PC polls: A way out of crisis for MS
The controversial topic that is currently doing the rounds in the political circles is the holding of the presidential election this year, and most importantly, the key contenders come election time.
All main political parties, the United National Party (UNP), Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) are engaged in strategising for the presidential election.
The UNP, which is gearing to contest under a broad alliance formed with several political parties under the Democratic National Front (DNF), is heading for a clash over the candidate to field at the next presidential elections. The UNP has claimed that the candidate fielded from the Front should be a UNP member. However, deciding the candidate has now posed a problem, with names of several seniors being pushed by various groups in the party.
The key names that are being put forward are Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, and Minister Sajith Premadasa. A majority of the UNP members dominated by the young membership is determined that the party backs a new leader, stating that Wickremesinghe would not command the majority support of the party.
Thereby, as of yesterday (since the political scene in Sri Lanka records quick changes, sometimes, on an hourly basis), the main contenders in the UNP are Jayasuriya and Premadasa.
Nevertheless, the UNP has still not hit the crisis button in deciding the party’s candidate.
The SLFP and the SLPP on the other hand are still flirting with the idea of forming an alliance that would contest at the next elections. Most members of the SLFP and the SLPP are not too keen on the idea of forming an alliance since each party feels the other party would have an adverse impact on their respective political identity and gains.
The SLFP has called for a common symbol and leadership in the event an alliance is formed with the SLPP. Members of the SLPP have demanded that the alliance symbol be that of their party and that the leadership should also fall within the SLPP ranks.
The SLFP has called for a presidential candidate from the SLFP while the SLPP has called for one from their party.
It is clear that the two parties, despite the understandings of their respective leaders, are heading for a head-on collision in the near future.
The JVP meanwhile, has decided to launch a campaign calling for the abolition of the executive presidency, which the party has been carrying out for several decades. The JVP has on several occasions backed candidates who have pledged to abolish the executive presidency at several presidential elections – Presidents Mahinda Rajapaksa (direct support) and Maithripala Sirisena (indirect support).
The Marxist party is also in the process of forming a broad alliance with intellectuals, professionals, artists, trade unionists, etc. and the abolition of the executive presidency is one of the main slogans.
Be that as it may, amidst all this politicking, many are focused on the goings on between the SLFP and the SLPP, mainly because of the stakeholders involved – President Sirisena and former President, Opposition Leader Rajapaksa. One-time rivals are now trying to forge a political alliance, giving a new meaning to the term “frenemies”.
The Sirisena-Rajapaksa alliance has created a crisis in the SLFP, with the party splintering into several factions.
SLFP pushes MS
SLFP National Organiser MP Duminda Dissanayake said that the party, before aligning with the SLPP, should reach a final decision on the candidate for the next presidential election.
He further noted that President Sirisena should be the presidential candidate of the SLFP.
Dissanayake is of the firm stance that while the SLFP could form an alliance with any political party, the leadership of such an alliance should be with the SLFP.
Meanwhile, UPFA MP S.B. Dissanayake, one of the key brokers in the “marriage” between Sirisena and Rajapaksa, said that Sirisena would lose everything if the SLPP declare Sirisena as the presidential candidate of the impending alliance.
SB told the media: “There was a group in our party that had to be taken out with the greatest difficulty. In order to step out of the Unity Government, they had two slogans. One was to initiate disciplinary action against party members who joined the “pohottuwa” party, if action was to be taken against party members who joined the UNP. This slogan was made to isolate President Sirisena. The next slogan was for Mahinda to promise that Maithripala would be made the next presidential candidate. This slogan was made to ensure that President Sirisena lost everything else.”
According to SB, this group, after failing to achieve their target, was now making statements that Sirisena was their presidential candidate.
Interestingly, party seniors like MP Nimal Siripala de Silva have also claimed that Sirisena would be the SLFP’s presidential candidate.
However, the SLPP is sending out different signals. Party theoretician Basil Rajapaksa says that a final decision on the alliance, its symbol, or its candidate at the next presidential election, had not yet been reached.
It is in this backdrop, the SLPP’s local government representatives handed over a letter to Basil, stating that all SLPP local government members reached a unanimous decision that the party’s “flower bud” symbol should be used by the new alliance and that the leadership of it should be vested with the SLPP.
Their claim was that the SLPP had polled the highest percentage of votes at the last local government elections and the party should therefore not give in to the dictates of another political party that had polled a small percentage of votes.
Accepting the letter, Basil said that a final decision had not yet been made on these matters and all concerns raised by party members would be taken into consideration when Party Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa makes the final call.
Be that as it may, President Sirisena is expected to meet with SLPP Leader, Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa and other leaders of the SLPP shortly.
The meeting is expected to take place one of these days and the discussion is to focus on the modalities of the new political alliance between the SLFP and SLPP, current political issues, and preparing to hold elections for the provincial councils.
On the matter of holding provincial council elections, the President already called on the SLFP Central Committee to make the necessary arrangements to prepare for polls and the UNP has called for the elections to be held under the old proportional representation (PR) electoral system.
The SLPP is also of the view that the provincial council elections should be held under the PR system since the proposed new electoral system had not yet received the green light from Parliament. Therefore, until a new law comes into effect, it is the old law that is accepted, making the holding of provincial council elections under the PR system legitimate. The controversy over the delimitation committee report would definitely delay chances of holding provincial polls under the proposed new electoral system.
The President could also seek the Supreme Court interpretation of the law stating that the delay in holding provincial council elections was a violation of the fundamental rights of the voters.
Sirisena, it seems, believes that pushing for the holding of provincial council elections before the presidential election would to some extent resolve the clashes within his party that is dampening his push for an alliance with the SLPP.
Amidst the clash of ideologies between the SLFP and the SLPP, the crisis brewing within the SLFP remains a simmering pot.
The growing dissention among SLFP organisers over the Party Leader’s decision to join forces with the Rajapaksa-led SLPP, has now resulted in the President surreptitiously moving to eliminate those opposed to his decision one by one.
It is learnt that key among the targeted SLFP organisers is former President, SLFP patron, and party organiser for the Attanagalla electorate Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.
A group of SLFP organisers from last November commenced a campaign to urge their Party Leader Sirisena not to join forces with the Rajapaksa-led SLPP.
Their belief was that an alliance with the SLPP would ultimately result in the dissolution of the SLFP and the party losing its identity. Instead, they canvassed for the party leadership to take charge of the party’s reforms process and focus on building the party cadre and structure.
A group of SLFP organisers, calling themselves the Movement to Protect the SLFP, held its first open meeting in November at the Public Library auditorium.
At the meeting, about 60 SLFP organisers gathered and decided to hand in a letter to the Party Leader and General Secretary, urging that an alliance not be forged with the SLPP, disciplinary action be taken against all SLFP members who had taken membership of the SLPP, and to sack such errant members from the party.
SLFP organisers from then on made public comments of their views about the party leadership’s decision to form an alliance with the SLPP.
A majority of the SLFP organisers had met with Kumaratunga and called her to take the leadership in their struggle to safeguard the party.
She also took the forefront in ensuring that the party founded by her late father S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and led by her late mother Sirimavo Bandaranaike, continued to stand by the Bandaranaike principles.
Kumaratunga also wrote several letters to then Party Secretary Rohana Lakshman Piyadasa and President Sirisena himself about the SLFP and its future path.
Sirisena was sent a letter dated 11 January, 2019 by Kumaratunga stating that she did not approve any decision by the SLFP leadership to join with parties or groups that had been rejected by a majority of the people in the country. In the letter, she called on Sirisena not to betray the programme that was presented by him to the people in the run up to the presidential election in 2015.
Kumaratunga outlined five points for consideration: 1. For the party leadership to take the initiative in safeguarding the party’s identity and giving it prominence; 2. Consider the damage that could be caused to the party by aligning with nationalist groups; 3. Further strengthen the President’s actions against fraud and corruption; 4. Not agree with any moves by some sections of the party to join with the UNP; 5. To transform the SLFP to a party with strong democratic principles backed by new economic policies that would take Sri Lanka to great heights.
Kumaratunga’s letter was countersigned by 10 SLFP organisers including Thilak Waragoda, Ruwan Ranatunge, M. Amjad, U.D. Ariyathilaka, Sarath Sandanayake, Sanjaya Siriwardena, and several others.
Earlier this month, SLFP Kesbewa Organiser, Attorney Rajika Kodituwakku also, in a moving letter to President Sirisena, resigned from the post of Presidential Coordinating Secretary, stating he could not stand by the current goings on and that he would stand by the party and work to strengthen it.
It is in this backdrop that a group of SLFP MPs loyal to Rajapaksa and the SLPP proposed to the President to take stern action against Kumaratunga and several party organisers as a warning sign to the rest.
Sirisena was told by these groups that the continuous criticism levelled against the SLPP by the SLFP organisers would otherwise continue to increase, and it would not bode well for the SLFP leadership to be criticised in public by party organisers.
Moves are now underway to push Sirisena to take action against a group of party organisers for questioning the leadership’s decision.
MS meets organisers
The President has meanwhile called on all party organisers who had sent him a signed letter stating that the SLFP should not be aligned with any political party but should instead look at remaining independent and building its forces, to meet him for a discussion.
Sirisena has in fact asked these organisers to meet him separately at times convenient to them. The main aim of these meetings is believed to be to discuss the party’s political future and the need for all forces to stand together.
However, the President had not called the party organisers who had refrained from signing the letter. As a result, the organisers who had refrained from signing the letter are reportedly unhappy at not being invited by Sirisena for a tete-a-tete.
Nevertheless, the President is yet to make a final decision on party organisers albeit claims being made by some that the President had decided to take stern action against a group of organisers who criticised the party leadership and shouted at the former Party Secretary Prof. Rohana Lakshman Piyadasa during a meeting of party organisers.
It is, however, evident now that Sirisena is trying his best to ensure that a majority of the SLFP remains intact by his side. The invitations for discussions extended to party organisers as well as the inclusion of many SLFP MPs in his entourage to the Philippines indicated the efforts made by Sirisena to keep his camp intact.
It was interesting to see President Sirisena being accompanied by a delegation of SLFP MPs from the Opposition United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) while on an officials visit to the Philippines. The only member of the Government who was in the Presidential delegation was Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana.
The impression that was given to the general public as a result was that the President was trying to curry favour among his party members at the expense of public funds.
Fall armyworm at the Cabinet
The Cabinet of Ministers met last week on Monday since the following day (Tuesday – when the Cabinet usually meets) was a holiday, and President Maithripala Sirisena was scheduled to leave for the Philippines on the day.
Monday’s Cabinet meeting was not a lengthy one.
The President took up several issues, and among them was the invasion of the fall armyworm (sena) in the country affecting large portions of agricultural produce.
The Cabinet discussed the adverse impact the fall armyworm would have on the agricultural harvests and resolved to take immediate action to curtail and destroy the worm.
The President also called on the Cabinet to expedite the appointment of heads and boards to state institutions in line with the new committee appointed to inspect the suitability of nominees to hold such office.
Cabinet also approved a proposal submitted by Sirisena to initiate the process to get the Buddhist Thripitaka declared a world heritage. Accordingly, relevant measures would be taken to receive Cabinet approval to lobby the United Nations to get the Thripitaka declared a world heritage artefact.