ith the nominations week beginning today for the General Elections on August 17, political turmoil and uncertainty have gripped the country with various parties or groups expressing concern over whether we are seeing an attempt to reverse the people’s revolution of January 8. President Maithripala Sirisena, under intense pressure from the Mahinda Rajapaksa loyalists in the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), virtually waved the white flag on Friday, when he agreed to the nomination of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa to contest the upcoming General Elections.
According to reports, Mr. Rajapaksa and his loyalists in the UPFA and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) had earlier asked that the former President be given nomination as the Prime Ministerial candidate or as the UPFA group leader. The President had reportedly said that if he allowed Mr. Rajapaksa to become the Prime Minister, it might be a case of putting him just a bullet away from the Presidency.
After a late night meeting between the President and Mr. Rajapaksa on Thursday, June 25, Mr. Sirisena came under increasing pressure. Insiders say that last week the SLFP General Secretary Anura Priyadharshana Yapa, UPFA General Secretary Susil Premajayantha and Opposition Leader Nimal Siripala de Silva had met the President and warned that if he didn’t give nomination to Mr. Rajapaksa, they would retire from politics. This would have put Mr. Sirisena in a major crisis in his capacity as SLFP and UPFA leader because the nomination lists have to be prepared and signed by the UPFA General Secretary in consultation with the General Secretaries of the SLFP and other parties.
Finding himself on a political tightrope, the President on Friday agreed to the nomination of Mr. Rajapaksa. Sources close to Mr. Rajapaksa’s loyalists in the UPFA say that if they won the General Elections, they would launch their second operation to make Mr. Rajapaksa the Prime Minister. The United National Party (UNP) Government is publicly saying it is not too concerned about what is happening in the UPFA and is confident of winning the elections. But, UNP leaders are known to be shocked and disturbed, expressing concern whether Friday’s decision could be some sort of a counter- revolution for the VIPs of the corrupt former regime to come back to power. The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU) and the Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera and various civic action groups who supported Mr. Sirisena at the January 8 election have also expressed shock and horror.
The Venerable Sobitha Thera, who leads the National Movement for Social Justice and played a leading role in forming the common front to send the Rajapaksa regime home, said last week he was deeply disturbed and was cutting off connections with the President. The minority parties, which also gave full support to Mr. Sirisena to obtain more than 6.2 million votes at the January 8 election, have expressed concern that he may be bringing back extremist elements, who might revive religious or racial conflicts. The Yahapalanaya Government was swept to power on the assurance that it would restore good governance, democracy and social justice, while taking tough legal action against former VVIPs who are alleged to have plundered billions of dollars from the country’s wealth and resources.
Most of those who supported Mr. Sirisena say they had hopes he would rise beyond party politics and be a statesman working for national unity and reconciliation, peace and justice. They expressed concern that last Friday’s decision to bring back Mr. Rajapaksa and probably others who have been accused of corruption and fraud, may be a great betrayal of the historic mandate given by the people on January 8. One hopeful sign is that President Sirisena will remain neutral in the campaign for the elections on August 17. The other is that the former President Chandrika Kumaratunge Bandaranaike, a powerful personality who was President from 1994 to 2005, may also enter the fray and thus reduce or diffuse the impact of the Rajapaksa comeback.
Whatever the political tussles or tensions, we hope the new era and the new political culture which began on January 8 will continue with politicians being servant leaders who sacrificially work for the people of the country without turning the august legislative assembly once again into a den of robbers and racketeers. The sovereign people must therefore choose well and wisely on August 17 because whatever the political agendas, the sovereign right is with the people.
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