Editorial/Opinion

Another decisive week ahead

As the political turmoil continued for yet another week, the nation, it seems, has switched to autopilot mode – where the machinery operates sans a prime minister or a government. President Maithripala Sirisena however seems unfazed by the goings on in the political circles.

In fact, Sirisena seems eager to avoid discussing the current political crisis, apart from an interview to the media. This was witnessed at the opening ceremony of the newly-renovated Iranamadu Tank in Vavuniya on Friday.

When politicians who attended the event had approached the President and inquired as to what the next step would be, Sirisena had responded by saying that he did not wish to discuss any politics that day. He had added that he wanted some peace from all the political chaos.

Nevertheless, several Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) members at the event expressed the uncertainties faced by them and their inability to respond to questions posed to them by people in their constituencies. At this point, the President said that a final decision on forming a government had to be made this week regardless of the Supreme Court verdict.
Sirisena aired these same sentiments when he met with the SLFP Central Committee that evening at his official residence.

The party’s central committee members started to make their way for the meeting at around 7 p.m. last Friday.

At the outset of the discussion, SLFP Leader Sirisena said that he would have to appoint a government that commanded a majority in Parliament with an addition that he was yet unprepared to appoint United National Party (UNP) Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister if the government was to be led by the United National Front (UNF).

Hearing the President’s statement, everyone gathered at the meeting was unsure as to how long the current crisis would drag on.

Sirisena has further noted that the party needed to prepare for elections next year.
The next question to be discussed was how the SLFP would contest the next general election.
The President then noted that discussions would have to be initiated with the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) to discuss the formation of an alliance with the SLFP. Although a discussion was launched into the formation of a SLFP-SLPP alliance about a month back, it came to a halt with many members of the SLFP expressing their objections to such an alliance.
When the talks came to a standstill, both parties agreed on a name for the alliance – Sri Lanka Nidahas Podujana Peramuna.

At the SLFP Central Committee meeting, Sirisena seemed prepared to ignore concerns raised by the SLFP on forming an alliance with the SLPP and the possible challenges faced by the SLFP organisers and candidates at a general election.

It is evident that Sirisena has now, or at least last Friday, decided to hedge his bets with the SLPP, whom he believed would back his presidential election candidacy at the proper time.
Sirisena directed the Central Committee to make the necessary arrangements and asked the party secretary to register the new political party.

Afterwards, the SLFP Central Committee members were treated to a meal catered by Hilton Colombo. It was the first time since Sirisena assumed office as President that the SLFP Central Committee members had been treated to a five-star meal, especially after the President declared that all public institutions should refrain from holding any functions at five-star hotels.

Despite stating to an English daily newspaper last week that he was undecided on whether he would contest the next presidential election, it seems like Sirisena feels more comfortable choosing Mahinda Rajapaksa as his ally rather than the UNF – which paved the way for his ascension to executive presidency.

The UNF has now called on the President to hold early presidential elections in order to resolve the current political stalemate. Sirisena has told the media that he would not call for early presidential polls.
The UNF has called for a presidential poll on the grounds that there was no way to resolve the crisis if the President continues to steadfastly refuse appointing Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister even after showing majority support in Parliament. However, Wickremesinghe also expressed preparedness to face a general election once the crisis was resolved and the status quo returned to the pre-October 26 scenario.
Be that as it may, Sirisena also seem to be feeling the gravity of his actions, especially on those who had fought alongside him in the 2015 presidential election campaign.
It was these troubling thoughts that seemed to come out of Sirisena at the special SLFP convention last Tuesday at the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium.
The SLFP organisers and members at the convention were bewildered by the comments addressed to the UNP membership in Sirisena’s speech.
Most SLFP organisers later on said in jest that the party leadership had forgotten that it was the SLFP convention.

CBK hits out

The special SLFP convention also saw, SLFP patron, former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga sending a letter to SLFP General Secretary Prof. Rohana Lakshman Piyadasa, stating that she had not been invited to the party convention.
She also noted that she, along with party organiser in the Kelaniya electorate Keerthi Weragoda, was not informed of a meeting convened on 30 November of Gampaha District SLFP organisers. Kumaratunga noted that the meeting was organised by SLFP Gampaha District organiser Lasantha Alagiyawanna and that she had learnt that her name was purposely omitted from the list of participants.
The former President added that she had not received an invitation for the party convention.
Piyadasa in response told the media that Kumaratunga was not invited because she had not attended any party event in a while.
“Since I assumed office as Party Secretary, she has not attended any party event,” Piyadasa was quoted as saying to the media.
However, many SLFP members have objected to the SLFP General Secretary’s comments and have decided to explain in writing the party traditions set by its late founder S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and the importance of his daughter, who was also a former President of the country, being involved in the affairs of the SLFP.

SLFP alliance

The SLFP however, is facing a massive overhaul in the coming weeks.
Sirisena, during last Friday’s Central Committee meeting, had also charged that he wanted to remove all SLFP organisers in order to make fresh appointments.
He said that there should only be organisers who are loyal to the party leadership and added that there was no need to have district leaders for the party.
Sirisena’s statement indicates that he was not going to let any force obstruct his moves to form an alliance with the SLPP.
The hard-line stance of making fresh appointments for party organisers is a reflection of his anger over the move by many SLFP organisers to join forces and object any move to form an alliance between the SLFP and SLPP.
A few weeks back, a group of SLFP organisers gathered at the Public Library Auditorium and decided to move a motion to call on the party leadership and General Secretary to push for party reforms and cancel the party memberships of those who had taken memberships in other political parties.
Also, removing party organisers and making fresh appointments would help in the formation of the SLFP-SLPP alliance, especially when deciding on nominations at elections.
Meanwhile, a clash of thoughts emerged between Sirisena and MP Namal Rajapaksa yesterday over a statement made by the former during a press interview.
“I heard some bargained themselves for sums as high as Rs. 500 million. Mahinda Rajapaksa could not muster the majority because of the high price tags quoted by the MPs; if not for that, he could have got the majority,” Sirisena stated in an interview.
“It is always the policy of @PresRajapaksa & @MaithripalaS to accept crossovers based on policies. Buying over MP’s (sic) to show majority is not our strategy,” MP Namal stated in a tweet in response to Sirisena’s comments.
Sirisena, in the interview, also stated that he was “fed” information to believe that the Prime Minister and Government appointed by him had a 113-strong majority in Parliament. Interestingly, the Rajapaksa loyalists stated that it was Sirisena who had promised to help get the numbers to form a majority.
Given the aforementioned situation, it would be interesting to closely follow the formation of the SLFP-SLPP alliance.

Shunned

Meanwhile, in the wake of the continuing political stalemate along with the interim order issued against the Rajapaksa-led Government last week, the diplomatic community has decided to skip state functions.
The decision by the diplomatic community was witnessed last week when diplomats were not present at the tourism awards organised by the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA).
It is learnt that while organisers of the event had contacted diplomatic missions to request the participation of the mission heads at the event, the diplomats politely turned down the invitation after hearing that the event was to be graced by the President.
Sirisena was to attend the event and members of the Presidential Security Division (PSD) had also been present at the venue of the ceremony on Thursday (6).
However, the PSD personnel had left the venue after hearing that the President was not going to attend the event.
The Sunday Morning learnt that the President’s Office had earlier confirmed the President’s participation at the event, but had later informed that he was being delayed at a party leaders’ meeting and was unable to attend.
The President’s Office however, later informed the media that the President did not have any plans of attending the awards ceremony at all.

Showing confidence

The UNF, in a bid to once again resolve the political stalemate decided to vote on a show of confidence motion. Accordingly, a Confidence Motion for Wickremesinghe has been handed over to Parliament and is expected to be taken up on Wednesday (12) when the House convenes.
Given the statements being made by the President that he would form a government this week with the party that possesses a majority in the House, the UNF is once again hopeful that the political deadlock could be overcome by the Motion of Confidence.
The UNF also made arrangements to mobilise its party cadre along with members of the civil society to demand a resolution to the existing crisis from the President.
The Janabala Meheyuma is scheduled to take place on Thursday (13) after Parliament is expected to take a vote on the motion.
UNP members and UNF supporters are expected to enter the city from the key entry points and demand a resolution to the current crisis.

Motion by JVP

The JVP meanwhile has decided to make the necessary arrangements to hand over a motion to Parliament calling for the appointment of a commission to inquire into the individuals who have played a role in creating a politically unstable situation in the country through unconstitutional acts.
The JVP is to seek powers for the respective commission to propose and initiate action against those who are found guilty.
The Sunday Morning learnt that the proposal would be presented to the House as a private member’s motion.
Meanwhile, the JVP’s politburo has decided to implement a road map that has already been compiled by the party following the resolution of the existing political crisis. Among the plans in the road map is to intensify the party’s campaign to seek the abolition of the executive presidency.
The JVP politburo has discussed, at length, the party’s actions during the course of the political crisis.
Party Secretary Tilvin Silva spoke about the No-faith Motion moved by the JVP in Parliament against Rajapaksa and his Government. Silva said that the interim order issued by the Court of Appeal is testament to the fact that the party had chosen its actions wisely.
However, it was agreed by all members at the meeting that while rallying against the current political system, the JVP would also push aggressively for the abolition of the executive presidency, which has now become a slogan of the civil society as well.

Waiting to bloom

The SLPP people’s representatives in the Gampaha District met last week at UPFA MP Prasanna Ranatunga’s residence.
The meeting was attended by the SLPP MPs, provincial councillors and local government members in the Gampaha District as well as MP Sudharshani Fernandopulle, who joined the former “Joint Opposition” in Parliament along with 16 SLFP MPs a few months earlier.
The discussion was based on the current political crisis and future plans of the SLPP.
Ranatunga noted that regardless of the outcome of the Supreme Court verdict, the SLPP needs to be prepared for any political challenge. He said that despite differences of opinion on MP Mahinda Rajapaksa’s move to accept the portfolio of prime minister from Sirisena, all members of the SLPP were united in their cause to win the next key round of elections and that they would also rally around Rajapaksa.
It is learnt that the discussion also resulted in the SLPP loyalists deciding to make representations to the party leadership that in the event the SLPP was to form an alliance with any other political party, the electoral symbol should be the “flower bud”.
“After toiling for over three years to make the ‘flower bud’ a success, we should not allow our symbol to be hijacked by anyone,” one of the members at the meeting said.
Meanwhile, SLPP theoretician, Basil Rajapaksa held several rounds of discussions last week at the SLPP head office in Battaramulla with party leaders, electoral organisers, and trade union members to prepare for early general elections next year.
Basil informed all organisers that steps needed to be taken to prepare for elections regardless of the outcome of the Supreme Court verdict.
Be that as it may, Prof. Nalin de Silva, in a recent interview, referred to a “Molligoda” in the SLPP camp, whom he claims prevented the Rajapaksa Government from securing the 113 majority in Parliament.
In the video interview, de Silva said that, like in 1818 when Molligoda betrayed the Kandyan Kingdom to the British, in 2018, another such “Molligoda” prevented the securing of the 113 seats in Parliament due to an ulterior motive.
“This person is called a great visionary, a political dealmaker and so on. He could have got the required 113, but didn’t. He, along with his loyalists, is on a different path. This individual’s intention is to destroy the SLFP and the UPFA and go for an election,” the Professor added.
Listening to the statement, it is the opinion of many political analysts that the reference made by Prof. de Silva was to the theoretician of the SLPP – Basil Rajapaksa.
“If Molligoda is not getting the numbers, then the President will have to intervene,” Prof. de Silva observed.