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SLFP struggles to retain identity in the wake of elections

3 October 2019 01:28 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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As the day of nomination for the presidential elections approaches fast, uncertainty and anxiety engage the minds of voters over the latest developments.

Litigation filed challenging the citizenship of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP)’s nominee for presidential candidacy Gotabaya Rajapaksa triggered nervousness among his supporters , fearing whether he would be disqualified from contesting. It was a matter pending before the Court of Appeal. So, one cannot comment on merits and demerits of it at this hour.

But, one thing is obvious- that is that his opponents    are determined to exhaust all avenues available to bar him from contesting. That they try such measures is an act of desperation because Gotabaya is a formidable candidate who is difficult to be taken on politically.    Be that as it may, litigation sowed the seed of doubt in the minds of people who are loyal to   Mr. Rajapaksa ahead of the day of nomination. 

There is a presidential election which is around the corner, but the political parties make decisions bearing in mind the parliamentary elections that follow later

In an attempt to dispel such worries from the minds of people, the SLPP stalwarts had to take time out of their busy campaign schedule and organizing work to address the media to clarify matters and to drive home the point that there was nothing to worry about the court case.  Besides, the leaders of the political parties that back Mr. Rajapaksa met on Tuesday evening at the official residence of Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa   and discussed in detail the content of the legal case. The lawyers who appear for Mr. Rajapaksa briefed the party leaders at this meeting on the case. These party leaders, according to sources close to them, believe that similar such litigations will follow in the run up to the presidential elections as a strategy by the opposing camp to tie up Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa to court proceedings despite his busy campaign trail.

At Monday’s meeting, the lawyers- Romesh de Silva, Manohara de Silva and Ali Sabri   - who are arguing Gotabaya’s case dealt extensively with the nitty-gritty of it, and tried to allay  fears or concerns from the minds of the party leaders. The party leaders, including Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa, sounded confident after the lawyers’ briefing. 

In addition to Gotabaya’s matter, there is yet another political development that keeps people guessing what would happen next.  That is the stance to be taken by President Maithripala Sirisena   in respect of the presidential elections. 

Right from the beginning, it has remained hard for anyone to guess what the President has been up to. In public, the President praised UNP nominee for presidential candidacy Sajith  Premadasa calling him someone whose name is not tainted with allegations of corruption. It led some people to think that the President might support Mr. Premadasa in the event of him becoming the presidential candidate. But, these people had second thoughts about such a possible move by the President after he gave the go-ahead for bilateral talks between his party and the SLPP.  When he took steps to reinstate Yositha Rajapaksa, the son of Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa, in his rank in the navy, it was seen as a confidence building measure with the SLPP for an electoral pact.  Still, the guessing game continues even with that decision because President Sirisena had late night discussion with Mr. Premadasa and a UNP-delegation   on Wednesday night.


  • Litigation against Gota’s citizenship creates uncertainty 
  • His lawyers allay fears 
  • The SLFP is insisting on a common symbol 

This meeting is bound to attract a lot of attention from politically savvy people   since it happened in the backdrop of a gridlock in bilateral talks between   the SLFP and the SLPP over the symbol for an electoral pact. 

The President, in his meeting with the SLPP leaders last Saturday, said he had no issue with the candidacy of Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, but insisted that the lotus bud symbol (Pohottuwa) should be compromised to opt for a common symbol for any electoral understanding in view of the presidential election. 

“I have no issue with the candidate. Yet, we have to find a common symbol for contesting this election,” he said. 

SLPP national organizer Basil Rajapaksa who was at the same meeting rebuffed this request by the president in clear cut terms.  He clearly said his party had progressed so far   under the lotus bud symbol, and the last minute change of the symbol would turn everything topsy-turvy.   Talks were locked in a stalemate in this manner. 

Mr. Premadasa made overtures to the President in such a context. The President responded positively. But, there is no open announcement from either side so far.  As such, the pendulum keeps swaying from one side to the other   making it impossible to conclude on anything. 

At Monday’s meeting, Mr. Basil Rajapaksa narrated to the party leaders   what actually happened during discussion with the President the other day. 

National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa also said the campaign had been half way through, and therefore, it was not a time for   the change of symbol.  

“We can think of a common symbol after the presidential elections in view of the next elections,” he said.

In an attempt to dispel such worries from the minds of people, the SLPP stalwarts had to take time out of their busy campaign schedule and organizing work to address the media to clarify matters and to drive home the point that there was nothing to worry about the court case

The SLFP is insisting on a common symbol fearing that it would lose its identity by being absorbed into the SLPP in the  event of a pact under the lotus bud symbol.  Likewise, the President knows for sure that the SLPP would not agree to forego its symbol which is seen as its most vital political asset.  The President is asking for the impossible because he does not want any electoral understanding with the SLPP at this hour.  The President tries to bargain on the issue, though. 

There is a presidential election which is around the corner, but the political parties make decisions bearing in mind the parliamentary elections that follow later. The SLFP, which occupies a distant third position according to the results of the 2018 local authorities’ elections, is unable to win the presidential elections in its own. So, it has to think of its future as far as the parliamentary election is concerned- to get sufficient parliamentary representation.  If the party is absorbed by the SLPP, it will lose identity at the general election. Then, it will be relegated to an even lower   position. So, the SLFP is struggling hard to carve out its niche and identity in a complex political climate so that it can stay relevant. 

Mr. Premadasa, as the UNP nominee for presidential candidacy, is keen to stitch together an alliance for his candidacy. So, he is interested in joining hands with the SLFP. However, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is not open for such a pact with the President.  After taking stock of the situation, the SLFP will announce its stand at its convention scheduled for October 5 in Galle. 

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