Often, the downfall of governments come from within and not from their opponents. Sri Lankan political history is littered with such examples.

In the ‘50s, S.W.R. D. Bandaranaike broke away from the United National Party (UNP) and formed the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) which went on sweep the board at the 1956 elections. In 1964, it took the cross-over of thirteen SLFP parliamentarians led by C.P. de Silva to bring down Sirima Bandaranaike’s government over the Press Take-Over Bill which the lady called a ‘stab in the back’.

Ms. Bandaranaike was the victim of internal strife again. In the mid-‘70s, her coalition partners the Communist Party and the Lanka Samasamaja Party deserted her, leading to her rout in 1977.

In the ‘90s, it was the turn of the UNP to suffer a similar fate, Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake teaming up to impeach President Ranasinghe Premadasa, an act that eventually culminated in the UNP’s defeat in 1994 after seventeen years in power.

The most recent example of a similar political event was of course Maithripala Sirisena leaving the SLFP-led government of then President Mahinda Rajapaksa in late 2014 while being general secretary of the party to challenge him at the presidential election a few months later, ensuring Rajapaksa’s defeat.

The question now on everyone’s lips is, will history repeat itself?

That is because of the public display of anger and frustration within the ranks of the SLFP, as witnessed in Parliament last week, with Sirisena and another SLFP stalwart, Dayasiri Jayasekara launching a scathing attack on the government.


This was triggered by accusations levelled by Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage who, during the budget debate implied that Sirisena had spent over 3 billion rupees as President in a year, compared to just over half that amount spent by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Another accusation followed from Minister Rohitha Abeygunawardena who alleged that Sirisena had annexed three houses to construct his official residence.

Both allegations were strongly denied by a visibly angry Sirisena Parliament who has generally kept a low profile for many months. His increased expenditure as President was because he initiated several programmes while he was President, he said, detailing them. The annexation of residence was never his brainchild, he said. He hinted that the support of his group of parliamentarians extended to the government may be reconsidered if the government maintains this line of attack.

State Minister Jayasekara was more direct. He told Minister Aluthgamage that he was a parading peacock who does not realise that while he is dancing, his rear is on full view. He too hinted that the SLFP’s support for the ruling coalition should not be taken for granted.

There are interesting political undertones in this exchange. The critical question is why ministers Aluthgamage and Abeygunawardena chose to initiate unprovoked attacks on Sirisena. The thinking is that they may have been asked to do so by the powers that be in the SLPP.

This brings to the fore a critical element that underpins the current government which has its own crisis in its rising unpopularity due to a variety of issues. While the SLPP retains a more than comfortable majority in Parliament and controls the Executive, it is dependent on the SLFP’s fourteen members of Parliament to retain its two-thirds majority in Parliament.

At the August 2020 general election, the SLPP-led coalition won 145 seats in Parliament, five seats short of a two-thirds majority. However, since then, on numerous occasions and most notably in passing the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, it has demonstrated its ability to muster a two-thirds majority with the help of some ‘dissidents’ in the main opposition party, the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB). It did this again very recently when it passed the budget with more than 150 votes.

If the SLFP were to withdraw the support of its fourteen MPs, this two-thirds majority the government enjoys will almost certainly be in danger. However, the government does have a political ‘insurance policy’ against this.

That is the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry in to the April 2019 Easter Sunday terror attacks, commissioned ironically by Sirisena himself. This report recommends that criminal proceedings be instituted against Sirisena for acts of negligence that led to security lapses which enabled the attacks. These recommendations have been hanging like the proverbial ‘Sword of Damocles’ over Sirisena’s political future.

In fact, it has been publicly suggested that these recommendations may be acted upon. The government is also under pressure from the Catholic Church to fully implement these recommendations. That would almost certainly end Sirisena’s political future as he would then be embroiled in a contentious legal tussle to clear his name.

The price the government would have to pay for this is the SLFP’s support in Parliament. Without the SLFP and therefore without a two-thirds majority, it would put the SLPP’s next ambitious political project, the enacting of a brand new Constitution for the country, in serious jeopardy.


The SLPP’s political think tank must be fervently crunching the numbers these days. They will be counting on the ‘dissidents’ from the SJB to vote for them. They will also be wooing some SLFPers in the hope that not all of them will desert the government along with Sirisena, if the latter withdraws his support. Even the support of some parliamentarians from Tamil political parties could be solicited.   If the numbers add up and the SLPP believes it can still cobble together 150 Members of Parliament, it will be curtains for Sirisena- and the SLFP.

This is part and parcel of a bigger political agenda. The SLPP hierarchy is keen to bequeath a political party that does not have a Bandaranaike legacy to the next generation of Rajapaksas. What S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike inadvertently did for the Bandaranaikes, leaving behind a political party for his wife, son and daughter, the Rajapaksas want to deliberately do for their next generation.

In this project, Maithripala Sirisena and the SLFP represent a threat in that the public may always revert to their ‘first love’, the parent party. That is why the SLFP needs to be not only vanquished, it must be obliterated. It is the first phase of that operation that was being played out in Parliament last week.


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