SLFP crisis deepens

By Maheesha Mudugamuwa

As we step into a new year, all major parties – the United National Party (UNP), the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) – are facing decisive turning points, but the crisis of SLFP has reached a new level, after its Chairman President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to align with the SLPP for the forthcoming elections.

In the wake of the crisis, the SLFP last week temporarily appointed MP Dayasiri Jayasekara as the new General Secretary, replacing Prof. Rohana Lakshman Piyadasa.

It was reported that the President made this appointment with the hope of merging all SLPF factions together and to face the upcoming elections in coalition with the SLPP.

The newly-appointed General Secretary MP Jayasekera told the media that his appointment was approved by the SLFP Central Committee unanimously at its meeting held last week.

Power struggle

Meanwhile, several national newspapers during the last few weeks reported that the SLFP was facing a major power struggle for full control of it; and Former President Chandrika Kumaratunga is reportedly playing a key role, in collecting the possible breakaway MPs of the party to strengthen her power within the party once again.

Subsequently, there were several MPs who were willing to join the Government as well as some MPs who were facing difficulties in working with SLPP members.

However, President Sirisena’s decision to align with the SLPP has made the situation worse, as both parties were struggling to secure the power within the coalition that they were planning to form.

SLPP sources confirmed that the coalition should be led by them and not by the SLFP as they secured a majority of votes at the last local government elections.

But SLFP sources said the coalition should be led by the SLFP as it was one of the main political parties of the country.

A senior SLFP member said that in the political history of this country, there were no incidents of a new party forming coalitions with older powerful parties.

As such, the SLFP was one of the oldest and strongest parties which created many leaders of the country. Therefore, the coalition between SLFP and SLPP should definitely be led by the SLFP.

Even though the rifts between President Sirisena and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa seems to be over, and even if they were willing to work together, it seems the members of the two camps were yet to come to an agreement.

Several members who were in the Joint Opposition (JO) during past few years were yet to accept the 16 UPFAers who joined with President Sirisena, forming a Unity Government in 2015.

Members treated unfairly

Several members of the group of 16 MPs were worried that they were treated unfairly by those who were in the JO during the three-and-a-half years of the Government of National Unity.

A senior member of SLFP confirmed that there were issues between those who were in the Government, and those who were in the JO during the past few years.

He further stated: “They can’t even work at their respective electorate, and this is the main reason why several UPFAers crossed over to the Government recently. A few selfish politicians wanted to chase them away to the UNP. They don’t even think about the party.”

In this backdrop, the much talked about topic between the SLFPers last month was the decision taken by President Sirisena to close down the SLFP headquarters at Darley Road until he returned from his private visit to Thailand.

Several high profile SLFPers believed that the President had taken this decision as he did not want to take the risk of another major party split during his absence.

On his return, the President visited the party headquarters and met members of the SLFP Youth Organisation, Lawyer’s Association, the Graduate’s Association, and the Professional’s Association, and also reviewed the progress of work done by organisations affiliated to the SLFP.

He was accompanied by the SLFP Senior Vice President MP Nimal Siripala de Silva, MPs Mahinda Amaraweera, SLFP General Secretary Dayasiri Jayasekara, Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, and Lasantha Alagiyawanna, as well as Western Province Chief Minister Isura Devapriya, and former SLFP General Secretary Dr. Rohana Lakshman Piyadasa.

In a brief discussion held with SLFP members, the President has stressed the importance of forging ahead as a strong political party dedicated to the people’s wellbeing.

In the meantime, another group of SLFPers were currently planning to join with the UNP-led Government. Earlier it was reported that around 22 MPs (a few former cabinet ministers were also within the group) are planning to join with the UNP. However, by Thursday evening, a well-informed source revealed that 16 out of the 22 MPs would join the Government in the future but were yet to take a firm decision.

A SLFP member who was part of this group said: “We need to work for the people. Elections will be held within the next one-and-a-half years and until that time they will have to be in the Opposition, doing nothing while all the UNPers will spend money for the benefit of the people and build their voter base for the next election.”

“This is the major concern of all these MPs and a few do not agree with the President’s decision to join with the SLPP,” he added.

However, when contacted, former Cabinet Minister, UPFA MP Susil Premajayantha said: “There is no major issue within the party as of now. All those disagreements and arguments were normal issues within, which each and every political party of this country would have to face from time to time.”

Willing to form a coalition

“The main aim of the SLFP at present was to prepare for the next election and to win the election. To fulfil that objective, the party is willing to form a coalition with any political party which is in support of the UNP,” MP Premajayantha noted.

He also said that he hoped no one would commit political suicide by joining the UNP-led Government.

“SLPF and SLPP are like twin brothers. Their policies are the same and therefore, there is no such barrier for anyone to work with the SLPP. Our major concern is to defeat the UNP, and therefore the party was working together with each and every faction at present,” UPFA MP Chandima Weerakkody said.

He also said: “There are issues within any political party and those issues should be solved within the party. We should not work according to individual political agendas but for the betterment of the party as well as the country.”

Many believe that the newly-appointed SLFP General Secretary would be able to solve the issues within the party and would be able to avert a major split in the future.