• Basil’s entreaty to Ranil to save the party from predators such as Lanza points to something like a political divorce.
  • The SLPP is not about policies or principles. It is quite simply a family project, of Rajapaksas.

It would be naïve to look for logic and reason in the workings of Sri Lankan politics and this makes predicting the political course of the country that much more difficult. Even so, it can be said with some degree of certainty that the honeymoon in the marriage of convenience between President Ranil Wickremesinghe and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) is now officially over.

At first glance, there was no logic in getting rid of a President elected with the largest majority, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and substituting him with Wickremesinghe, a leader whose party polled just two per cent of the vote. There is even less reason for the government which functioned under Rajapaksa’s Presidency to continue after all that upheaval. Nevertheless, both events occurred.

To the discerning eye though, the logic becomes apparent. The SLPP is not about policies or principles. It is quite simply a family project, the only objective of which is to perpetuate the Rajapaksa dynasty. From that perspective, the logic is evident: given the chance to elect Rajapaksa’s successor from the motely crowd in Parliament, they chose the one person who could guarantee the survival of the Rajapaksa clan: Ranil Wickremesinghe.

To date, Wickremesinghe has done just that. He hasn’t prosecuted them for the many offences they are alleged to have committed. He hasn’t imposed himself in any way on the SLPP. He has retained almost the same Cabinet that served under Rajapaksa (with the exception of G.L. Peiris who committed the cardinal sin of nominating Dullas Alahapperuma to run against Wickremesinghe for President in that Parliamentary ballot). Even when he removed Governors appointed by Rajapaksa, Wickremesinghe reportedly conferred with Rajapaksa first and obtained his concurrence. This is why the marriage of convenience between Wickremesinghe and the SLPP has survived for this long.

Now, the first cracks are appearing in this uneasy and unholy alliance. The reason is clear. Wickremesinghe has set his sights firmly on the next presidential election, due by October 2024, the latest. He realises that his United National Party (UNP), decimated at the last election (ironically by the SLPP!), won’t be up and running at full steam by then. So, he has to find a party, a coalition, an alliance that has a support base that would extend that support to him.

The ‘ideal’ solution would be to woo the Samagi Jana Balvegaya (SJB). Almost everyone in that party has been in the UNP under Wickremesinghe. This was attempted. Wickremesinghe encountered two obstacles. Firstly, the SJB wanted him to dissociate himself from the corrupt elements of the SLPP and the Rajapaksas and become a truly independent President. This, he was not prepared to do.

Secondly, SJB leader Sajith Premadasa isn’t enamoured with the idea- and understandably so. Unlike J.R. Jayewardene who had the political maturity and wisdom to allow Sajith’s father Ranasinghe Premadasa to prosper politically, Wickremesinghe has been petty in his treatment of Premadasa. The time when he dilly-dallied until the eleventh hour to nominate Premadasa as the UNP candidate at the last presidential election is testimony to this.

Even when he was the deputy leader of the UNP, Sajith Premadasa was never in Wickremesinghe’s inner circle which comprised of the likes of Malick Samarawickrama, Sagala Ratnayake and Akhila Viraj Kariyawasam. Now, the leader of the largest opposition party in Parliament and the Leader of the Opposition, Premadasa doesn’t want to be under the rule of Wickremesinghe’s thumb anymore.

Of course, Wickremesinghe will continue his attempts to woo SJB parliamentarians on a one-to-one basis and the more vulnerable among them will succumb. This however won’t be enough to generate the alliance that would sponsor Wickremesinghe at the next presidential election. This is where the SLPP ‘drop-outs’ are being actively identified, targeted and recruited.

Already, there are a group of ministers in the Cabinet who have found that working with Wickremesinghe is more rewarding than working with Rajapaksa. This group includes Kanchana Wijesekera, Prasanna Ranatunga, Susil Premajayantha, Bandula Gunawardena, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe and Tiran Alles. While the loyalty of all of them could be up for sale the next minute, at this point in time, they are firmly in Wickremesinghe’s camp which is why they make statements to the effect that they would support him at the next presidential election.

Wickremesinghe wants the net to be cast wider. Entrusted with this task is former minister Nimal Lanza, previously a close associate of Basil Rajapaksa. Right now, the ‘recruitment drive’ is on in earnest. The Rajapaksas initially pooh-poohed this move and believed it would a passing phase. Now they realise it is not and that their control of the SLPP is being seriously undermined by the fickleness of their own brood who, just three years ago, sold the then popular ‘Rajapaksa’ brand to gain entry to Parliament.

A significant factor in this, at least for senior parliamentarians is the realisation that within the SLPP, there is no room for anyone other than a Rajapaksa to aspire for the highest level of leadership. This is true for the likes of Susil Premajayantha, Bandula Gunawardena, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe and Nimal Siripala de Silva who have been toiling hard for decades only for a Rajapaksa to be hoisted to the top. Wickremesinghe is cunning enough to prey on this weakness.

There is also the perception, if word on the street is to be believed, that the ‘Rajapaksa’ brand is badly damaged now and links to it could lose you votes rather than gain them. This is another reason why opportunistic SLPP politicians are ditching their party and agreeing to join the Wickremesinghe bandwagon.

This has reached such proportions that Basil Rajapaksa thought it fit to meet Wickremesinghe and express his concerns. Although it seems farcical that Rajapaksa would appeal to Wickremesinghe to save the SLPP from its own party members, Rajapaksa was also conveying a not-so-subtle threat to Wickremesinghe: continue with this ploy and you could lose your parliamentary majority.

Thus, the Wickremesinghe-SLPP marriage is no longer one of convenience. In fact, it has become quite inconvenient for the SLPP. It is too early to predict a divorce just yet but it is correct to say that both parties are looking at how best to part ways.