Sri Lanka’s sixth Executive President Maithripala Sirisena is a busy man these days. He is busy driving the final nail into the coffin of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), which is well and truly dead and buried, murdered by Sirisena. Only the last rites have to be performed now.

It was not a sudden death. It has been a slow and painful demise, brought about by the cancer that is Sirisena’s ambition which rose to dizzying heights when he was chosen as the ‘common’ candidate to challenge Mahinda Rajapaksa in November 2014.

When leading personalities who loved the SLFP such as Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mangala Samaraweera were searching for a ‘common’ candidate because they knew Ranil Wickremesinghe could never defeat Rajapaksa, there were few takers.

The other serious contender that was being spoken of was Nimal Siripala De Silva but he baulked at the idea. The maverick and mediocre politician that Sirisena was, he readily accepted: he had nothing to lose and everything to gain because, under the yoke of the Rajapaksas he was destined to be General Secretary of the SLFP forever.

Truth be told, no one seriously expected to Sirisena win. Certainly, Ranil Wickremesinghe didn’t. That is why readily agreed to support Sirisena. Wickremesinghe was only ensuring his political survival by outsourcing the United National Party (UNP)’s presidential candidacy to a third party because he himself couldn’t win, just as he did in 2010 with Sarath Fonseka.

All those who worked behind the scenes for Sirisena to be anointed as the ‘common candidate’ believed they had a deal: Sirisena, if ever he won, would take measures to abolish the Executive Presidency, establish a government led by an Executive Prime Minister and take a quiet retirement. His manifesto spelt this out in charming terms, describing how his wish was to return to Polonnaruwa as the simple farmer that he once was. That is why people voted for him.

The rest, as they say, is history. No sooner Sirisena won, he demanded and obtained the leadership of the SLFP, much to Mahinda Rajapaksa’s chagrin. Thus began the decline of the SLFP, the party formed by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, nurtured by Sirima Bandaranaike through difficult times and raised to lofty heights by Mahinda Rajapaksa. Even today, it is the party which has ruled Sri Lanka for the longest period of time.

Defeated but not destroyed, Rajapaksa set about forming the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), aided by brother Basil. Paling into insignificance in the face of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s charisma, encumbered by his own incompetence and not having the political skills to outfox Ranil Wickremesinghe, Sirisena went from one disaster to another: a record loss at the 2018 local government elections, the October 2018 constitutional coup where he was given a legal slap in the face by the Supreme Court and had his decision to dissolve Parliament declared unconstitutional and finally, the disastrous 2019 April Easter attacks. By this time, the ‘Yahapalanaya’ dream was in shambles.

Sirisena was swiftly being consigned to the dustbin of history. Fortunately, he had sufficient common sense left in him not to contest the 2019 presidential election, that would have obliterated him from the political landscape. Nevertheless, as he descended to the depths of his political spiral, he took with him not only his own SLFP but also the UNP he partnered with, the latter being aided and abetted in no small measure by Ranil Wickremesinghe.

Today, the SLFP is as potent and powerful as, say, Wimal Weerawansa’s Jathika Nidahas Peramuna. It has a couple of Cabinet ministers in Nimal Siripala De Silva and Mahinda Amaraweera but they hold those positions because of their servility to Wickremesinghe, not as an acknowledgement of the SLFP’s political strength.

One man who tried against the odds to resurrect the SLFP was Dayasiri Jayasekera. When the SLFP rightly sanctioned De Silva and Amaraweera for defying party discipline and joining the Cabinet, Jayasekera was instrumental in insisting that this was the right decision.

However, Sirisena found himself at a legal dead end. On the one hand, he was being censured by courts for his negligence during the Easter attacks and faced fines and even possible criminal charges. On the other hand, De Silva and Amaraweera had their suspensions revoked by courts. Sirisena’s lack of integrity came to the fore: he thought he could buy some ‘insurance’ by inviting the two ministers who are part of the government back to the SLFP. In doing so, he nonchalantly sacrificed Jayasekera, his loyal and faithful general secretary during difficult times.

Today, Sirisena is being lambasted from across the political spectrum. Sarath Fonseka gave him a military style dressing down in Parliament last week. Jayasekera has kept his criticisms polite but the SLFP’s rank and file are distraught at what was done to him. Sirisena has no real bargaining power with Wickremesinghe or the Rajapaksas because his support base at the grassroots level is thinning by the day and SLFPers are seeking solace either with the Samagi Jana Balavegaya or the Jathika Jana Balavegaya as alternatives to the ruling parties, the UNP and the SLPP.

Only the SLFP’s obituary remains to be written. History will record that, had Maithripala Sirisena kept his promise to the nation in 2015 and did what he was supposed to do and retired, the SLFP would still be intact, albeit still under the Rajapaksas. Even that may have changed after the events of the ‘aragalaya’. What Ranil Wickremesinghe did to the UNP, Sirisena has done to the SLFP, the difference being that Wickremesinghe as been given a fluke chance to resurrect his party whereas Sirisena is hellbent on digging the SLFP’s political grave.

In all likelihood, the SLFP’s death as a political entity will be confirmed at the next general elections, especially if they decide to go it alone. Even if Sirisena allies himself with the SLPP or the UNP or both, he will find himself a negligible non-entity after the results are known, even if the people of Polonnaruwa return him to Parliament.

Sirisena’s political passing is to be celebrated, not lamented but it is the destruction of the SLFP we must mourn: whatever its faults, it was an integral part of the country’s once robust democratic system for decades.