As the joint opposition virtually confirmed its plan for the establishment of a new political party under the leadership of former President Mahinda
Rajapaksa, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) seniors, stirred by the development, have made fresh efforts to engage with party leader President Maitripala Sirisena.
The Joint Opposition, eventhough consisting of a section of SLFP MPs, has made strides in the direction of forming a party to be registered ahead of the local authorities election. It has now become clear by all means that the creation of the new party would be inevitable.
By the end of the month, the Joint Opposition is planning to work out a consensus among all its allies on the sharing of responsibilities in the proposed political front.
The creation of a party or a movement, in this manner, would obviously jolt the SLFP vote base, and all indications suggest that a larger segment of it would rally behind the new one. The inability of the present SLFP leadership to win over SLFPers, both at middle rank and grassroots level, has led to such a conclusion by political analysts.
SLFP seniors, presently holding positions in the National Unity Government, have been stirred over the latest development as any division would be detrimental to the electoral success. Against this backdrop, a group of party seniors had an informal discussion on the situation and decided to raise the matter with the President as soon as possible. They now try to make a last ditch attempt to see whether it is possible to bring about reconciliation between the joint opposition and SLFP faction with the government to avert the likely split. These seniors see that a conciliatory approach is a must to avoid serious political repercussions. Be that as it may, it remains a distant possibility as things stand at the moment.
Besides, these SLFP seniors see this attempt by those with the Joint Opposition as a conspiracy to divide the SLFP at the behest of the United National Party (UNP) allowing it to gain the upper hand in politics. Minister Amaraweera even mentioned it openly at a recent press conference in Colombo. Already, a large number of former SLFP local authorities’ members have decided to contest the next local government elections under a new front which enjoys the blessings of Mahinda Rajapaksa.
In this manner, SLFP which ruled the country since 1994 barring the 2002/2004 period is in a serious political predicament today. As has happened during the post independent political history of Sri Lanka, the parties have been confronted with similar fiascos whenever they were relegated to the Opposition. In that sense, the present SLFP debacle is not something new to the country. The same crisis bedevilled the UNP during its days in the Opposition, and at one point, as many as 17 of its members broke ranks with the party and joined hands with the MR government as the then President. Today, MR is in the Opposition. And, the SLFP’s present quandary is somewhat similar to what befell the UNP at the time. The SLFP went through similar hardships under its leader the late Sirimawo Bandaranaike after the 1978 electoral defeat as well.
For the political parties, it now looks like a cycle of ups and downs. It seems to be rotating. The party which is at the top today is down tomorrow as the cycle rotates.
Constitution Making Process delayed
The government’s constitution-making process is delayed after the Business Committee of Parliament decided on Tuesday to postpone the debate on it. The political party representatives met in the parliamentary complex to discuss the parliamentary business lined up for the next sitting week. Leader of the House Lakshman Kiriella, who spoke on behalf of the government, said the debate, originally scheduled to be debated next Tuesday, could not be listed as planned. He said the amendments had been proposed by the parties, and they should be discussed for incorporation in the resolution upon the return of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to the country only.
Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) leader Dinesh Gunawardane who aired his views on behalf of the Joint Opposition said the resolution should be in accordance with the constitutional procedure and parliamentary Standing Orders. He said the Joint Opposition would not budge an inch from its position held in this respect.
Despite the resolution being put on hold in Parliament, the committee headed by Lal Wijenayake to deliberate with the general public on the constitution-making process has commenced its work at the moment. Some people’s representatives encountered language problems initially in making their submissions due to the absence of interpreters during the committee proceedings.
TNA leader appeals to MR
Of the parties, more than anyone else, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) looks keen to have a new Constitution enacted with a power-sharing arrangement to the north and east. The TNA leadership does not anticipate any stumbling block from the UNP and SLFP section led by President Sirisena for this effort. In fact, they were the ones who took initiatives for it. However, the TNA appears to have seen a possible formidable resistance from the joint Opposition led by former President MR given the kind of command he has over the public support in the south.
That may be the reason for TNA leader R. Sampantan to appeal to MR not to scuttle the process. In his parliamentary speech on the resolution, R. Samapanthan, the veteran Tamil politician, made this appeal.
He said, “I want to make a special appeal to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa - unfortunately he is not here now. He has the stature of a national leader and his support in this national endeavour is important. The country, all its people and the nation need his support. It would be my submission, Sir, that he needs to place the interests and the well-being of the country before anything else and positively contribute to this initiative. He himself has taken steps towards remaking the Constitution so as to address the national question. There have also been instances when he did the right thing. He would pave for himself a new future if he now did the right thing by being positive in the making of a new, just and equitable Constitution that also resolved the national issue and served the country.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and President Maithripala Sirisena have referred to many matters, many missed opportunities in the course of their speeches. President Maithripala Sirisena referred to the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam Pact, the Dudley Senanayake-Chelvanayakam Pact and the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord. The said three documents contained vitally important commitments made by national leaders of the greatest stature”.
Is the 13th Amendment the basis for power devolution under a new Constitution?
The drafting of the new Constitution has not yet commenced. Yet, there are indications by both the main parties that the 13th Amendment to the present Constitution would be used as the basis for devolution of power to the provincial councils for the resolution of the national question. Lakshman Kiriella, in an interview with Daily Mirror, articulated his party’s position in this regard. Likewise, Labour and Labour Relations Minister John Seneviratne also said the 13th Amendment was acceptable.
All in all, it could be assumed that attempts would be made to implement the provisions of the 13th Amendment, probably with land and police powers devolved to the provinces, as a step for resolving the national question. However, it will definitely fall short of expectations by the political forces in the North, which demand power encompassing all aspects barring Defence, Finance and Foreign Relations to say the least. Nonetheless, the common stand on the two main parties can prevail upon the radical elements to back down from their present positions.
EPDP has reason to be happy
In the North, the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) led by former Minister Douglas Devananda is a party that has advocated the 13th Amendment as the way for resolving the problem. The party has held that position right from its inception after the 1987 Indo-Lanka Accord. Hence, the EPDP may feel happy if the two main parties are united on the implementation of the 13th Amendment, as is indicative at the moment.
Defeated forces raising head-Presidential Advisor
The Presidential Secretariat had meeting with the press officers attached to the Ministries on Tuesday evening, and asked them to work in close collaboration with the President’s Media. Presidential Advisor Shiral Laktilake reportedly said the positive work of President Sirisena had not been covered in the mainstream media adequately, and the close rapport of the media officers could only correct it.
Striking a note of caution that the elements that were electorally defeated are raising their heads again, he said it should never be underestimated in carrying out media publicity for the President’s work.