By Kassapa

Every now and then, political parties make miraculous comebacks. The resurrection of the United National Party (UNP) after its debacle at the hands of the newly formed, S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike led Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) in 1956 was one such instance. Can the SLFP do the same now?

At present, the SLFP is fairly and squarely facing extinction. The party which has ruled Sri Lanka for the longest duration since independence has been reduced to just fourteen seats in the 225-seat Parliament and is a mere appendage of the newly formed Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP).

The SLFP is given step-motherly treatment by the Rajapaksa brothers- who used the party as their political vehicle for decades- with a few token cabinet ministries while even SLFP seniors have been relegated to state ministries while SLPP neophytes have been elevated to Cabinet status.

The SLFP’s leader and former President Maithripala Sirisena is a non-entity now. He occupies a front row seat in Parliament by virtue of being a party leader but that is the only concession he has got. Ignored for a cabinet post, he is being treated like a leper and is hardly spoken to by the Rajapaksas.

Therefore, when there were news reports that the SLFP was planning to contest future elections on its own, that hardly raised eyebrows. It wouldn’t have ruffled any feathers in the SLPP camp. They regard as the SLFP as a spent force with a glorious past and a bleak future.

There have been a few ‘hardcore’ SLFPers who have stayed true to the party resisting the impulse to switch loyalties to the SLPP in return for rewards such as ministerial portfolios. This group, fed up with the hegemony of the Rajapaksas, have now decided that they should strike out on their own.

Another factor is that they realise that the SLPP is deeply unpopular with the masses. The rising cost of living, mismanagement of the corona virus pandemic, the stark inefficiency of the government, rampant corruption and the impunity with which the law is being violated have all contributed to this.

There was hype and hope when Gotabaya Rajapaksa was propelled into power less than two years ago. Rajapaksa was hyped as the man who was instrumental in the war victory over the Tamil Tiger terrorists. After the Easter bombings, it was suggested that he was needed to save the nation again.

There was genuine hope that Gotabaya Rajapaksa will do a good job as President. He was touted as the man who ‘got the job done’ (‘weda karana apey viruwa’ was the slogan). Being a military man with no political history, he was expected to clean the political swamp and ‘change the system’.

That is all an illusion now. The 6.9 million who voted for Rajapaksa and the rest of the country who didn’t now know that Gotabaya Rajapaksa was old wine being sold in a new bottle- an excuse for the Rajapaksas to continue their iron grip over the nation, and warm the seat until Namal could take over.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa added a few personal touches to his Presidency. That consisted of appointing his military buddies to positions of authority in the hope that they will ‘get the job done’. That was a disaster because Sri Lanka is not a military state and officials resent taking orders from the Army.


With this catastrophic performance in government, SLFPers know they will be decimated at the next elections, if they are identified with the SLPP. That is why they are considering parting ways with the ‘pohottuwa’ and contesting on their own-but do they have what it takes to succeed?

We hope so but we also think not. The country desperately needs strong and viable political parties to counter the overarching dominance of the SLPP. However, there are none. The UNP is a non-entity, the SLFP is still affiliated to the SLPP and the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) is still finding its feet.

Any attempt to revive the SLFP will be difficult for several reasons. Firstly, whatever their faults, the Bandaranaikes gave some credibility to the SLFP when they led the party. Chandrika Bandaranaike will not be game enough for one last hurrah as the party leader, even if she is asked to take on the job.

Secondly, the party has one big liability in its party leader, Maithripala Sirisena. Once the great hope of millions of Sri Lankans who entrusted him with the task of emancipating the country from the Rajapaksas and the presidential system of government, he has blotted his copybook in style.

Towards the end of his term, he did the unthinkable and cosied up to the Rajapaksas, stooping so low as to appoint Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister in a constitutional coup that was declared illegal by the Supreme Court. Now, he is under a cloud because of alleged culpability in the Easter attacks.

It is unlikely that the Sri Lankan electorate will place their trust in Sirisena ever again, after his acts of commission and omission during his tenure as President. It only proved that he was not the Messiah that the country had hoped for- he was just as bad as all the others, and messier than them too.

Thirdly, even if the SLFP were to discard Sirisena as their leader, there is no alternative in sight. There is no SLFP leader who has a record of integrity and ability coupled with the charisma that will be required to taken an ailing party and resurrect and rejuvenate it in to a winning force once again.

While the news that the SLFP wants to contest elections separately is, in principle, good news, it is not likely to have much of an impact for all practical purposes. The last time they did so, at the February 2018 local government elections, the SLFP polled 12 per cent of the vote and came third.

So, it will take a near miracle to reinvent the SLFP, leaving the SLPP with a huge advantage, going in to the provincial polls early next year, with the UNP in disarray, the SJB struggling and SLFP still not knowing whether it is in or out. That is why, despite their dismal record, the SLPP may still win the poll.


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