This year’s May Day commemoration appears to have become the catalyst that determines the nature of politics in the months to come. It is now obvious that the Joint Opposition, led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, displayed a show of power by filling the Galle Face expanse with its supporters, a challenge believed by many as impossible to be accomplished.
After the event, it now looks like that the political parties and groups, which played the key role in dislodging MR of power,have begun to re-strategize their future political actions to thwart the rise of the Join opposition as an entity.
- SLFP Ministers feel uncomfortable to be in Govt
- Govt to be considered a single entity - President
- UNP consults foreign expert on political strategies
It seems that even President Maithripala Sirisena and the United National Party (UNP) have given thought to patch up differences to forge ahead under the trying circumstances. President Sirisena has not only political differences but also personal antagonism with MR, that he becoming a force to reckon with is not good news for the President, come what may.
It became obvious as the President, at one Cabinet meeting after the May Day, proposed a Joint Committee involving the representatives of his SLFP and the UNP to iron out issues hampering the forward march of the government. Likewise, some civil society leaders, who played an active role in the regime change, look to novel strategies in this direction. In fact, they even criticize the incumbent government for acting in a manner that enabled MR to raise his head in politics.
In the immediate aftermath of May Day, the security detail assigned to MR was reduced to a contingent of 42 personnel. The contingent included, according to sources close to him, those, who had been with him since the era before he became the President in 2005. The JO viewed it as personal vendetta against MR after his success on May Day whereas the government said it was a decision done in conformity with threat assessment. What the government said may be true or not. It is not intended to dispute this decision here. No matter what, the timing of a decision also matters for its motive to be understood in the correct perspective.
The government says the decision made after a professional analysis of threat level. Yet, its timing with the aftermath of May day leaves enough and more scope for the interpretation of it as a politically vindictive act.
The govt did not stop at that. It even went to the extent of reducing another contingent of 50 last Sunday, the second in succession. By the time, JO’s parliamentary group leader Dinesh Gunawardane and leader of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna Prof. G.L. Peiris received the news about this, they were at the function to mark the release of MP Wimal Weerawansa’s latest book ‘Ratata Uvamana Wama’. They sent a note up to MP Weerawansa who was addressing the audience at the moment to announce it to the audience. From that moment, it received wide publicity both through the electronic and online media. Subsequently, telephone calls were made, particularly by eminent members of Maha Sangha, to the authorities of the government. Hours later, the decision was cancelled.
SLFP Ministers feel uncomfortable to be in Govt
After May Day, some SLFP members seriously contemplate to quit the government to join the opposition. This turned obvious going by remarks made by them at the recent interaction with the President. They met on Monday night and discussed the current status of politics. They complained to the President that they felt increasingly uncomfortable to be in the government in the face of harsh criticism by the UNP ministers.
Representing the SLFP, Ministers John Seneviratne, Dayasiri Jayasekara, Mahinda Samarasinghe, Mahinda Amaraweera, S.B. Dissanayake, Duminda Dissanayake and Lasantha Alagiyawanna attended it.
President keen to hold Govt. intact
Referring to the economic slowdown, they brought to the notice of the President that no tangible effort was being taken to revitalize the economy at the moment. As such, they said people would even hold the SLFP responsible for the embattled economy unless a proper course of action was taken. All in all, they stressed the need for action- either to get the government on track or to quit it. However, the President sounded keen to preserve the unity of the government without rocking the boat.
Also, they asked the President to remove Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne from the post of Cabinet spokesman. In fact, the SLFP Ministers had prepared a press release to be sent to the media organizations. Yet, the President asked them not to proceed with it. Finally, instead of removing him, President Sirisena agreed to appoint an additional spokesman from the SLFP to participate in regular Cabinet briefings.
The Cabinet met the following day. Again, Minister Seneviratne and Minister Senaratne aired out their views on the proposed assignment of Minister Sarath Fonseka to deal with emergency situations. Minister Seneviratne said he did not intend to drag on the diatribe with Minister Senaratne. In response, Minister Senaratne also echoed similar sentiments. Besides, the Health Minister added that he worked for the new government even at the cost of his life. He recalled that his son was in hiding in fear for life in the run up to the Presidential Election.
“Our family members were in hiding. So, were the President’s family members. They came out after the election. Therefore, we know the importance of this government. We do not want any harm to befall this government. That is why I made certain remarks,” the Health Minister said.
Afterwards, Sports Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara fired his verbal shots at the UNP MPs who harped on the SLFP section saying that it only joined their government for mere personal ends after its installation.
“We cannot condone such insulting remarks any longer. It is true that we worked for Mahinda Rajapaksa at the election. After the election, the President took over the leadership of our party. We joined the government at the invitation only. We feel unwelcome in this manner. We are not an element to be humiliated in this manner,” he said.
It evoked a response from Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake who, once again, stressed that the UNP’s stake for the ownership of the govt.
President wants Govt to be considered a single entity
Miffed by Minister Karunanayake attaching a UNP tag to the government, the President intervened in cross talks. He said it would be appropriate to consider the government as one entity rather than the two sides rivalling each other for its ownership.
“This is not a UNP government. It is true that the UNP worked for my election to office. This government should be considered as one entity,” he said.
Megapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka also emphasized that the government should forge ahead as one entity rather than quarrelling over trivial issues such as the post of Cabinet spokesman.
UNP consults foreign expert on political strategies
In the aftermath of May Day, the UNP is also giving mind to its plan of action. In fact, it consulted a foreign expert on methodology to be adopted in repositioning itself to face future elections. The expert, from the United Kingdom, briefed the leaders of the party in this regard.
Against this backdrop, the party had its Working Committee meeting on Monday. It appointed three separate committees. One was to deal with the media. It includes members such as Foreign Affairs Minister Mangala Samaraweera, Power and Energy Deputy Minister Ajith P. Perera, State Minister Sujeewa Senasinghe and Minister Harin Fernando.
UNP not in favour of staggered elections
Another was appointed to look into political strategies in view of the local government and provincial council elections. The party has taken the position that the election should be conducted as soon as possible. The local authorities’ election is overdue for more than two years. Also, the elections are due this year to three provincial councils- Sabaragamuwa, North Central and Eastern.
Though the official line is that the elections should be conducted in time, there is an idea gaining ground within the party that the elections to all the nine provincial councils should be conducted the same day. It incurs less state expenditure and resources for the elections to be conducted the same day. So, it is better to avoid staggered elections. According to the UNP sources, the party is serious about this idea at the moment.
However, the elections are due for three provincial councils which will end their terms by September. To have the elections to nine councils the same day, the elections to the six councils which are half way through their terms at the moment should be advanced to this year. Legally, it is possible to be done by the respective Governors with the consent of the respective chief ministers. Be that as it may, the elections to the three provincial councils whose terms will expire this year cannot be postponed till the terms of the six others expire later. If it is to be done, the law concerned will have to be amended. The sources said no final decision had been taken regarding what should be done.
The election monitoring bodies are in favour of conducting the elections the same day. Yet, they said the government should not postpone due elections under the pretext of trying to have the elections the same day.
“The government has already suffered in its credibility by delaying the local government elections. So, due election should not be postponed,” Executive Director of PAFFREL Rohana Hettiarachchi said.
At the Working Committee meeting, some members complained against a state media organization for not televising proper visuals of its May Day rally in Campbell Park.
JVP in a new bid to canvass support for abolition of executive presidency
The JVP, way back in 1994, secured a commitment from then Presidential Candidate Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga that the executive presidency would be abolished if she won the elections. The party, in fact, withdrew its participation in the election upon this assurance. It has been a long time since then. Yet, executive presidency remains under a different political climax. The party has initiated fresh efforts for the abolition of it this time in cooperation with the like-minded parties.
After talks with Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the party is now seeking to engage President Sirisena for the purpose.