Who would believe that former foreign minister G.L. Peiris would voluntarily form a new political party or take the reins of an existing party to challenge the incumbent government, without the blessings of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa? Peiris who was working with the so-called joint opposition or the Mahinda loyalists in Parliament definitely does not have any reason to form or join a new party abandoning the group loyal to Rajapaksa.
However, since November 5, Peiris is the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), a name change of an already existing political party recognized by the Elections Commission. When a leading figure in a political party joins another political entity, it would normally lead to frictions between the two groups, sometimes also to violent clashes. But, here the rank and file of the joint opposition seems to welcome the move by Peiris to join hands with the SLPP. Other political parties also do not expect even verbal attacks by the joint opposition against Peiris or his Podujana Peramuna, as they know that Peiris’s appointment was a part of a strategy prepared by Rajapaksa.
The JO had announced months ago that it would form a new political party under the leadership of the former president. It also spoke about the possibility of joining an existing political party as there are legal snags to register new political parties against the background of the elections to two pradeshiya sabhas, the Maritimepattu and Puthukudiyiruppu in the Mullaitivu District being suspended since 2011. The law prohibits the Elections Commission to recognize new political parties at a time between the announcement and the conclusion of an election. It is under such circumstances that the JO joined the Podujana Peramuna instead of forming a new political party under the leadership of the
However, the leaders of the JO have publicly dissociated themselves from GL’s party, while some of them are making ludicrous statements. The former president had denied the possibility of his joining another party stating that he was a member of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) led by President Maithripala Sirisena. When journalists asked him about the new party he said it would join the joint opposition against the government in the near future. Former transport Minister Kumara Welgama, a strong supporter of the former president was also noncommittal of his possible aligning with Peiris. Former Power and Energy Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi amused the journalists by claiming that she did not know anything about
Parliamentarians of the joint opposition are reluctant to openly express their link or the support to the Podujana Peramuna as it might deprive them of their SLFP membership and thereby their parliamentary seats as well. Their dissociation with their own strategy is in fact an effort to deceive the law and not the people of the country, as everybody knows that it is the Mahinda group that is behind the rejuvenation of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna. However, two parliamentarians of the joint opposition, Keheliya Rambukwella and Dilum Amunugama had taken a different stance. They participated in what is called the inaugural public meeting of the SLPP organized by the party’s Senkadagala electoral organization held in Kandy at the Pushpadhana Hall last Saturday
The reason behind the choice of Prof. Peiris for the Chairmanship of the SLPP surpassing many others who are more active and closer to Rajapaksa seems to be that he is not a parliamentarian to lose the seat. As they expected, Prof. Peiris has been removed from the membership of the SLFP by the party’s General Secretary and Minister Duminda Dissanayake. He said the party constitution provided for the deprivation of the membership of any member once he took the membership of another party.
Mahinda Rajapaksa was so concerned about this provision in the party constitution from the beginning that he was very careful in handling the protests against the government. He did not join any of the four major anti-government public meetings held by the small parties in the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) last year, in spite of them being held under the theme, “Arise with Mahinda.” He stopped short of sending congratulatory messages to those meetings, but never got on to the stage.
After the declaration of his dismissal from the SLFP by the party General Secretary, Peiris compared his position to that of President Maithripala Sirisena when the latter announced his presidential candidacy under the New Democratic Front (NDF) in November 2014. The former Constitutional Affairs Minister was of the opinion that he would be taken back to the fold of the SLFP as President Sirisena’s suspension was later annulled. However, in fact Maithripala Sirisena was never dismissed from the SLFP even after his presidential candidature was announced, despite the Party constitution providing the option for doing so. And also while the legal luminaries such as Peiris were with the SLFP leadership, Sirisena was just suspended from the party.
However, Prof. Peiris’s expression of hope to be inducted back into the SLFP after his appointment as the Chairman of the Podujana Peramuna seems to be weak and a manifestation of lack of self confidence. Once he takes a lead role of a new political party mainly to fight against the party which he had thus far worked for, what is the purpose of hoping to be re-inducted into that old party?
As the Sinhala saying goes, you will have to dance in public though you had costumed in secret. With the announcement of the much anticipated local government elections which the Mahinda loyalists are agitating for, possibly early next year, the joint opposition would have to take a decision to come out with their open support to the SLPP. As it happened during the last general election, President Maithripala Sirisena might sideline the Rajapaksa loyalists within the SLFP when selecting candidates for the local government elections, resulting in Rajapaksa having to find an alternative platform for his supporters on the periphery. Hence, their only hope now would be
The patch up of the two fractions of the SLFP under the former and incumbent presidents is unimaginable. It is highly unlikely that President Maithripala Sirisena would leave any room for the former President to come to power at least as the Prime Minister of the country, as he considers it a security threat for him. Last year he had told more than once that he would have been six feet underground, had he been defeated at the presidential election. Therefore, there is no option for the former President other than to break the SLFP to form a new party. The appointment of Prof. Peiris as the Chairman of the SLPP marks the kick-off of that split.