He was not a charismatic politician wooing votes to his side as such. He was notedly skilful at covert political operations
He may play a role with the civil society organisations and the NGOs that work on a common political platform
SJB leadership being unhappy with him over controversial statements made against members of the Buddhist clergy
Former MP for the Matara district Mangala Samaraweera decided to quit parliamentary politics on Tuesday despite having tendered nominations to contest the general elections on the ticket of Samagi Jana Balawegaya(SJB).
It sprang a surprise in politics because the decision to move out from the race for parliament came at a time when the parties were bracing for the general elections. The law does not provide for him to withdraw his candidacy from the elections. So, he just announced to his constituents that he would not seek a parliamentary seat and therefore asked them not to mark their preferential votes for him.
According to a communique from his office, he said President Gotabaya Rajapksa’s leadership had been inefficient and short-sighted and it had been proven within a six - month span. In a note of criticism of the opposition, he said it did not have a clear understanding of its duty and role against the backdrop.
He emphasized that it was necessary to initiate movement towards a progressive political trajectory .
Right throughout his political career spanning for 30 years since his entry into Parliament in 1989, Mr. Samaraweera had been more of a politician who proved his ability in behind- the scene political strategizing work instead of being a public figure pulling crowds at rallies . His role became crucial and apparent particularly after the 1994 electoral victory of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) - People’s Alliance(PA) . He held key ministerial positions in the two governments led by former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga . The PA was relegated to the opposition for two years between 2002 and 2004. This was a period when Mr. Samaraweera got the opportunity to realise his political potential in cobbling together an alliance and evolving strategies that ended the United National Party(UNP ) government led by its leader Ranil Wickremesinghe only after two years of its formation. In this instance, he managed to rope in the JVP -a party that is otherwise averse to being part of any coalition government- and established the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) . Dissension brewed between the JVP and Ms. Kumaratunga . Finally, the JVP broke ranks with the UPFA government leaving it fragile. It raised fresh hopes for the UNP in the then opposition that was reeling under the defeat at the 2004 general elections. The UNP pinned fresh hopes on the 2005 elections since the UPFA was then a shaky coalition with the JVP out.
Nevertheless, the UNP dreams were shattered since the JVP was lured into the coalition once again to field Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa as the presidential candidate of the 2005 presidential elections. Mr. Samaraweera’s handy work yielded in this instance. In the subsequent Mahinda Rajapaksa government,Mr. Samaraweera held the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, he fell out with that government after he was sacked from the post in 2007. Afterwards, he initiated his next steps in national and parliamentary politics . He crossed the floor of the House and tied up with the opposition . Since then, he became an ardent critic of the Rajapaksa government and its policies .
Once again, he sprang into action with political strategies from behind the scene by promoting , along with the like indeed parties , groups and individuals ,former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka as the 2010 presidential candidate of the common opposition . This political strategy did not work because Fonseka could not win the presidential elections. Again, he played a similar role in the 2015 presidential elections , but not as the main player.
On all these occasions, he was adept at carrying out behind- the scene work. He was not a charismatic politician wooing votes to his side as such. He was skilful at covert political operations.
Now he has decided to step down from parliamentary politics. But, he clearly indicated his desire to play a different role when he spoke of a ‘progressive political trajectory’. One can expect him to play a role with the civil society organisations and the NGOs that work on a common political platform.
Mr. Samaraweera has hurled allegations against the government - militarisation, ethnic polarisation etc. When playing his political role in the future, he will try to build on these allegations along with the likeminded groups and individuals. He will , probably, give leadership to them. It will be something similar to the role which he hitherto played behind the scenes even as a parliamentarian.
Being a parliamentarian is all important for anyone when voicing opinions against the incumbent . As a parliamentarian, one will get the opportunity to speak up on such issues on the floor of the House. Besides, anyone, as an MP, is entitled to special privileges in voicing on issues in terms of access to places and information , security and other perks. However, Mr. Samaraweera has to forego all of these when he opts to quit parliamentary politics.
That he decided to move out of parliamentary politics appears to be with reasons. Matara is an arduous political terrain for him this time. As far as the results of the last presidential elections are concerned, the ruling party performed the best in Matara. Today, the UNP is split into two . Mr. Samaraweera has sided with the SJB which is the breakaway group of the UNP. He appears to have tested the waters of the district to ascertain whether he can secure sufficient preferential votes to get elected this time. Accordingly, he might have come to such conclusion to abandon the race half way. His popularity also waned further in recent times because of his harsh remarks on the Maha Sangha. According to informed sources, even the SJB leadership is unhappy with him over such controversial statements on the members of the Buddhist clergy. the members of Maha Sangha have also taken up cudgels against him . He might have calculated all these factors when taking his political decision.