fter the January 8th electoral defeat, Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) is now in a political predicament trying to evolve strategies to propel the party to victory again at the next Parliamentary Elections.
Its political luck now lies, particularly, in the hands of President Maithripala Sirisena, who took over the party chairmanship.
In this context, the SLFP seniors keep their fingers crossed in anticipation that President Sirisena would lead the party to victory at the next election to be conducted after the dissolution of Parliament in April.
But, it now appears that President Sirisena would take a neutral stand, leaving it upon the general public to decide on the party that should take the Parliamentary majority.
Likewise, he has clearly articulated that he would opt for a national unity government even after the next election to find a collective approach for the resolution of issues confronting the country.
In his first television talk show, the President pronounced his position dispelling doubts in the minds of politically enthusiastic people. Alongside, he tried to pacify the rank and file of both the SLFP and the United National Party (UNP). In fact, at one point, it would be unbecoming of him to cast aside the UNP as it was the key party that threw its weight fully behind him at the January 8th Presidential Election. Being aware of this stand, announced the SLFP looked to novel political strategies for its electoral success.
Confused by the prevailing circumstances, various groups of the SLFP are now trying to unite President Sirisena with former Presidents Mahinda Rajapaksa and Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. As a step in this direction, the party’s Gampaha District leaders met at the residence of former Minister Felix Perera recently.
Mr. Perera had called for this meeting followed by dinner. Former Minister Basil Rajapaksa is the Gampaha District leader and Mr. Perera his deputy.
Yet, Mr. Rajapaksa is currently out of the country.
At the meeting, Mr. Perera noted, “It is important for us to work now for the victory of the party. It is better for us to have the unity among all. We should take the initiative in this direction.
Accordingly, all the electoral organisers decided to make representations to President Sirisena for a request to that effect. Similar initiatives are being taken by the group of 22 MPs who entered Parliament at the 2010 GeneralElections. This group includes MPs Sudarshani Fernandopulle, the widow of former Minister the late Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s son Namal Rajapaksa, Kanaka Herath, Roshan Ranasinghe , Eric Prasanna Weerawardane, Uditha Chandana Lokubandara, Dilum Amunugama and others.
It is learnt that these MPs have handed over a letter to the President seeking fresh approaches to bring about unity among all concerned.
However, it is now questionable whether such unity is realistic at this juncture.
Reasonable doubts have been generated in this respect because a few parties aligned with SLFP to form the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) have decided to set up a new political front to promote Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Ministerial candidate at the proposed general election. Incensed by developments, Ms. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga has already announced that she will not become part of any exercise with Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Also, Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa has responded to the political move by the UPFA alliance partners, saying he would never betray those parties that stood with him right throughout. Therefore, it is now unlikely that these two former Presidents will reconcile with each other to work together under a SLFP-led alliance once again.
The UPFA allies- Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP), Democratic Left Front (DLF), National Freedom Front (NFF)and Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU) are involved in the new political exercise that promote Mr. Rajapaksa as the Prime Ministerial candidate. In case, the SLFP support cannot be garnered for this effort, these parties are contemplating on the possibility of contesting the election as a separate front independent of the SLFP. For that purpose, they are trying to retain the UPFA rather than allowing it (UPFA) to be dominated at the whims and fancies of the SLFP. The parties are slated to announce their political stand at a press conference next week. Later, National Congress of former Minister A.L.M. Athaullah is also expected to team up with them. However, MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardane said his party is in touch with all small parties to form a political movement to work for the rights of people who voted for Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa at the Presidential Election. Otherwise, he said there was no intention to form a new political party at all.
Probably, these minor parties try to bank their political fortunes on the personal popularity of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa at this trying time. Amid such challenges and confusions within its fold, SLFP will conduct its annual convention on February 14 in Colombo for the appointment of a few more office bearers, and to lay down the future programme of work. It is learnt that Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne , a close confidant of President Sirisena, is to be handpicked as the national organizer, a post remaining after the resignation of former Minister Basil Rajapaksa who held it earlier.
Similar initiatives are being taken by the group of 22 MPs who entered Parliament at the 2010 General Elections. This group includes MPs Sudarshani Fernandopulle, the widow of former Minister the late Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s son Namal Rajapaksa, Kanaka Herath, Roshan Ranasinghe , Eric Prasanna Weerawardane, Uditha Chandana Lokubandara ,Dilum Amunugama and others.
UNP goes it alone
The United National Party (UNP) has already decided to go solo under its elephant symbol at the elections likely to be conducted in June, this year.
The party headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has started addressing its activists in preparation for the election. The party is heading for an election with a triumphant mood. The government, headed by Mr. Wickremesinghe and President Sirisena, announced populist measures in its interim budget.
The government slashed prices of 13 food items along with the reduction of fuel prices. These measures, decided on by a Cabinet comprising mostly with UNP members, may translate them into its electoral gains in future. But, it will depend on the neutrality of President Sirisena not siding with any of the two major parties at the election.The government has calculated that the cost of living for a family of four can be brought down by Rs.7,500 with the price slashes of essential items announced in the budget.
The food basket, chosen for the price reduction, includes milk powder, wheat flour, canned fish, sprats, green gram, black gram and sugar.
Yet, ordinary people wondered initially as to why the dhal price was not lowered despite it being a food commodity commonly consumed at almost every household.
All these prices were brought down by the revision of import taxes. But for dhal, it is learnt that only two rupees have been levied per kilo as tax. Therefore, no big effect could be brought about on the cost of living by reducing tax on dhal imports. Likewise, the masses are concerned as to why no tangible action has been taken to regulate the retail rice prices in the market. Rice is the staple food of all Sri Lankans. A drop in the rice price will definitely cushion the cost of living. Hopefully, the opposition may raise this question during the debate scheduled for today and tomorrow in Parliament.
Meanwhile, the opposition is waiting in wings to take the government to task over the revision of import tax on wheat grain.
Wheat is a substitute for rice. The previous government had taken a policy decision to discourage the consumption of wheat flour products, and to promote rice consumption.
Responding to the reduction of wheat flour prices as a budgetary decision, the National Freedom Front said this move would make a crippling effect on local paddy cultivators, and instead boost the economy of farmers in the United States where wheat is grown abundantly.
NFF leader Wimal Weerawansa even coined the phrase ‘wheat flour terrorism’ at that time. All in all, wheat flour is widely consumed in Sri Lanka.
It is used for various products, and hence, the wheat flour price drop will lower the cost of living in the overall context. It is also the main food item of plantation Tamils.
At one point, during her interaction with Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, she expressed her contentment in this regard
US softens voice
With the election of the new government, Sri Lanka appears to be successfully warding off international pressure on the allegations of war crimes and the violations of international humanitarian law during the latter part of the war.
Less than a month after the formation of the new government, the United States, the prime mover of the resolution adopted by the United Nation Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Sri Lanka, dispatched its Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Desai Biswal for talks with the top leaders. Ms. Biswal, an American of Indian origin, expressed her pleasure over the initiatives taken by the new government to ensure good governance.
At one point, during her interaction with Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, she expressed her contentment in this regard.