- Weerawansa accused Basil in 2015 for the defeat of MR government
- His remarks could strain the relationship between NFF and SLPP temporarily
- President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s silence in this debate is deafening
The rift between Industries Minister Wimal Weerawansa and the main constituent party in the ruling coalition, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) is described by a section of the Opposition as a ploy to divert the attention of the people from the spiraling cost of living. Undoubtedly it happens, but the insults thrown from one side the other suggests that there is something serious beneath.
The row is also explained as the manifestation of a rift between Weerawansa and the founder and the National Organiser of the SLPP, Basil Rajapaksa. It is true that Weerawansa had accused Basil in 2015 for the defeat of the Mahinda Rajapaksa government in the same year, but since the latest controversy has at least a remote potential to pit two other members of tightly-knit Rajapaksa family against each other, the involvement of Basil in this issue is unconvinced, or unclear.
The row started following a statement by Weerawansa on the leadership of the SLPP during an interview with the Sunday Lankadeepa. He had stated “What had to be done is that the leadership of the Pohottuwa, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna should have been awarded to him (President Gotabaya Rajapaksa). It is inappropriate for him to be confined to the Presidential Secretariat, without being brought forth in that way. It would result in weakening of the relationship between him and the members of Parliament and also between him and the political system. It is not good for the healthy life of the country and the government. I can’t understand as to whose and what motive is going to be fulfilled by allowing this undesirable situation to continue.”
"Weerawansa or any other leader in those small parties would not be able to muster support from the masses at the 2018 local government elections which became a trend setter for the future elections"
This statement on the leadership of the SLPP has provoked angry responses from a section of that party. The secretary of SLPP, Sagara Kariyawasam during a media conference said that Weerawansa who is not a member of the SLPP has no right whatsoever to speak about its leadership. While saying that Weerawansa’s National Freedom Front (NFF) cannot draw at least two hundred thousand votes at a national level election, Kariyawasam also insisted that the NFF leader must apologise to the people of the country for his remarks. The SLPP leaders denied that Weerawansa played a key role in the political comeback of the Rajapaksas who were deposed in 2015.
Their responses were blended with insults and utter lies which is a common phenomenon in political discourses in Sri Lanka. Kariyawasam said that his party had to field Sarath Weerasekara in the Colombo District at the last Parliamentary election, since Weerawansa had by then lost confidence of the people. The Administrative Secretary Renuka Perera accused that two of NFF leader’s close allies were in the pay-role of a foreign intelligence organisation. Some leaders of the SLPP went onto demand Weerawansa’s removal from the Cabinet.
Wimal Weerawansa hit back by questioning what is wrong in speaking about the leadership of the SLPP, if the leadership of the United National Party (UNP) becomes a frequent topic in political circles. He also ridiculed Kariyawasam’s status as a national list MP. Responding to the demand for his apology he said he was prepared to apologize if his role in Mahinda Rajapaksa group’s bouncing back after the humiliating defeat in 2015 and in the ascension of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the President of the country was wrong.
The debate is a clear manifestation of the degenerated political culture of the country. Belittling Weerawans’s role in reviving the Rajapaksa group of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) is the pinnacle of ungratefulness, hypocrisy and distortion of history on the part of the SLPP leaders. When he started the “Mahinda Samaga Negitimu” rallies starting from Nugegoda in February 2015, an unprecedented effort within a month after a humiliating election defeat, even Mahinda Rajapaksa, the overthrown President was hesitant to get on to those platforms for fear of losing the membership of both the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the UPFA.
Rajapaksa voluntarily offered the Chairmanship of SLFP and the UPFA to newly-elected President Maithripala Sirisena, despite his group has the majority in the SLFP and in Parliament. He could have retained the Chairmanship by amending the SLFP constitution using his majority power in the party and brought down the UNP-led government as well with his Parliamentary majority. Other second ring leaders of the UPFA were reluctant to join hands with the small parties that were carrying the Rajapaksa flag, for fear of losing the candidacy for the August 17 Parliament election in 2015. The entire Opposition was then so scared to the Executive Presidency that they even voted for the 19th Amendment to the Constitution which negated the 18th Amendment they had brought in five years ago.
"Sagara Kariyawasam said Weerawansa’s NFF party cannot draw at least 200,000 votes at a national level election, also insisted that the NFF leader must apologize to the people of the country for his remarks"
However, the small parties in the UPFA such as the NFF and Udaya Gammanpila’s Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) were attempting to resurrect Mahinda Rajapaksa rule not purely out of love for the deposed President. That was the only option left for their political survival and hence they carried out a “Do-or-die” struggle using the huge charisma in Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Nevertheless, Weerawansa or any other leader in those small parties would not be able to muster support from the masses at the 2018 local government elections which became a trend setter for the future elections; unless a person like Basil Rajapaksa from the Rajapaksa family entered the scene. In short, Basil would not have been able to build the SLPP so successfully without the “Rella” (tide) built by the small parties loyal to Mahinda Rajapaksa while Wimal or any other leader of a small party would not have been able to muster so much support on their own at the 2018 election without a party led by the Rajapaksas.
People do not vote for smaller parties irrespective of the degree of popularity of the leaders of those parties, unless they are coalesced with a bigger party or a major group in such a party such as the Mahinda group in the UPFA. For instance, the JVP leaders topped the candidates of the UPFA in preferential votes at the 2004 General election and won 41 seats in Parliament. However, they were reduced to 10 seats at the next election in 2000 when they contested solo. Therefore NFF or the PHU cannot survive without the support of the SLPP.
Wimal’s argument that anybody can speak about other parties is correct from the perspective of democracy, as the structure and the behaviour of any party, specially a ruling party affects the lives of all citizens. However, others too have the right to respond and in this case Wimal’s remarks would inevitably strain the relationship between his party and the SLPP at least temporarily.
His argument that the President of the country should have the power to mobilize the ruling party and to contribute to its policies is also makes sense. At the same time, the President can do so during the Cabinet meetings as well. Besides, in a family rule his argument has a remote validity. Also from an ethical point of view, suggesting a leadership change of a ruling party after a regime change by a man who used the same leader’s charisma for the very regime change seems to be outrageous and cruel.
His response to the apology demand is diversionary, while the demand is also disproportionate. Kariyawasam made the demand in response to his suggestion for a leadership change and it had nothing to do with his role in bringing the SLPP to power.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s silence in this debate is deafening. It is unlikely that he backs Wimal in this matter given the unity in the Rajapaksa family in politics. However, Weerawansa is like the snake around Lord Shiva’s neck in the Hindu literature who teased Garuda, who otherwise would have killed the snake. He is speaking in support of the all-powerful President who hence would not allow anybody to penalize him.