Alas! We are in serious trouble. The price the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) will have to pay for being blind to the political reality, and being unable to fashion our policy accordingly, is going to be huge. I am neither an astrologer nor a soothsayer, and I have very little to say to soothe the party supporters as it is with a heavy heart that I predict the unfortunate future of a great political party.
In the beginning
The SLFP has a long history. It was founded by the Late SWRD Bandaranaike who created a social revolution in 1956. The SLFP provided a certain leadership for the Sri Lankans to gather around. The leadership was then passed on to Mrs. Sirimavo R. D. Bandaranaike following the unfortunate demise of the Founder. Personally I think and according to many, the golden era of the SLFP regime was under the leadership of Mrs. B, not because she was the world’s first female Prime Minister, but because she had a vision and followed it.
I can list out many of the dearly departed stalwarts who contributed to making this party such a great political think tank. Maithripala Senanayake, Hector Kobbekaduwa, Felix Dias Bandaranaike, TB Tennakoon, TB Ilangaratne, TB Subasinghe, WPG Ariyadasa, Badiudeen Mohamed, RS Perera, Lakshman Jayakody, SDR Jayaratne, PBG Kalugalle, Richard Udugama, VTG Karunaratne, Nanda Ellawela, SB Yalegama, PR Ratnayake, Chelliah Kumarasuriar, Ratna Deshapriya Senanayake, SKK Sooriyarachchi, MP de Z. Siriwardena, George Rajapakse, SS Kulatilleke, KB Ratnayake, Stanley Tillekeratne and Dharmasiri Senanayake to name a few.
"Instead of promoting the policies and ethics on which the SLFP was founded, our party too began to deteriorate. Exploitation, abuse of power, violence and corruption took centre stage. The SLFP during this time wasn’t far thinking."
Apologies if I have unwittingly left out any names because such is the history of the SLFP, many committed and honourable people became the pillars of the party. I have no hesitation in calling these persons honourable Sirs. They nurtured the SLFP, they were visionary leaders. Cross-overs were very rare. Even if MPs crossed over, it was based on their conscience and not on money and ministerial portfolios.
The world opens up
“In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. Inversely in a badly governed country, wealth is something to be ashamed of” - Confucius.
If you analyze the political history of our country, any party has been able to rule only for 6-8 years continuously. Thereafter the public demand ‘’for change‘’ sets in. If one analyses the Parliamentary election results from ’47 – ’77, this becomes quite clear. However there is an exception for the period ’78 – ’94, where the life of Parliament was extended by the infamous Referendum. Furthermore the UPFA managed to secure Parliamentary Election victories in 2004 and also in 2010 thanks to the War victory euphoria. Nevertheless, social dissent had already begun by 2013, and even a very strong Government of around 150 plus members in 2014 could not avert the defeat at the Presidential Elections.
"Now we are in a situation where the same allegations levelled against the defeated presidential candidate are resurfacing. And to add to the list of woes, the same person is admitting all the wrongdoings that were done during his time."
During this period, the whole world was gradually changing. We began to see the debacle of politicians the world over making money. Dictators stayed in power and money minting became a priority over public welfare. In Sri Lanka too, politicians gradually became dishonourable and the rule of law started taking a beating. Instead of promoting the policies and ethics on which the SLFP was founded, our party too began to deteriorate. Exploitation, abuse of power, violence, and corruption took centre stage. The SLFP during this time wasn’t far thinking.
Although we boasted about winning the war, we were unable to establish sustainable peace by winning the hearts and minds of all people.
What led to the defeat on January 8?
Although the Presidential Election 2015 brought shocking results to the SLFP-backed candidate, the downfall began way before that. I would recount some unfortunate and painful incidents which were allowed to take place in our country. The first one was the murder of Lasantha Wickramatunga, disappearance of Prageeth Ekneligoda and senior journalists fleeing the country, the shooting incidents in the Free Trade Zone and Rathupaswala and the massacre at the Welikada Prison indicated that the leader who was once a trade unionist and a human rights activist was silent.
"Nevertheless, social dissent had already begun by 2013, and even a very strong Government of around 150 plus members in 2014 could not avert the defeat at the Presidential Elections."
Attacks on Muslims in Aluthgama and giving State patronage to anti-Muslim groups, as well as abductions and extortion aiming at Tamils and Muslims were indications that the minority ethnic groups were not cared for.
Political harassment of a teacher, tying a government servant to a tree were indicative of sheer deterioration of respect for public servants.
Murder of a British National and the alleged gang rape of his partner, child abuse and sexual abuse of women committed by ‘public figures’ as well as the overt illegal importation of ethanol spirit and heroin in large volumes showed that some people were above the law. Appointing undiplomatic henchmen showed that we care less about international relations and soon started having repercussions.
The incarceration of the former Army Commander and the unceremonious removal of the Chief Justice signalled the death of justice and the birth of dictatorship.
There was many an allegation against the party members. But no one was prosecuted. This created a doubt in the minds of
What did we lose?
In almost every election, 75 -80 % of the total votes were shared between the UNP and the SLFP/UPFA. A fair size of the balance which is referred to as floating votes is crucial. But both candidates were strong and the floating voters were also uncertain. In the final analysis, I saw that 60% of the floating votes went to the Common Opposition Candidate and 10% of the SLFP/UPFA votes also went to the Opposition Candidate in protest of the Candidate we had.
On November 27, I predicted this defeat, and advised the party to take corrective measures. But my voice joined the clouds over Colombo.
Post January 8
Since the Presidential election, the SLFP had a good 6 months to recoup and strategize for the general election. The General Elections were on the cards. But everyone, including the UNP MPs forgot that theirs was a caretaker government. The SLFP seniors completely mishandled the post January Parliament.
The Caretaker government was there to address the urgent needs of the country such as
1. Removal of certain undesirable powers of the Executive,
2. Introducing a new election system,
3. Establishing the Right to Information Act,
4. Promulgation of Independent Commissions,
5. The establishment of the National Constitutional Council and
6. Bringing in the National Audit Commission.
It was a rare opportunity that we had for all parties to join into bring these changes which were urgently needed for the country. When the UNP Ministers were appointed they should have realized that their portfolios were short-term. They should have refrained from appointing new persons for ministries, departments and other institutions. But since they have not been in power for a long time, they were overjoyed and started behaving like kids in a candy shop.
The majority PA now sitting in the Opposition forgot their primary role is to work for the betterment of the country but decided to show their majority power. They wasted time by opposing and postponing the 19th Amendment. They wasted time trying to bring a no-confidence motion against a caretaker Prime Minister. The Leader of the Opposition signing the no-confidence Motion was totally unprecedented. The SLFP wanted to rock the boat without realizing that they too were in the same boat. The political bankruptcy of the SLFP was such that the party was hijacked by alliance MPs who had no interest in the SLFP.
What the people of the country wanted was the two main parties to work together and work things out on the short term before dissolution. We betrayed the public and also our party supporters.
Crisis after crisis
My understanding is that the UPFA did not prepare for the General Elections. When the civil society demanded quality people to be given nominations, all parties, including the SLFP signed the March 8 Declaration, but acted in contravention, went to prison to get the signature of a candidate who was already in remand. It was so obvious that it was former MPs who were outside of the SLFP wanted the former President as a candidate, for their own survival. And that is how the party was hijacked entirely ruining any chance of SLFP winning again.
Now we are in a situation where the same allegations leveled against the defeated presidential candidate are resurfacing. And to add to the list of woes, the same person admitting all the wrongdoings that were done during his time. What is SLFP’s strategy? How is the SLFP going to regain some of the lost votes? And, as if this comedy of errors continue, the JVP is emerging as a force to reckon with.
Same old tunes
In the absence of a strategy, the SLFP is resorting to the old tactics. Promoting racism tops the list. Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) is re emerging as a political party and most importantly not honouring the March 8 commitments and showing that the approach of the SLFP has not changed, do not impress the average voter. The SLFP did not concentrate on recovering the lost votes. Their daily press conferences looked like comedy acts with a clown from the hill country constantly entering the ring with old tricks.
Protecting the wrong-doers
I was shocked and appalled to hear that both the Secretary Generals of the SLFP and the UPFA voicing their opinions about allegations made against some of their members, being unproven. All the allegations such as murder, rape, child abuse, coercing a teacher to kneel down and celebrating the raping rampage of 100 women are unlawful and unacceptable. But my question on behalf of the country is, did the party make any inquiries and take disciplinary action? A responsible and a law abiding party should and would conduct their own inquiries and enforce discipline in the party. Not taking such actions is endorsing criminal activity. In an election such inaction will not help.
The country is demanding quality people. But what do we see in our list? Some ‘Drift-wood’ over the age of 75 years. Inexperienced sons and daughters of politicians, celebrities, cinema idols, singers are what the SLFP is hoping to have in Parliament for the PROMULGATION OF LAWS, CREATION OF LAWS, POLICY MAKING AND GOVERNANCE. While some of the party seniors do not even come for TV debates; the ones who appear seem to be totally ignorant about the Constitution, the laws or what the job they are ‘applying’ for.
Heading towards a precipice
There is a saying that ‘those who are in the pageant can’t see the pageant’. Likewise, the SLFPers are unable to see how they are heading towards a precipice. First and foremost, the learned and intelligent members of the SLFP are now a minority. Their ideas are not taken on board. Sadly, the rest are a majority. What is uttered on political platforms is utter nonsense. The party manifesto is like bidding in an auction; whatever the UNP has offered the UPFA is willing to raise!
In this backdrop, which has not changed much since January, the SLFP is sending the same players. The entry of the defeated presidential candidate has inconvenienced the whole party. Some candidates are hooted at by the party supporters. The UPFA National list is loaded with members who cannot even help the HelpAge Movement. What hope have we of a clear victory? Perhaps after August 17, the SLFP will have to have a “Sanghaayanaawa” to resurrect the party and use the five years to get the political fundamentals right back on track.