Unity between MR, MS is unlikely, unless President makes great compromises

23 November 2017 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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With the Court of Appeal suspending the implementation of the Gazette notification on delimitation, there is a modes of uncertainty again on the possibility of conducting the local authorities election. Let alone that the parties are in preparation for the election.   

Be that as it may, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) headed by President Maithripala Sirisena is in a dilemma fearing a dismal performance at the polls if conducted at any time soon. So, it seems to be the most reluctant party to go for polls according to information available in political circles at the moment.   

Against this backdrop,  MPs including Ministers Susil Premajayantha and John Seneviratne are determined to leave no stones unturned in their effort to forge unity between the party and the Joint Opposition steered by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. There were various modalities being discussed for the two sides to join hands in view of the election.   

As a platform for unity, the SLFP section serving in the government proposed to contest the election together under the People’s Alliance (PA), the one time political amalgam that led the party to victory in 1994 defeating the United National Party (UNP) that governed the country for 17 years up to then. The SLFP fielded candidates for successive elections under the PA until 2004 when the present political formation called ‘United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA)’ was registered. Nonetheless, the Rajapaksa group, in general, looks at the proposal with scepticism given its experience at the last parliamentary election in 2015.   

Among those in the Joint Opposition, the National Freedom Front (NFF) is willing to consider the latest proposal to contest under the PA favourably, but on terms and conditions to be stipulated by them. It means the SLFP government group should compromise a lot for unity to be fostered for electoral purposes at this time.   

Otherwise the NFF fears the group led by President Sirisena would let them down after the election as happened in the run up to the 2015 General Election. The UPFA gave nomination for Mr. Rajapaksa to contest the election, but the president’s actions and remarks caused setbacks to the party’s campaign.   

The NFF believes the UNP will be able to capitalize on the political situation for its advantage at least in some areas if the SLFP –led alliance is divided into two camps.   

Despite the NFF having positive thoughts, Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna(SLPP), the main political force within the Joint opposition, is not ready to consider any overtures from the President’s SLFP at this hour. It says there is wide resistance from its rank and file over any move for any patch-up in view of the local government elections. As such, any unification is now an unlikely possibility. Likewise, it believes the SLFP’s support base at grassroots level is marginal, and therefore accommodation of it on board will not bring in any significant electoral benefit.   

So, the party is making all arrangements to field its candidates under its Flower Bud symbol at the elections this time. It has already discussed the allocation of quotas of candidates among the parties to be aligned with it.   

Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP), Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), Democratic Left Front, Communist Party and Sri Lanka Mahajana Party are among the allies of SLPP at this election. Besides, there are a number of small Tamil and Muslim political parties that are ready to throw their weight behind the SLPP-led alliance in the North and the East in particular and contest under the Flower Bud symbol.   

Forging unity is an arduous task. It may be made possible only if the SLFP led by the President is ready for major compromises on the Joint Opposition’s terms. It is very difficult to expect the President to make any compromise as the Head of State.   

President seeks views of UPFA allies

President Maithripala, in his capacity as the leader of the UPFA, invited its alliance partners for a meeting on Monday evening regarding the modalities for contesting the local elections.   

The parties such as MEP, LSSP and DLF declined to attend it saying that the current circumstances were not favourable for such a meeting at this hour.   

DLF leader MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara said there were stark policy differences between his party and the President’s UPFA at this hour, and therefore talks would not serve the intended purpose.   

However, the National Congress led by former Minister A.L.M. Athaullah, Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) led by Jaffna district MP Douglas Devananda, the Communist Party led by D.E. W. Gunasekara and the Ceylon Workers’ Congress made representations to it.   

Athaullah, D.E.W, Douglas to seek ways and means to unite President’s group with MR faction 

Mr. Athaullah suggested that the SLFP should forge ties with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa before the election. The President was not averse to the idea. Yet, he did not commit anything in this regard. Along with Mr. Athauallah, Mr. Gunasekara and Mr. Devananda were assigned to work as a committee to explore the possibility for ironing out differences between the two sides ahead of the election.   

Douglas complains to President about budgetary ban on Palmyrah tapping 

Besides, at the same meeting, Mr. Devananda brought to the notice of the President that it had been proposed in the budget to ban tapping coconut and Palmyrah trees. He said this, if implemented, would affect the livelihood of people making various Palmyrah products.   

The President said he knew about it only then, and he promised to look into it at the Cabinet meeting later.   

Relations between UNP, President strained 

Relationship between the President and the UNP seems to have been strained with the appointment of the Presidential Commission to investigate the Central Bank bond scam. It took a turn for the worse after the number of telephone calls between the owner of Perpetual Treasuries, Arjuna Aloysius and the UNP MPs serving in the COPE was reported to the Commission.   

It transpired that UNP MP State Minister Sujeewa Senasinghe had made 272 telephone calls with Mr. Aloysius.   

Incensed by the latest revelation that led to his credibility suffering, Mr. Senasinghe took a swipe at the President at a press conference on Tuesday. The press conference was conducted at the party headquarters ‘Sirikotha’.   

“We are disappointed over a sinister move to bring the UNP into disrepute in this manner,” he said.   

It is criticism directed at the President.   

Definitely, the relationship between the UNP and the President is not that healthy at the moment. But, both need each other for its political future. United they stand, divided they fall. Hence, the two sides will opt to stay together despite bitterness with each other.   

Formation of an alternate government is constitutionally impossible at this hour. For the appointment of a new Prime Minister, the consent of the current Prime Minister has to be obtained. Or else, the budget should be defeated. These are not politically realistic at this hour. As a result, despite confusions and contradictions, the government will trundle along its path.   

Sagala disturbed in preparations for budget debate over Gintota incident 

Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayake had to take time out of his preparation for the budget debate when he heard of tension in the Gintota area on Thursday night. He received a torrent of telephone calls about a clash between Sinhalese and Muslims in the area.   

The Minister hurriedly contacted Inspector General of Police Pujith Jayasundara and instructed him to take appropriate action to douse the tension. Additional police contingents were deployed to the area. It is learnt that Presidential Secretary Austin Fernando also got involved with Minister Ratnayake in taking action.   

Normalcy returned by Friday noon. Yet, again on Friday night, violence broke out. In addition to Mr. Ratnayake, Home Affairs Minister Vajira Abeywardane contacted the authorities in the area. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who visited the area, said security had been strengthened. He said it would be scaled down only if Minister Sagala Ratnayake decided to do so.   

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