By vishvanath

There seems to be no end in sight to trouble for the SLFP. A special meeting it held on Saturday, under the chairmanship former President Maithripala Sirisena, turned stormy when three of its office-bearers of the party were sacked. They were MPsDuminda Dissanayake (National Organizer), Mahinda Amaraweera (Senior Vice President), and Lasantha Alagiyawanna (Treasurer).

Sirisena simply asked the members of the SLFP Central Committee and the Executive Committee, district leaders and electoral organizers, present at the meeting, whether they were for sacking the above-mentioned trio, and many hands went up. Thereafter, Sirisena asked if there was anyone opposed to the expulsions, and only Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, Amaraweera and Alagiyawanna raised their hands. He then declared that the party had endorsed the expulsions. He went on to have Sarath Ekanayake, Hector Bethmage and K. P. Gunawardena appointed Senior Vice President, Treasurer and National Organizer, respectively.

Amaraweera, Dissanayake and Alagiyawanna, addressing the media soon afterwards, announced that they would move courts against their expulsions, which they said were unlawful. All signs are that the SLFP will be embroiled in another legal battle, and a debilitating split over the expulsions at issue, with the presidential election only a few months away.

A notable attendee at Saturday’s SLFP meeting was Minister of Justice, Prison Affairs, and Constitutional Reforms Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, who had been invited by Sirisena himself as a special guest. He delivered a lecture on how to enable the SLFP to win future elections. He stressed the need to organize the SLFP properly to face future challenges.

Rajapakshe’s presence grabbed media attention because of his claim that he has received an invitation to run for President as a common candidate. Media reports said he had been asked, at Saturday’s SLFP meeting, to come forward as the party’s presidential candidate.  

Both Sirisena and Rajapakshe had to leave Saturday’s meeting early when some SLFPers became restive following the expulsions in question. Accosted by a group of hectoring reporters, Rajapakshe, on his way out of the SLFP headquarters, said the SLFP was the only political force capable of helping the country come out of the present crisis, and he had told the SLFPers present at the meeting how they could ensure the party’s victory at the coming elections.

Why did Sirisena handpick Wijeyadasa to deliver that lecture, and what made the latter take the trouble of telling the SLFP what it had to do to be able to win elections?

Sirisena was planning to seek re-election in 2019 although he had declared at his induction ceremony in 2015 that he would not contest a presidential election ever again. His much-publicized war on drugs was aimed at boosting his image ahead of the 2019 presidential election, but the Easter Sunday terror attacks ruined his re-election plan. When his first term came to an end, he may have thought of securing a nonconsecutive second term, but his failure to prevent the Easter Sunday carnage has stood in his way. It is not something he will be able to live down.  

Worse, Sirisena is also troubled by the prospect of losing the SLFP leadership, with some senior party members having turned against him. There has been an erosion of the SLFP parliamentary group, which initially had 14 members, but Sirisena now has the support of only one or two of them. Most of its MPs have sided with President Ranil Wickremesinghe.  

A seasoned political leader, who has come up the hard way, overcoming numerous obstacles in his path, Sirisena is not likely to give up the SLFP leadership. He patched up a compromise with former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, who had been rallying the support of the SLFP MPs and the party’s rank and file to oust him. He has been able to retain the party leadership, but he is facing legitimacy issues.

The SLFP was expected to forge a broad oppositional alliance under the joint leadership of Sirisena and Kumaratunga, but the move has hit a snag. Kumaratunga has chosen to remain silent on the proposed alliance. She maintains a very low profile, which is not like her. It is being speculated that Kumaratunga has given up the idea of reviving the SLFP, as its chances of winning an election in the near future are extremely slim.  

Ousted SLFP Treasurer Alagiyawanna told reporters, on Saturday, that Sirisena had falsely blamed him for delaying the formation of an SLFP-led electoral alliance. He said the delay was due to the prospective coalition partners’ refusal to accommodate Sirisena in the leadership council to be formed.

It is only natural that no political party wants to have Sirisena as a partner, given the Supreme Court judgement in a fundamental rights case against him and four others over the Easter Sunday terror attacks. He has been ordered to pay Rs. 100 million as compensation to the victims of the terrorist bombings. The apex court judgement has become a millstone around Sirisena’s neck.   

Going it alone at the next parliamentary election is a disturbing proposition for the SLFP, given its electoral weakness, its internal problems, and the campaign by the Catholic Church and the families of the Easter Sunday carnage victims against its leader, Sirisena. It is only wishful thinking that the SLFP can win the presidency under its own steam with Sirisena as its leader.

The only way Sirisena can remain relevant in national politics is to enable the SLFP win some seats at the next general election, including his own. Is he trying to make Wijeyadasa the SLFP’s presidential candidate so that the latter could cobble together an SLFP-led electoral alliance to contest both presidential and general elections expected later this year? Maybe, Sirisena thinks that if such a coalition can be formed, he may be able to have himself as well as some of his loyalists returned at the next parliamentary election whether Wijeyadasa wins or loses in the presidential race. That, however, may be a win-win situation for both Sirisena and Wijeyadasa, who contested the last parliamentary election from the SLPP, which is bound to be trounced at the next national elections. Even an unsuccessful presidential election campaign will stand Wijeyadasa in good stead because that will help him gain a head start on others at the next parliamentary election.

Minister Rajapakshe, however, has not made any official statement on media reports that he is planning to contest the next presidential election, as the candidate of the SLFP or any other party. He is apparently testing the waters before running for President, and his participation at the SLFP meeting on Saturday may have been an instance of his dipping a toe in the water. But if he has presidential ambitions, he will have to act fast, for the candidates of the UNP (President Wickremesinghe), the JVP (Anura Kumara Dissanayake), and the SJB (Sajith Premadasa) have already launched their campaigns. 


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