Ahead of Pada Yatra, the protest march from Kandy to Colombo, President Maithripala Sirisena, as the leader of Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), convened the party’s MPs sitting with the Joint Opposition to his residence last Monday.
The Joint Opposition, acting under the ostensible leadership of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, organised this march against the government comprising the United National Party (UNP) and a section of the SLFP loyal to President Sirisena.
Upon arrival in the meeting room, President Sirisena greeted the participants first before speaking about rumours in and out of political circles that a new political front would be formed.
“I heard about your plans to create a new political force. This is not the time for such a front and the country does not need one. So, it is better to refrain from proceeding with it,” he told the MPs.
The Joint Opposition’s move to form a new party may be detrimental to the future of President Sirisena’s SLFP at this hour. Also, a new front can bank its fortunes on public unrest against the unpopular measures taken by the government, posing a threat to its stability. The government will find itself in a dilemma being unable to manage public opinion in the event a strong political platform is formed. On the other hand, a host of other measures, which do not sound popular in the public eye, are on the cards.
Considering those aspects, the President might have rung such alarm bells to those working to establish a new political party as an alternative to the SLFP.
The President also asked those present not to breach the party discipline by working against its interests or risk disciplinary action. In such an eventuality changes in party organisers may also become a need.
Prasanna asks MS to form SLFP govt
Gampaha district MP Prasanna Ranatunga responded to the President angrily.
“Electoral organisers engaged in politics with the Joint Opposition being sacked is not a new thing. In fact, I was removed and replaced by my brother as the new organiser. I cannot be a sidekick to the UNP in governance at all. It is the party that is responsible for the arson attack on my ancestral home,” he told the President.
He suggested the President to form a SLFP- led government casting aside the UNP. But the President expressed reservation about because the SLFP-led United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) was commanding the support of 95 MPs only.
MP Ranatunga also proposed alternatives to rope in members to achieve a simple majority to form a government led by SLFP. “You, as the President, have some MPs directly responsible to you. Also, you can easily win over MPs representing minority parties. Please use your good office with that objective,” he said.
Kalutara district MP Piyal Nisantha also echoed the same sentiments and said he would not mind the loss of his post rather than join a UNP-led government. Another with a similar approach was Ratnapura district MP Ranjith Zoysa.
The President responded by saying he did not intend to sack any one.
“I am only asking you not to work against the party and its interests,” he told the meeting.
Judicial mechanism: my decision will prevail-MS
Next, Kandy District MP Keheliya Rambukwella raised the question of different voices prevailing in the government on the proposed judicial mechanism to hear accountability and human rights issues during the war.
The resolution, adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on October 1, 2015, called for such a mechanism with the involvement of foreign or commonwealth judges, prosecutors and investigators. Earlier, the President said he would not allow the involvement of foreign judges. However, Foreign Affairs Minister Mangala Samaraweera opined that the President’s remark was a personal opinion’, and a compromise would be struck on the whole matter in consultation with the relevant stakeholders.
Rambukwella said he, along with others in the Joint Opposition, was at a loss to understand what would be the correct position of the government.
The President reasserted his position in this respect and asked the Joint Opposition not to harbour any fear over that. He said that the Joint Opposition members should comply with the party in their activities despite having freedom to criticise the government.
The President’s latest engagement with the SLFP section loyal to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa took place days after it was announced that the national unity government between his team of SLFPers and the UNP would serve its term for another five years till 2020.
Term extension for unity government a shocker for some SLFP Ministers
Initially, after the parliamentary elections in August, 2015, the two sides signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to run the national unity government for two years [until 2017]. After that period it was agreed to review progress and decide fresh course of action. More than one year ahead of the time stipulated for consensual governance, UNP Secretary, Minister Kabir Hashim and SLFP Secretary Agriculture Minister Duminda Dissanayake, jointly announced that the two parties would rule for five years, instead of the two years in the MoU.
This announcement came in the wake of anti-government protests in the country. However, it is learnt, that it made SLFP ministers who made a pronouncement of forming their own government in two years feel helpless.
“Is the Joint rule for five years: a move to inflict investor confidence?”
Joint Opposition MP Bandula Gunawardane directed this question at the President during Tuesday’s evening discussion.
“SLFPers were hopeful of their own party led government at least after 2017. Now, they are desperate,” he said.
The President defended his position saying it was done to inflict investor confidence for bolstering economic growth.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the UNP leader, detailed out his plan for attracting foreign investments in Parliament the other day. He talked about creating one million jobs. “ For investments, political stability is important. That is what we can assume a term the term extension of the national unity government.” he said.
However, it is discussed in political circles that the decision out of the blue soon after the visit of US Assistant Secretary for Central and South Asian Affairs Nisha Desai Biswal.
It appears that western countries that helped or favoured the regime change in Sri Lanka asked for such unity to prevail between the two parties for five more years to achieve the intended objectives. Opposition politicians have started raising doubts about some countries being behind the move.
Namal, Chamal not invited for meeting with MS
MPs Namal Rajapaksa (the son of the former President) and Chamal Rajapaksa (the elder brother of the former President) were the only two SLFP MPs absent at the meeting with the President. At the commencement of the meeting, Matara district MP Dullas Alahapperuma notified that all were present barring those two.
The President addressing the meeting said that though young Rajapaksa was not invited, he wanted to invite Chamal Rajapaksa and that he asked an official assigned to deliver the message to the MPs. However, the messenger had informed the President that Chamal Rajapaksa was not contactable.
“If I had known, I would have somehow contacted him,” the President had said.