SLFP bows to the inevitable
The SLFP has decided to back SLPP presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa, at long last. UPFA MP Nimal Siripala de Silva, addressing the media, yesterday, in Colombo, announced his party’s decision.
The SLFP was left with four options. It could field a presidential candidate on its own or side with the SLPP or back Sajith Premadasa running for president on the ticket of the UNP-led New Democratic Font (NDF) or remain neutral.
President Maithripala Sirisena was toying with the idea of seeking a second term, especially following the huge success of his anti-drug campaign, which sent his popularity ratings up as never before. However, the Easter Sunday bombings and the blame he had to share with the government for the serious security lapses that had led to the terror strikes caused his approval ratings to plummet. The situation stood former war-time Defence Secretary Rajapaksa in good stead.
President Sirisena’s efforts to shore up his image again were in vain, as national security or lack of it took precedence over all other issues. Sirisena, being a veteran politician, must have realised that his chances of securing a second term were remote. He, therefore started, devaluing the executive presidency in public, claiming that it was not worth fighting for. At the recent SLFP convention, he called upon his party to concentrate on the next general election instead.
If the Appeal Court decision in the citizenship case had gone against Gotabaya on 04 Oct, and Chamal Rajapaksa had come forward as the SLPP candidate, perhaps, the SLFP may have changed its minds.
The SLFP was not in a position to back the UNP though some of its seniors were well disposed towards the government. There is no love lost between President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and their parties are at war. The President and Minister Premadasa have good relations, but the UNP is still under PM Wickremesinghe, who is eyeing the premiership under a Premadasa presidency. Ranil will control the next government as its PM in case Sajith wins the upcoming presidential election and the UNP the next general election. The SLFP, therefore, had to decide against backing Sajith in spite of the President’s affinity with him.
The SLFP did not want to remain neutral as it was aware that its ranks and file and even some of its MPs would throw in their lot with the SLPP. It was also aware that it would gain nothing in the event of Gotabaya’s victory and lose what remains of its vote bank to the SLPP. MPs Nimal Siripala de Silva and Dr. Sarath Amunugama publicly pledged their support to Gotabaya regardless of the SLFP’s decision.
The SLFP practised brinkmanship, making an issue of the symbol under which Gotabaya would contest. It wanted the SLPP to adopt a neutral symbol. But the SLPP placed the deposit for Gotabaya with the Election Department and crossed the point of no return in the process, making it impossible for the SLFP to keep pressing for a symbol other than the Lotus Bud. However, the President succeeded in having the SLPP agree to contest the next general election, with the SLFP as an ally, under a common symbol. The SLFP, after weeks of dillydallying, finally announced its decision to back Gotabaya. In fact, it bowed to the inevitable.