By Kassapa


The next elections are a moment of reckoning not only for Sri Lanka but also for what was not so long ago its most powerful political party, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). Whether the ‘pohottuwa’, as the party is popularly known because of its symbol, perish or prosper will largely depend on the outcome of the poll.To put the fate of the SLPP in context, its origins must be understood. When Maithripala Sirisena unexpectedly won the 2015 presidential elections, he wrested control of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). That was only possible because of a change introduced to the SLFP Constitution by Mahinda Rajapaksa.Worried that the political ghost of Chandrika Kumaratunga will haunt his presidency, Rajapaksa introduced a clause saying that if a SLFPer was the President of the country, he would automatically become leader of the SLFP. That came back to bite him when Sirisena became President. Faced with being under Sirisena’s control, brother Basil set up the SLPP in 2016. Thanks to the inefficiency and corruption seen in the government headed by Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe, the SLPP gained in popularity. The rest, as they say, is history.That did not alter the reason for the SLPP’s existence: to be a political vehicle for the Rajapaksa family and no one else. That is why, at the 2019 presidential election, when Mahinda Rajapaksa was ineligible because he had been twice elected, Chamal Rajapaksa was considered to be lacking in charisma, Basil Rajapaksa was not willing to forego his United States citizenship and Namal Rajapaksa was considered too young, they dragged a reluctant and inexperienced Gotabaya Rajapaksa into contesting- with disastrous consequences.The damage inflicted by Gotabaya Rajapaksa extended beyond the country; it has wrecked the SLPP as well. The Rajapaksas, once the most marketable ‘brand’ in the country is now the most despised. Even if they are to return to power, the general feeling in the country is that voters need a respite from them.The SLPP itself has been smashed into smithereens, so much so that it is difficult to keep track of the different factions. Considered its parent party, the SLFP has left long ago although it could be argued that the SLFP’s factional woes are worse than the SLPP’s. The only factor in common among the groups led by Sirisena and Nimala Siripala de Silva is their opposition to the Rajapaksas.Two persons responsible for the formation of the SLPP, Wimal Weerawansa and Udaya Gammanpila who launched the ‘Mahinda Sulanga’ campaign at Nugegoda shortly after the 2015 defeat have aligned themselves with another former SLPP ally, Dilith Jayaweera who proclaims himself to be a presidential candidate this year. Again, what they all have in common is their antipathy towards the Rajapaksas.Another group, calling themselves the Nidahasa Janatha Sabhawa, led by Dullas Alahapperuma and G.L. Peiris, became independent of the SLPP many months ago. Three members of this group- Peiris, Nalaka Godahewa and Dilan Perera have now pledged their support to the Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB). The others, including Alahapperuma but without Channa Jayasumana, are likely to follow suit. Jayasumana has teamed up with Weerawansa’s group.Apart from all this there is the decay of the SLPP from within. This is where Wickremesinghe has stealthily lured young (and not so young) SLPP MPs and ministers away from the Rajapaksas. Some are affectionately known as ‘Ranilge puththu’ for their loyalty to Wickremesinghe and include Shehan Semasinghe, Premitha Bandara Tennakoon, Lohan Ratwatte and Dilum Amunugama, all being state ministers. The more senior among them include the likes of Prasanna Ranatunga, Kanchana Wijesekera, Ali Sabry and even Mahindananda Aluthgamage.All of those mentioned above have, at one time or another, publicly proclaimed that Wickremesinghe is the ‘best person’ to lead Sri Lanka to recovery and advocated for him to be the candidate at the next presidential election.Matters came to a head last week with the public rally organised at Matara by Kanchana Wijesekera under the theme ‘Ekwa Jayagamu’ (‘Unite and Win’). Wijesekera made it very clear that the SLPP had no choice but to endorse Wickremesinghe or face the consequences of witnessing a large-scale exodus of its MPs.Naturally, the Rajapaksa have been left fuming. On the one hand, they have no candidate that is capable of winning. If they put Namal Rajapaksa forward, he will lose and spoil his political CV forever. On the other hand, if they endorse Wickremesinghe, there is every chance that he will run away with almost all of their MPs except the Rajapaksas themselves and the very few hardliners who serve the Rajapaksa family with a slavish mentality.This is why, one such Rajapaksa devotee, SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam, when asked about the SLPP endorsing Wickremesinghe said that this could be considered if Wickremesinghe obtains membership of the SLPP. That was meant to be a sarcastic response but at the same time reflects the degree of desperation that the SLPP is in. Wickremesinghe, as anyone with an iota of political sense knows, will never leave his beloved United National Party (UNP) and join the SLPP!  In such a situation, insiders say the SLPP is actively considering offering Dhammika Perera as their candidate. Perera will never win but he will also effectively scupper the little chance that Wickremesinghe has. It as also been suggested that this strategy be conveyed to Wickremesinghe in no uncertain terms, to compel him to consider Basil Rajapaksa’s original proposal to have the general election first, before the presidential poll. This is still possible, but the window of opportunity for that will run out soon.The Rajapaksas are acutely aware of the disaster that is awaiting them. Namal Rajapaksa has come to accept that. This is why he is not at all bothered about the next presidential or general elections. What he is worried about is the fate of the SLPP after those polls. Therefore, he is desperately trying to ensure that there will be a SLPP left, so that he can have a tilt in 2029. He knows only too well that if the SLPP self-destructs in 2024, he will be left without a party to run with, in five years.That could well be the case. The SLPP was formed as a political project of the Rajapaksas by the Rajapaksas for the Rajapaksas. If the Rajapaksas become irrelevant in Sri Lankan politics, it must follow that the SLPP will also become extinct.    


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here