By Vishvanath

The SLPP, which had a phenomenal rise in national politics, unlike any other political party in Sri Lanka, and won the last three elections—local government (2018), presidential (2019), and parliamentary (2020)—in a row, quite impressively, and secured a two-thirds majority in the parliament, is in a shambles. Although the SLPP-led government has managed to retain a working majority in the House with the help of some crossovers, its approval rating has plummeted. A similar fate has befallen the SLPP dissidents.

The SLPP has decided to take legal action against its former Chairman Prof. G. L. Peiris, who, together with several other dissident SLPP MPs, has closed ranks with the SJB and pledged his support for SJB Presidential candidate Sajith Premadasa. SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam is reported to have said the above-mentioned decision was reached by the Executive Committee of SLPP because Prof. Peiris has entered into an alliance with the SJB. Why has the SLPP taken so long to contemplate initiating the process of expelling Prof. Peiris?

About two weeks ago, six dissident SLPP MPs, who are members of the Freedom People’s Congress (FPC), entered into an electoral pact with the SJB to back the Leader of the Opposition and the SJB, Sajith Premadasa, who is running for President in a few months. Other FPC MPs who have pledged their support for Premadasa are Dilan Perera, Dr. NalakaGodahewa, K.P. Kumarasiri, Dr. Upul Galappaththi and Wasantha Yapa Bandara.

The SLPP appointed Ven. Prof. Uthurawala DhammarathanaThera as its Chairman last year, but Prof. Peiris has claimed Dhammarathana Thera’s appointment is unlawful. The SLPP, however, stopped short of sacking Prof. Peiris and more than a dozen other SLPP MPs who broke ranks with the government and chose to sit as independent MPs in the parliament, in 2022, after falling out with the party leadership.

The SLPP is troubled by the prospect of some more of its MPs defecting to the SJB at a time it is thought to be planning to throw in its lot with President Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is contesting the coming presidential election most probably as the candidate of a new political alliance led by the UNP. The SLPP local government politicians’ union has reportedly decided to support Wickremesinghe’s presidential candidacy. Political analysts have argued that they would not have done so without SLPP founder Basil Rajapaksa’s knowledge. 

By initiating disciplinary action against Prof. Peiris, the SLPP is apparently trying to issue a dire warning to other MPs in ranks, planning to break ranks with it in the run-up to the upcoming presidential election. The SLPP is also doing its best to have a snap general election held before the presidential polls in a bid to overcome the problem of finding a formidable presidential candidate and win as many seats as possible before its electoral weakness is exposed in the presidential race. Whichever election comes first, another breakaway will deal a crippling blow to the SLPP, which might even lose its parliamentary majority in such an eventuality.

The SLPP dissidents are in a quandary. They may have thought they would be able to provide an alternative to the SLPP government and secure enough popular support to emerge as a robust political force, the way the SLPP itself had done as an offshoot of the SLFP. But their plans did not work contrary to their expectations. It is the SJB that has stood to gain from the SLPP’s internal dispute. The SLFP, which could have cashed in on the SLPP’s woes, has been embroiled in a leadership crisis. 

The SLPP dissidents formed two political parties—the Uttara Lanka Sabhagaya or the Supreme Lanka Council (SLC) led by MP Wimal Weerawansa, and the Freedom People’s Congress (FPC) led by MP Dullas Alahapperuma. Some other SLPP dissidents, who are supportive of President Wickremesinghe, banded together as the “New Alliance” with SLPP MP Nimal Lanza as its leader.

The SLPP dissidents in the SLC and the FPC must have realized that they were not strong enough to contest an election under their own steam, and they would be reduced to a mere name board in the event of having to face a national election. Politicians are driven by an insatiable desire to achieve their political ambitions and further self-interest. So, it is only natural that the FPC has hitched its wagon to the SJB. There is no other way it can remain politically relevant, much less gain enough traction to have some of its members returned at the parliamentary election. 

Will the SLPP gain anything by forging an alliance with the SLPP dissidents, or will they prove to be a political liability for it, given the fact that they are also responsible for what the SLPP government has earned notoriety for? Prof. Peiris can be considered as an asset to a political party; he is without allegations of corruption and/or abuse of power against him. His problem however is that he was part of the SLPP and defended it until it became hugely unpopular. Some SLPP dissidents are under a cloud; there are very serious allegations against them. They are political liabilities. Most of them cannot deliver any votes to the SJB; some of them are National List MPs and others were returned at the 2020 general election because of the SLPP’s popularity at the time and their links to the Rajapaksa family. Past associations with the Rajapaksasa are a political millstone around every SLPP dissident’s neck.

The SJB is apparently laboring under the delusion that it can improve its image and shore up its chances of winning future elections by increasing the number of MPs supporting it in the parliament. Hence its efforts to win over the dissident SLPP MPs. But the numbers in the parliament do not necessarily translate into popular votes. There’s the rub.

The FPC rump led by Alahapperuma has gravitated towards Wimal Weerawansa’s SPC. They are likely to forge an electoral alliance. Both SJB and the NPP have been wooing Alhapperuma, who has not tarnished his image. But he has opted to stay out of alliances with them, and try to chart a course for his party. He seems confident that the FPC will be able to secure a few seats at the next parliamentary election, and consider entering into an alliance thereafter. Whether this strategy will work remains to be seen.  

The disintegration of the SLPP is nearing completion, and whoever takes over its reins next will face the gargantuan task of revitalizing it. Its breakaway groups will be lucky if they succeed in preventing themselves from fading into oblivion sooner than expected.  


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