By Vishvanath

Politicians are known for their remarkable ability to see opportunities in crises. Never do they care to make moral judgements when they pursue their dreams. They are driven solely by self-interest, and in the pursuit of their ambitions, they emulate Brutus, who tells Cassius in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “There is a tide in the affairs of men/Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune:/Omitted, all the voyage of their life/Is bound in shallows and miseries/On such a full sea are we now afloat,/ And we must take the current when it serves,/Or lose our ventures.” However, not all such hasty ventures lead on to fortune, but there’s no stopping politicians when opportunities present themselves. What Maithripala Sirisena did in late 2014 is a case in point. He left the Mahinda Rajapaksa government to take a huge political gamble; he was lucky enough to secure the coveted presidency in January 2015. Gotabaya

Rajapaksa also took the tide in his affairs at the flood, following the Easter Sunday attacks, and realized his presidential dream, but his venture led on to disaster instead of fortune; he had to run away, and give up the presidency. Ranil Wickremesinghe also took time by the forelock when a rare opportunity presented itself, during Aragalaya in 2022, and succeeded in ascending to the highest position in the land.

There are currently several politicians who are all out to turn the country’s economic crisis into an opportunity and achieve their presidential ambitions. Some of them would have the public that they have already mustered enough popular support to win the presidential race, which is widely expected to be a three-cornered contest among President Wickremesinghe, Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa and NPP/JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake. But there is the likelihood of another hat, a blue one at that, being thrown into the ring. Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapaksa is determined to make the SLFP’s leadership crisis into an opportunity for him to realize his presidential dream. The Sirisena faction, which

is at war with the loyalists of former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (CBK), has appointed Wijeyadasa the Acting Chairman of the SLFP.  

The SLFP Executive Committee, which met on Sunday (21), appointed Wijeyadasa to that post. Senior Vice Chairman of the SLFP Prof. Rohana Luxman Piyadasa has been quoted by the media as saying that the SLFP Politburo met on Saturday (20) night and unanimously approved Wijeyadasa’s appointment.

Sirisena, on March 30, sacked three SLFP seniors, Mahinda Amaraweera, Lasantha Alagiyawanna, and Duminda Dissanayake as the party’s Senior Vice President, Treasurer and National Organizer, respectively. He appointed his loyalists, K. P. Gunawardena, Hector Bethmage and Sarath Ekanayake as the SLFP’s National Organizer, Treasurer and Senior Vice President, respectively. He 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.

Amaraweera, Alagiyawanna and Dissanayake moved the Colombo District Court against their removal, and obtained interim relief on April 01. CBK moved the same court against Sirisena, and obtained an interim order preventing Sirisena from functioning as the SLFP Chairman. The interim order has been extended until May 09. The CBK faction convened a meeting of the SLFP Politburo at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute on April 08, and had Minister de Silva appointed as the Acting Chairman. SLFP Patron CBK was present at the meeting as an observer. The responsibilities of the SLFP General

Secretary were handed over to SLFP National Organizer Dissanayake.

Wijeyadasa’s appointment as the Acting Chairman of the SLFP should be viewed against the backdrop of the SLFP meeting held by the Sirisena faction, on March 30. Wijeyadasa was present there as a special invitee of Sirisena, and 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 received a great deal of 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 to come forward as the SLFP’s presidential candidate. Now, the Sirisena faction has gone a step further, and Wijeyadasa is apparently on cloud nine, thinking that he will be the SLFP’s presidential candidate.

Wijeyadasa makes no bones about his presidential dream. When he was asked by reporters in front of the SLFP headquarters, where the Sirisena faction gave a press conference on Sunday, after being denied entry by the police into the building, whether he would run for President as the SLFP candidate, he said he would do so if the party was willing. He claimed that he was confident of turning the SLFP around and uniting the warring factions to win future elections. But he is being overoptimistic. The rivals of Sirisena lost no time in opposing his appointment as the party’s Acting Chairman. They claimed that Sunday’s Executive Committee meeting was illegal and the decisions made there had no legal validity.  National Organizer of the SLFP Duminda Dissanayake wrote to Acting General Secretary of the SLFP Sarathi Dushmantha Mithrapala opposing the move to appoint Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe’s appointment as Chairman of SLFP. He said the appointment was illegal, and Minister de Silva was the party’s Acting Chairman. Thus, it will be a tall order for Wijeyadasa to win over his rivals, who are said to be supportive of President Wickremesinghe.

The SLFP’s crisis is bound to deepen, with the two warring factions intensifying their hostile action against each other, and another legal battle over the appointment of Acting Chairman is likely to crop up debilitating the party beyond repair. While the UNP, the SJB and the JVP/NPP are making preparations for their May Day rallies to be held on a grand scale as shows of strength ahead of the presidential contest, the SLFP is at war with itself.

Whether the SLFP, which is not even in a position to hold a May Day rally, will be able to vie with other parties for the presidency is the question. But Wijeyadasa is not likely to give up easily. He may not get another chance to run for President as the candidate of a major political party, and therefore he is likely to throw his hat into the ring with the help of the Sirisena faction in a bid to harness swing votes, which are believed to have increased owing to the people’s disillusionment with the political parties and their leaders. But politics, like Snakes and Ladders, is full of uncertainties and surprises, and Wijeyadasa is taking a huge political gamble. Ambition blinds politicians to reality.


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