The two leading political parties - the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and United National Party (UNP) - undoubtedly overshadowed the usual practice followed by them throughout the past six decades in holding their impressive conventions. Breaching the norm, the leaders of both parties attended each other’s convention held this year. While the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) held its 65th convention in Kurunegala on September 4, the United National Party (UNP) held its 70th in Campbell Park, Colombo on September 10 this year.
It was remarkable to witness leading personalities, especially former President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) General Secretary Patali Champika Ranawaka attending the UNP convention, given their relationship with UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe in the past. Ms. Kumaratunga throughout her tenure referred to the UNP as a party that had run an administration shrouded with corruption and terror (Dushanaya saha bheeshanaya).
Adding to all that abhorrence is her personal grudge with the UNP leadership. She had told more than a dozen times that her son was not admitted to the Colombo Royal College despite her residence just a few strides away from the college, and blamed the UNP leadership for it. Also, Ranawaka, even after coming out of the Mahinda Rajapaksa government in October 2014, was shy to join hands with the UNP for the very reason that they considered Wickremesinghe a person subservient to the West and a friend of Tamil separatism.
Apart from the attendance of these two leaders, the presence of President Maithripala Sirisena at the annual congress of the UNP was also noteworthy. Six days ago he who presided over the SLFP convention said his party would contest future elections under the party symbol ‘hand’ and form an SLFP government. However, delegates at the UNP convention chanted the slogan ‘Janadhipathithumata jayawewa’ when he was received by the UNP leaders at the Campbell Park.
What was the force that united these once-political foes? If one claims it to be former President Mahinda Rajapaksa who had brought them together, then there is some truth in it. Rajapaksa acted against the political ambitions of all these leaders. Soon after he was elected President in December, 2005, Rajapaksa ousted Chandrika from politics by usurping the chairmanship of the SLFP from her by amending the party constitution to provide for the President of the country to be the party chairman, if he or she was a member of the party. Champika had very big ambitions which were thwarted by the desires of the Rajapaksa family. Sirisena’s prime ministerial dream was dashed as the whole Rajapaksa family stood in his way. Rajapaksa, many a times, scuttled the efforts by Wickremesinghe to come to power.
Hence, all these Rajapaksa’s adversaries had one thing in common; to get rid of Rajapaksa. However, the real persuading power underneath all animosity was their yearning for political power. Marxists claim that the essence of politics was the struggle between the oppressing class and the oppressed class for power. It can be applied to individuals as well. As far as individuals are concerned, politics is the power struggle among them, in spite of their hallowed claims about patriotism and good governance.
Former UNP General Secretary Tissa Attanayake was indicted last week for allegedly preparing a forged document purported to be a contract between Maithripala Sirisena, the common candidate of the opposition at the last Presidential election, and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). He was a person who toiled so much for the UNP during its most difficult hour. It was he who saved the party from splitting when Ranil Wickremesinghe and Sajith Premadasa were at odds. However, exhausted by his party’s repeated defeats for decades, Tissa miscalculated the political situation at the last Presidential election and chose to defect to the Mahinda camp and adjust himself to it by resorting to racism. It was because of his miscalculation that he dared to read out such a controversial document in electoral platforms to finally be indicted. Yet again, it was his craving for power that led to him to desert his party.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe were three politicians who had indentified this hunger for power in politicians and chose to utilize it for their benefit. Rajapaksa showed portfolios to opposition politicians to attract them into his fold. On the other hand, Sirisena and Wickremesinghe went beyond that. Relying on the power hunger in politicians and their fear for dominant persons, they decided to form a government in 2014 without adequate numbers in the Parliament.
The Constitution provides for the President to appoint the member who he believes to command the confidence of the Parliament as the Prime Minister. However, President Sirisena appointed Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister on January 9, 2015, as his first official duty, while the Mahinda camp was still wielding about two thirds of power in the House. Had the UPFA then moved a no-confidence motion in the Parliament against the newly-appointed Premier, the so-called 100-day-government would have collapsed on the very first day in the House.
Sirisena and Wickremesinghe were well-aware that the professed patriots would not dare to resort to that type of action against an executive President, given their experience with the previous executive Presidents. In contrast, they knew the power hunger in at least a section of UPFA MPs would bring them into the new President’s fold. Even now, there are MPs in the Mahinda camp who would compromise their stand for portfolios. That is the power of power.
The power hunger and the fear for power in politicians helped President Sirisena to capture authority in the SLFP as well. He had been suspended from the party when he was elected President. He was branded by the leaders of his own party as an agent of the West and the separatists during the Presidential election. However, within a week after the election, the SLFP decided to hand over the reins of the party to the ‘agent of the West and the Eelamists.’ Despite the SLFP Constitution providing the President of the country the party chairmanship, if he is a member of the party, the party could have acted otherwise in respect to Sirisena, had they intended to do so. They could have expelled already-suspended Sirisena from the party on grounds of betrayal, or amended the party Constitution to deprive Sirisena of the party leadership, using their majority in the central committee. But such bravery were absent in the SLFP.
As a matter of fact, politicians do know what the power or the intimacy with powerful people can do. Many people envy the salary and the well-known perks provided to politicians who are in power. If truth be told, these are inconsiderable compared to what the political power can do. The present lifestyle of politicians who first came to Parliament in motorbikes and those who had been drivers of other politicians apart from the allegations against the leaders of the Rajapaksa regime would attest to the point. Unfortunately, poor voters who do not realize this fact set fire to each other’s houses during elections.