantly, Kariyawasam said that the UNP working committee had also discussed the ‘rights’ (aithiya) that the UNP has over this victory. Kariyawasam added that the Working Committee had resolved that they would not work to the agenda of those who tried to send Maithripala Sirsena home.

Direct confrontation

If Kariyawsam’s statement on Wednesday seemed strident, what happened on Thursday at a function organised by PAFFREL – the elections monitoring NGO – was no less than a direct confrontation between Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Nimal Siripala de Silva who were both present at the occasion. The PM said that he was against those who had been ‘rejected by the people’ taking the 100 day program hostage. Nimal Siripala responded to this by saying that the political culture in this country can be improved only by changing the electoral system introduced by the UNP. He said that the PM was delaying changes in the electoral system to suit his short term political interests. He referred to the PM’s moves in the regard a political ‘gundu’ and said that the SLFP will give fullest support to change the electoral system but will not be a party to ‘cheating’ and politically ‘picking the people’s pockets’.

One may expect these exchanges to become even more strident in the coming weeks. Both the UNP and the JVP are determined that parliament should be dissolved after April 23. The UNP is now so into the election mode that the Working Committee which met last Wednesday also had decided that they were going to increase the number of Samurdhi beneficiaries and allocate Rs 30 million for rural roads in every electorate. The state of the roads becomes a much discussed issue at election time and the allocation of money for rural roads despite the present financial difficulties is an indication that they really mean business.

It is doubtful whether Maithripala Sirisena will be able to resist pressure from both the UNP and the JVP to dissolve parliament in April. If the UNP resigns their portfolios on April 23, Sirisena will lose his mandate to govern. That may not have any impact on his legal right to remain president, but legal right is not everything. The UNP may have other ways of pressurizing Sirisena to dissolve parliament through the foreign backers of the present government. Last week, the Commonwelath Secretary General asked Sirisena whether he has any intention of delaying the dissolution of parliament. Even if the president is able to resist local pressures, he may not be able to overcome pressure coming from overseas.

The UNP and those backing them like the lankaenews website seem to have decided that there was no point in discussing the differences within the government behind closed doors any further. Last Thursday, lankaenews had an article with the title Nimal Siripala prepares to kick aside the mandate received by Maithri – an attempt to sabotage the abolition of executive powers.” This article spoke of all the conditions and obstacles that the SLFP and Nimal Siripala de Silva have been placing on the path of constitutional reform and asserted significantly that If anyone thinks that the present leader of the SLFP Maithripala Sirisena is not behind Nimal Siripala, that would be a delusion”.  They went on to say that Sirisena is obviously trying to see to it that the SLFP does not get defeated after he became its leader. But they queried, in a situation where Maithripala Sirisena was so committed to abolishing the powers of the executive presidency that he went to the extent of saying that he would not set foot at president’s house, how is he to say now that Nimal Siripala de Silva did not allow him to abolish the executive presidency?

Lankaenews further said that before the election Sirisena pledged to make Chandrika Kumaratunga the leader of the SLFP and remain an apolitical president but because he did not fulfil this promise, he is now faced with a conundrum. Likewise they warn that if he forgets who made him president, he is going to get into ‘big trouble’. So now the battle lines between the UNP and the Maithripala/SLFP/JHU group is more or less drawn.

Even as these differences emerged out into the open, Ranil Wickremesinghe put forward the claim that the January 8 vote was not just a mandate to make Maithripala president but also to make him prime minister. That fact cannot be disputed. This was the pledge that Maithripala made when he came to Sirikotha for the first time after leaving the Rajapaksa government. In order to stress that he will be taking a back seat after he wins the election, he told the assembled UNP gathering that even after becoming president, he would continue to address Ranil Wickremesinghe as ‘Sir’. Indeed the whole campaign was predicated on Maithripala becoming president to make RW prime minister. In fact after seeing the Matara meeting of the yahapalana campaign this writer queried why a picture of the prime ministerial candidate was not displayed on the stage along with that of the presidential candidate – as appointing the prime minister was as much a part of the campaign as getting a president elected.

The nature of the mandate was such that Sirisena will not be able to disregard RW easily. Just imagine the impact the contents of Niroshan Padukka’s letter would have if it was repeated from every UNP platform throughout the country. There is also the incontrovertible fact that of all the groups that gathered around Maithripala, only the UNP has the experience and the attitude of mind to govern the country. Immediately after the election, this writer told a live broadcast on Al Jazeera that the stability of this country in the wake of Rajapaksa’s defeat would depend entirely on the extent to which the UNP is able to assert control over the government.

Since coming into power, the UNP has done many things that they should not have done. The first and the most serious infraction they committed was to play a role in the highly irregular removal of Chief Justice Mohan Peiris. The next was probably the retroactive imposition of the super gains tax on top private companies and to state publicly that these companies had made ‘ill-gotten gains’ during the Rajapaksa regime. Ranil Wickremesinghe’s tantrum about what the newspapers were publishing was another thing that should not have happened. While such infractions should be subject to relentless criticism, still such failings should not blind us to the fact that even a faulty government is better than anarchy. Given the inclinations of some individuals who were a part of yahapalana platform, this country could have descended into complete chaos if not for the stabilizing, if somewhat bumbling presence of the UNP.

UNP’s unexplained own-goals

Another controversy that erupted last week was about RW’s purported comments on ‘shooting’ Indian fishermen who cross the maritime border between India and Sri Lanka. Coming as it did on the eve of Narendra Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka, it raised a storm in India, even being discussed in parliament. However if one watches that interview on Thanthi TV, RW was only illustrating a point by stating a plain fact – that even if the SL Navy did shoot at Indian fishermen poaching  in Sri Lankan waters, they were acting within the law. He never said that the Sri Lankan Navy will shoot at Indian fishermen. His choice of an illustration was inappropriate but the Indians took this storm in a tea cup too far. There may be various such gaffes or what look like gaffes being made by members of the UNP, but once again that does not change the fact that only they stand between us and complete anarchy.

The UNP will of course have to change course on certain matters. For example, Ravi Karunanayake in announcing that the government plans to review Tata Housing’s mixed development project in the Slave Island district of Colombo said The Tatas come in and say they will put in $250 million, but they put in $20 million, use our land, and sell it back to us for a higher price. How does that work?” If what Ravi K says about the Tata project is true then it certainly should be reviewed. But how does one balance the need to hold project promoters to their pledges while at the same time not appearing to be throwing a spanner in the works? On the eve of Narendra Modi’s arrival in Sri Lanka, TATA Housing registered its protest at the suspension of their project in a statement to Business Standard describing the government’s action as ‘arbitrary’ and saying that Such actions by the government discredits the authorities in Sri Lanka that have been engaging with Tata Housing over the past three and half years and have granted multiple approvals for the project based on its merit. Besides, such arbitrary actions will also adversely impact confidence of overseas companies to make future investments in Sri Lanka.”

It need hardly be stressed that this kind of negative comment by one of India’s largest conglomerates on the eve of Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka will hardly help Sri Lanka. In fact, when one looks at the present government, we see that a small group of ex-UPFA politicians around Maithripala Sirisena seem hell bent on introducing tension and instability in the political front by stridently calling for investigations against or the arrest of former members of the Rajapaksa regime while the UNP seems hell bent on taking similar actions on the economic front! One can see that the ex-UPFA types who are calling for the arrest and destruction of the Rajapaksas are doing that to ensure their own political survival since they think that once the Rajapaksas are safely out of the way, they will be able to rule the roost. But less clear is the UNP’s motivation for calling for work stoppages on certain projects initiated by the previous government.

One wise and politically experienced old gentleman said that these stumbling blocks placed on large projects was just the UNP’s way of making a ‘hat collection’ for the party fund for the upcoming election. When you threaten to stop a project, the promoters will cough up a few millions for the party fund. If such is the case, then no permanent damage will be done as the business community understands that kind of maneuver on the part of politicians. Indeed, coming to think of it, how else is the UNP to collect enough money to face the next election in a short period of time? If what Niroshan Padukka said in his letter quoted earlier is true, the UNP electoral organizers exhausted themselves in the effort to bring MS into power are in no position to go for a parliamentary election without some replenishment.

Be that as it may, despite all the indiscretions, gaffes or mistakes the UNP may have been making, including the controversy over the treasury bond issue, none of that changes their status as the last bulwark of political stability in the country. The good news for the UNP is that however butterfingered they may have been after assuming power two months ago, they may have no problem in still coming out on top at a parliamentary election due to the present state of their main adversary – the SLFP.

SLFP falling apart

From what has been taking place in the past few weeks, it appears that the crisis in the SLFP will come to a head before the dissolution of parliament issue comes up at the end of April. Since it looks increasingly unlikely that Mahinda Rajapaksa will be given the SLFP/UPFA prime ministerial candidacy, the SLFP has started coming apart at the seams. In the wake of the presidential election, there was an attempt made by the UNP to seize control of the UPFA administered provincial councils. They managed to seize control of the Uva PC by obtaining the support of some UPFA provincial councilors. However after Maithripala Sirisena seized control of the SLFP, this trend stopped as Nimal Siripala de Silva cracked the whip and threatened disciplinary action against those SLFP provincial councilors who conspire with the UNP to topple provincial administrations. For a while things held steady as SLFP provincial politicos adopted a wait and see policy.

One hope that many SLFPers entertained was that Mahinda Rajapaksa would be made the prime ministerial candidate of the SLFP/UPFA and with the sympathy generated by his unexpected defeat, they thought the SLFP would be able to make a comeback at the next parliamentary election.  But during last week’s trip to Britain Maithripala Sirisena, reiterated the view that had he lost the election, his life and the lives of his family would have been in danger.  With it increasingly looking unlikely that Mahinda Rajapaksa would be given the prime ministerial nomination by Sirisena, the disintegration within the SLFP has recommenced.

Even if Mahinda was made the PM candidate of the SLFP, there will still be quite a few SLFP politicians who will crossover to the UNP for the parliamentary election particularly in the Kandy, Badulla and Puttalam districts. In a situation where Mahinda is not going to lead the SLFP campaign, the chances of the SLFP being able to win is virtually zero. The fact recognized by many SLFP politicos including Prasanna Ranatunga, Vidura Wickramanayake, Kumara Welgama and the vast majority of SLFP local government and PC members is that there is no one at the moment who can provide leadership to the party. It should be noted that the effort to oust the Central Province chief minister has recommenced in a situation where an SLFP president is ruling the country and Chandrika Kumaratunga has been appointed as the head of the party reorganization committee.

Tilina Bandara Tennakoon’s name is now being suggested as the UNP-backed chief minister for the Central Province. Tennakoon is a member of the SLFP but he will be becoming CM with the UNP’s help and against the wishes of his party. This group has now once again submitted an affidavit with 32 signatures to the central province governor demanding that Tennakoon be made chief minister. What this shows is that SLFP politicians at all levels are losing their fear of the party hierarchy. It also shows that they do not consider losing SLFP nominations to be a problem. A large group in the SLFP openly supports Mahinda Rajapaksa. Some others are openly working with the UNP as in the Uva and Central Provincial Councils. If this trend continues, all that Maithripala Sirisena, Chandrika Kumaratunga and Nimala Siripala de Silva will be left with will be an SLFP rump.

Some days ago, the Lanka News Web website had an article with the telling title Before Sirisena becomes Sorrysena” which indirectly suggested that Mangala Samaraweera be made the prime ministerial candidate of the SLFP. In fact Mangala Samaraweera has been the forgotten player in this whole drama. He’s been almost continuously airborne since January and thus out of sight.  However whether the SLFP rank and file will be willing to accept Mangala who is a UNP parliamentarian as their next prime ministerial candidate is doubtful.

Whichever way one looks at it, the SLFP is faced with a serious crisis. The party is dissolving even while there is an SLFP president in power and an SLFP majority in parliament. All this is due to the lack of confidence in members of the SLFP of the party being able to win the next parliamentary election under its present leadership.

Courtesy:Sunday Island

5 Responses to “SLFP Faces Crisis Despite Having SLFP Majority in Parliament and an SLFP’er as President.”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    SLFP is like the cricket team. Each top player thinks only of himself to hell with the party. Like the team, they REFUSE to retire and do their own business.

    1. CBK-Mangala camp
    2. My3-Siripala camp
    3. MR camp

    All 3 pulling in different directions. The ONLY way out is the “removal” of one or more (up to interpretation). Otherwise the PARTY cannot be saved. Remember the party comes first.

    IF UNP resigns from their posts on April 23 heck appoint SLFP ministers!

    FOOLISH if My3 dissolves parliament anytime before 2016 April when the election is due. A political suicide.

    UNP = RAW of Endia.
    Anti-UNP should get the assistance of ISI and MSS (China) to stuff the UNP-RAW. Otherwise they are DOOMED.

  2. Independent Says:

    Let me predict that Chandrika will be the PM candidate

  3. Ratanapala Says:

    At the moment there are only two political parties in Sri Lanka – Mahinda Rajapakse Party and Anti-Mahinda Rajapakse Party. Sirisena aka Udurawana II or Ranil – aka Jon Juan or for that matter Chandrika -aka Dona Katarina do not matter. They are all colourless spent forces.

    On 8 Jan Anti Rajapakse won and that brought Udurawana II to the presidency.

    When the parliamentary elections come Mahinda Rajapakse Party will win and SLFP will be history! UNP the United Christian Party will survive only as a party of the Christians and their bootlicking Colombian Buddhists. TNA and Muslim Congress will remain as the LTTE rump and ISIS jihadists respectively.

  4. NAK Says:

    It is strange how people add spin to a commentary like this. Chandraprema on a few occations here try to tell us how fortunate we that the UNP was around to save us from chaos. Since he has not seen us,he may visualize us as Chinese with hair bundled behind.
    We had a stable government until Sirisena abused his power and violated the constitution to appoint a minority UNP government which is definitely unstable and hanging by just one thread that is the pensions of newcomer MPs.
    The motion of no confidence against John Amaratunge is still on the agenda Even though Sirisena thinks it is dead.
    It is Sirisena that is causing the crisis in the SLFP for his own gain by disregarding the wishes of the vast majority of the SLFP membership.
    SLFP today has only one problem and that is ‘Sorrysena’ not allowing it to do the right thing.
    Sirisena here is in a position akin to man standing with his two feet planted on either side of a d greep grave. Either way he falls in.

  5. SA Kumar Says:

    Let me predict that Chandrika will be the PM candidate – I real thought about last night – good choose most of SLFP support her.

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