- UNP, though without much confidence, is attempting to form the next government through a coalition of political parties
- Ultimately, almost all political coalitions have been and are unprincipled clusters of various political groupings, just to grab power
Major political parties in the South, as well as North, are hell-bent these days on forming electoral alliances, some for mere survival and some others to fulfil special needs. Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) headed by former President Maithripala Sirisena and many minor and minority parties represent the first category and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) led by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa comes under the second category.
UNP, though without much confidence, is attempting to form the next government through a coalition of political parties, while the main reason for the SLPP - despite being highly confident on its victory at the upcoming Parliamentary election - to form a broader alliance with so many small parties including the SLFP is to obtain two-thirds majority power in Parliament in order to do away with the Articles in the 19th Amendment that has clipped the wings of the President.
Some small parties are different. They do not enter into coalitions for various reasons but would prefer to join a major party or a coalition to form a government subsequent to elections. The Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) led by Douglas Devananda which had never contested under a coalition, had been a party to several governments in the past. However, this time the party has joined the Sri Lanka Nidahas Podujana Sandhanaya (SLNPS) led by SLPP.
The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) had always preferred to contest elections solo, except for special situations, as it still believes that it can take its policies to the people through elections and one day people would vote them to power. For its credit, it never had entered into alliances just for survival or to increase the number of its members in Parliament and provincial or local councils.
The party was instrumental to form the United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) in 2003 as they wanted to oust the then UNP led government, on the grounds that the latter had been about to enter into an agreement with the LTTE to establish an interim administration for the North and East. The Tamil rebels called the entity that was to be in charge of the interim administration “Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA)” which was, in fact, akin to a blueprint for a separate State.
"The current wrangling within the UNP and the cold war between the SLPP and the SLFP are two other best cases in point for the unprincipled politics and electoral coalitions. The factions led by UNP leader Ranil and Deputy Leader Sajith do not have any policy differences"
However, when the UPFA government also signed an agreement with similar clauses with the LTTE in 2005 with a view to provide relief to the tsunami-hit people in the North and East, the JVP withdrew from the government. Then they supported the UNP and Maithripala Sirisena to defeat the UPFA government headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2015 when corruption and highhanded acts by the leaders of that government were rampant.
There are political parties, such as the Jana Setha Peramuna led by Ven. Battaramulle Seelarathana Thera and Sri Lanka Labour Party of A.S.P. Liyanage which are not interested at all in forming alliances. They just want to mark their political presence at the elections but there is no assurance that they do not align with the ruling parties, if they are elected to Parliament, which is a highly remote possibility.
Absence of principles has been the basis for almost all electoral coalitions in Sri Lanka. In spite of some political parties sometimes having some sort of policy grounds in entering into alliances with other parties, the latter would not have a principled approach towards the former.
For instance, despite the JVP having the motive of scuttling the “peace process” between the government and the LTTE which then had seriously flawed when it formed the UPFA with the SLFP in 2003, the latter had only electoral gains in mind. Thus, the UPFA government led by president Chandrika Kumaratunga did not abrogate or rectify the flaws in the highly lopsided ceasefire agreement with the LTTE. She instead signed an agreement called Post-Tsunami Operational Mechanisms Structure (P-TOMS) with the outfit, which marked the end of the coalition government with the JVP.
The current wrangling within the UNP and the cold war between the SLPP and the SLFP are two other best cases in point for the unprincipled politics and electoral coalitions. The factions led by UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa do not have any policy differences. During the four years between 2015 and 2019 when the party ruled the country, the two groups never had any conflict over policies or steps taken by the government, including the failed attempts to cover-up the Central Bank bond scam. It was only when the infighting came to a head Sajith group started to call it a scam.
Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) does not believe in devolution of power, but the UNP, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), and the constituent parties in the Tamil Progressive Alliance (TPA) do. The approaches taken by these parties towards the allegations of human rights violations and war crimes against the Sri Lankan armed forces are not same. Some of these parties welcome the government’s decision to withdraw from the co-sponsorship for the UNHRC resolutions while others do not.
Some UNP leaders were in the forefront against the Madrasas - the Muslim religious schools - and political parties with communal tags after the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks last year while the other parties looked at them differently. Nevertheless, all these have joined hands as an electoral coalition with a view to form a government collectively, without agreeing upon these and other various contentious issues.
The case with the coalition headed by the SLPP is no different. There are very serious policy disparities on important issues, even within the SLPP itself. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is totally against the concept of devolution of power, whereas Prime Minister and the Leader of the SLPP Mahinda Rajapaksa had promised some Tamil leaders last year to grant police and land powers to the Northern Provincial Council. Besides, the Prime Minister told the media during his recent visit to India that the provincial council system would be strengthened. The stance taken by Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) and the Communist Party of Sri Lanka (CPSL) on devolution, Office of Missing Persons (OMP), human rights issues are a far cry from that of SLPP, National Freedom Front (NFF) and Pivithuru Hela Urumaya.
Former President Maithripala Sirisena broke ranks with Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government in 2014, claiming that the government under Rajapaksa was the most corrupt one in the history. And the Rajapaksa loyalists in turn branded him as an agent of the West and the separatists who were hell-bent on destabilising the country. Yet, all these parties have formed a coalition called Sri Lanka Podujana Nidahas Sandhanaya recently, without sorting out any of these and other contentious issues, just to win the forthcoming general election.
In the North, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has been accused by the Tamil Makkal Koottani (TMK) headed by former Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran of betraying the basic demand of Tamils, such as devolution of power, resolution of issues on land and missing persons etc. Interestingly, Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, the leader of the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) had lashed out the TMK with the same allegations days ago.
And Wigneswaran had hit back with a long list of similar allegations with graphic details.
What can one comprehend with this situation in the South and the North? The professed policies of political parties are a sham, and one should not expect the respective parties to necessarily adhere to them. Ultimately, almost all political coalitions have been and are unprincipled clusters of various political groupings, just to grab power.