May Day is meant for the advocating of workers’ rights, but it has become a political event the years with parties using it to show their political prowess. So to speak, this year’s May Day is poised to assume added political colouring, primarily due to the split in the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), an amalgam of parties led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).
The SLFP is ridden with divisions with one side switching allegiance to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the other to President Maithripala Sirisena. The Mahinda Rajapaksa faction, functioning under the banner of the Joint Opposition is slated to have its May Day rally in Kirulapone, Colombo and the other in Galle.
Both sides are in a race against time in making preparations for the event with the aim of bringing large crowds outsmarting each other as a show of power or public support.
The President’s SLFP looks determined to leave no stone unturned in attracting the rank and file of the party to Galle on May 1. Party’s General Secretary Agriculture Minister Duminda Dissanayake said disciplinary action would be instituted against those organisers boycotting the Galle rally or attending the Kirulapone one.
Ahead of Sunday’s rally, the party, in fact, initiated action to revamp organisational structure by appointing new electoral organisations, as appeared, excluding the Rajapaksa loyalists currently holding posts.
A panel, comprising former Prime Minister D.M. Jayaratne, Labour Relations Minister John Seneviratne, Science and Technology Minister Susil Premajayantha and others, is conducting interviews these days for the selection of organisers from among numerous applicants. The interview panel gives marks are given to the applicants based on their age, academic activities, social and economic status and standing in the party. After the process, final selection will be done. The SLFP is bound to have new faces as its electoral organisers.
It is believed that such a major overhaul has been initiated ahead of May Day as a warning for the present organisers loyal to Mr. Rajapaksa to stay away from the Joint Opposition’s rally. President Sirisena himself announced that he would take a whole lot of new political initiatives after May 1 in the country.
Already, buses are being arranged to transport party supporters to Galle on May Day from various parts of the country.
Alongside, the Joint Opposition is equally making arrangements to bring crowds as much as possible to convey the message that it commands more public support than the President’s SLFP at this juncture.
On behalf of the Joint Opposition, the Communist Party (CP) has reserved the Kirulapone Lalith Athulathmudali Ground.
Lanka Sama Samaja Party and the New Left Front have made arrangements with the Police for the May Day procession. Besides, the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) booked the Shalika Grounds in Narahenpita for participants to assemble first, and then proceed in a procession to Kirulapone.
CP calling the shots in May Day affairs
The CP and other leftist allies of the Joint Opposition seem to be calling the shots in May Day affairs of the Joint Opposition now. It has requested the other parties, that the event should not be used as a platform to rouse what it called ‘communalism’ and to whip up anti-Indian sentiments.
It is a condition obviously targeting the parties such as National Freedom Front (NFF) of Wimal Weerawansa, and Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU). These two parties have different approaches to the ethnic problem, as opposed to that of the CP.
Mr. Rajapaksa will address this rally as announced by him. He openly declared that he would disregard the request to attend the Galle rally. His brother, former Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa, is currently mobilizing the rank and file of the party with the assistance of former local government members to make the Kirulapone rally a better success.
All in all, the two leaders- the President and the former President- will be pitted against each other on May Day on their present standings among the general public. Afterwards, the present schism may widen leading to an open confrontation.
The President, who initially remained mild in his criticism of his predecessor, is now making more scathing attacks. It will not taper off after May Day. It will lead to more and more rancour between the two.
MR now goes to Temples in Thailand
In the meantime, Mr. Rajapaksa returned to the country on Tuesday night after a religious event in Thailand. In fact, it was his first overseas’ visit after the defeat in January, last year. He attended the function to mark the depositing of sacred relics at a temple built by a philanthropist there in Thailand.
The philanthropist, actually, visited Sri Lanka during the time of Mr. Rajapaksa as the President.
At a religious function at Temple Trees, he handed over the Buddha’s relics to this philanthropist. Afterwards, she insisted that Mr. Rajapaksa himself should deposit these relics at her temple located in Udoan Thain, off the Thai capital, Bangkok. A large presence of both Thai and Sri Lankan Buddhist monks was visible at the event, according to sources.
Accompanied by former External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris, Mr. Rajapaksa visited major temples in Thailand afterwards.
NPC’s Federal Demand stirs the hornet’s nest
The Federal proposal by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA)-controlled Northern Provincial Council (NPC) stirred the hornet’s nest last week, eliciting responses from the mainstream political parties in the south.
The NPC unanimously adopted that the Northern and the Eastern Provinces should be re-merged to be governed under a Federal structure with vital powers, barring defence, monetary policies and external affairs, devolved.
Only, the two Sinhalese members representing the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) registered their protest to the resolution.
Nonetheless, the Tamil leadership has demanded this right throughout in the past starting from Tamil leaders such as S.J.V. Chelvanayagam. The TNA, in its manifestos presented during recent elections, also put forward demands similar to this. However, it became a political bombshell this time, given the context in which it was presented.
Federalism is viewed in the south as a stepping stone for separatism, and therefore it is a concept abhorred in many quarters.
Federalists try to be assertive now after remaining subdued for over a period. As a result, it has prompted vigilance by the anti-Federal camp to see whether any revival attempts are made.
The NPC passed a resolution demanding Federalism at such a time, and both the main parties – Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the United National Party (UNP) - voiced that they would be opposed to any divisive attempt.
More so, the SLFP articulated its position that it was against Federalism in any form.
One should view this as a set of proposals only because it has no legal binding. However, it has opened up a hot political debate with some parties criticising it, and others seeing it a sine qua non to resolve the political question once and for all.
The proposals, evolved after deliberations with people in the north and the east, will be handed over to TNA leader R. Sampanthan who is also the Opposition Leader of Parliament on Saturday.
It is learnt that the NPC, in its resolution, has proposed an autonomous regional council in the Northeast State for Muslims living there. Besides, an upcountry regional council has also been proposed for Tamils living in the central hills of the country.
A House of Representatives- comprising Upper House and Lower House- has been proposed for the proposed North-East State.
EPDP, TNA see eye to eye in NPC
Interestingly, Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), which hitherto remained less demanding, has also approved the NPC proposals. EPDP’s N. Thavaraja who is the Opposition Leader of the NPC said the proposals reflected the aspirations of Tamils in the north and the east, and therefore he supported the resolution. In that sense, the issue at hand has offered a chance for the two main Tamil parties –the TNA and EPDP- to unite at the NPC.
Be that it as it may, the demand for Federalism and the re-merger of the north and the east is strongly resisted in the south. Politics will hot up on the matter in the months to come, and a political solution will be realistic only if the parties concerned are ready to make great compromises.
Sri Lankan Tamil issue a topic in Tamil Nadu
The issue of Sri Lankan Tamils has also become an election topic in the run up to the assembly election of Tamil Nadu these days. Its Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, in her election campaign, has even vowed to fight for the cause of Sri Lankan Tamils if her party were re-elected. She, in fact, demanded a separate State of Tamils in Sri Lanka and dual citizenship for Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in India.
UNP all out to have a major rally on May Day
The UNP, as the key party of the Government, is confident about having a successful May Day rally in Colombo this time, the first by it as the ruling party for years. Already, the party has instructed its electoral organisers to bring crowds to the rally.
The UNP, however, is for taking major economic decisions in the days to come. Obviously, the Parliamentary session, scheduled for the next week, will occupy a great deal of time on the proposed tax reforms. The Joint Opposition is planning to take on the Government in this respect as it says the new tax rates cannot be implemented without ratification by Parliament. Also, the Government announced a partnership arrangement for the revival of SriLankan Airlines, the national carrier.
The Government has a constitutional advantage in taking decisions, be they populist or not.
The Government is safe because Parliament cannot be dissolved for four years after its formation in accordance with the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.
In the event of a no-confidence motion against the Government passed or its annual budget being defeated, only the Cabinet stands dissolved but not Parliament.
Then, a new Cabinet has to be formed from among already serving MPs in the same Parliament. So, the toppling of the Government is not contemplated as such, because a snap General Elections are constitutionally impossible.
Against this backdrop, the National Unity Government feels secure somewhat whatever unpopular decisions it makes. If snap elections were possible, it would serve as a deterrent against measures harmful to the public.