Numbers game, Not policies that matter
Posted on September 7th, 2017

M.S.M.Ayub Courtesy The Daily Mirror

Two months ago, the supporters of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in Parliament, who call themselves the Joint Opposition, claimed that 18 Parliament members of the Maithri faction of the Sri Lanka Freedom party (SLFP) were to join hands with them. But nobody has defected from the incumbent President’s faction to the former President’s faction yet. And interestingly, neither they continue with their claim nor do their adversaries question them about it, as if both groups had prior knowledge that it was mere rhetoric.

Now, some of the members of the Joint Opposition have started to claim again that eight ministers from the Government, probably those who represented the SLFP would soon leave the Government. And the Daily Mirror reported on Wednesday that the Central Committee of the SLFP headed by President Maithripala Sirisena was to hold a crisis meeting on the issue. The President had stated in a recent meeting with the media that irrespective of, who went out or came in, he had to continue as the President till the end of his tenure.

These occasional claims by the Joint Opposition and the fears of defection expressed by the Maithri faction of the SLFP indicate that the SLFP is already split into two practically, in spite of it being officially considered by the Elections Commission as one party.

However, neither group wants to admit it publicly. Responding to the journalists after visiting the former Deputy Minister Sarana Gunawardene in Welikada prison on Wednesday former President Rajapaksa said that he was still in the SLFP. Also he had recently made a highly controversial claim that he was still the Chairman of the SLFP.

But at the same time he lamented before the SLFP convention held on Sunday at Campbell Park in Colombo that he was not invited for the event.

Then he said he was invited reluctantly. And one of his close aides and former External Affairs Minister Professor G.L. Peiris stated that Mr. Rajapaksa would not attend the convention even if he were invited. What Rajapaksa and his loyalists were not bothered about was that these statements run counter to his claim of leadership of the party.

It is a well known fact that the SLFP faction led by Rajapaksa has borrowed a political party, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) from its previous leaders and launched a membership drive under the leadership of Basil Rajapaksa.

The former President had told a gathering in Deniyaya on Tuesday that the Joint Opposition would contest future elections under the flower bud symbol of the SLPP. Promotion of and giving leadership to another party, while being members of the SLFP are no doubt against the Constitution of the SLFP.
Nevertheless, the official SLFP led by President Sirisena had invited the Mahinda faction to the convention, leave alone taking legal action against them for violating party constitution.

The Maithri faction seems to be worrying about a possible erosion of its strength in the event of a clear-cut separation of the two factions resulting from any disciplinary action against Rajapaksa faction for violating party rules, since such action would push those who were on the fence to side with Rajapaksas. Several ministers who are lenient towards the Rajapaksas have openly expressed their frustration over some of the activities of the Government.

Already several ministers such as Susil Premajayantha and W.D.J. Seneviratne who are lenient towards the Rajapaksas have openly expressed their frustration over some of the activities of the Government.

When the UNP took steps to sack Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe from his ministerial post last month on the grounds that he criticised the Government’s agreement with a Chinese firm to lease out the Hambantota Port and thereby breached the collective responsibility of the Cabinet, Premajayantha unhesitatingly and openly endorsed his stance.

However, the possibility of defection in a large scale from the Maithri faction to Rajapaksa faction seems to be remote as the factors that glued them with the Government led by the United National Party (UNP) have not changed. As we questioned in a previous article, if there were SLFP Ministers to quit the Government and join the Joint opposition, why didn’t they do so right away? What is the difference between leaving now and doing so on another day in future?

Needless to say that some of them are frustrated as their say within the Government is minimal and the UNP bulldozes through when it comes to decision making in major issues. All the important Ministries that can influence the overall policies of economy, defence and law and order are being handled by the UNP leaders.

Majority of the SLFP ministers, deputy ministers and State ministers did not join the Yahapalanaya Government, as it is commonly called, out of love. They worked hard to defeat Maithripala Sirisena at the 2015 January Presidential Election and the UNP at the August Parliamentary Elections in the same year. Susil Premajayantha, as the General Secretary of the United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA), called Sirisena an agent of the Western and the separatist powers on November 22, 2014, the very next day after the latter announced his common candidacy of the Opposition at the last Presidential Election.

Nishantha Muthuhettigama was accused of burning down a propaganda stage of the Opposition’s Common Candidate Sirisena. President Sirisena, as the leader of the UPFA and the SLFP, had to sack Premajayantha and Anura Priyadharshana Yapa from the secretary posts of those two parties, on the eve of the Parliamentary Elections, as they worked against his wishes.

It was the circumstances that compelled them to meekly join hands with the same person and the party they were hell bent to defeat a few days ago. On the one hand UNP did not get sufficient seats to form its own Government, leaving some space for a few members of the UPFA/SLFP to step in. Also it was an opportunity for them to conveniently save their skins from corruption charges while enjoying ministerial perks. It must be noted that all the MPs of the SLFP who joined the Government have been rewarded with portfolios.

The argument that the SLFP members want to leave the Government due to policy differences between the two parties is obsolete rubbish. As Minister Kabir Hashim pointed out on Wednesday at a press briefing there are no policy differences between the two parties with regard to any major issue. Both parties accept the open economic policy and the unitary state of the country.

Neither party has a consistent stand on the concept of Federalism. They are practically in favour of the Executive Presidential system, despite their intermittent support to the voices against that system, depending on how their stance serves their interest of the hour. Corruption has so far been a part of the mode of administration of both parties.

SLFP members of the Government would not see any change in the regime by breaking ranks with it, since the President cannot dissolve the Government until January, 2020 according to the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. The UNP has 106 MPs in the Parliament including the Speaker and they in fact need only eight more members to protect the Government even in case of a mass resignation of SLFP members from the Government.

However, Ministers Duminda Dissanayake, Sarath Amunugama, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Mahinda Amaraweera, Mahinda Samarasinghe, Wijith Wijayamuni Soyza and a few others would probably not let down the Government. So long as the survival of the Government is so assured, both the carrot and the stick would compel many other SLFP members in the Government also to stay put, even after the unity agreement between the UNP and the SLFP lapses in December.

On the other hand, even in case of an en masse resignation of SLFP Ministers from the Government to rally behind Mahinda Rajapaksa, they would need 18 more members to form a Government.

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