In the aftermath of the removal of 41 members from the organizers posts of Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), a rift between party leader President Maitripala Sirisena and his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa looked widened, and antagonism worsened.
These organizers, including stalwarts like Mahinda Yapa Abeywardane, Pavithra Wanniarachchi and Keheliya Rambukwella are the MR loyalists. In the drive for reforming the SLFP by dispensing with the MR backers, the President sacked them from their posts.
In one aspect, it widened schism to a point beyond redemption, and all hopes by any for reconciling the two leaders were shattered like shards of a broken window. The Joint Opposition (JO) is the banner under which the MR camp functioned both in Parliament and outside after being elected on the ticket of the SLFP-led United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). President Sirisena retains, in addition to the official authority of the party, a section of MPs in his fold. The rest threw their weight behind MR and sat in the Opposition.
With the sacking of its members, the JO appeared to have advanced its move for the formation of a new political force for it to pursue its political activities ahead of elections expected next year.
Now, a Committee comprising SLFP seniors of the JO has been appointed to work out. MPs Rohitha Abeygunawardane, Dullas Alhapperuma, Bandula Gunawardane and Pavithradevi Wanniarachchi serve in it. Former Minister Basil Rajapaksa is the only non-parliamentarian in it.
Hot on the heels of expulsion of these 41 members, the committee met and discussed ways to devise political strategies to stand up to the current challenges. Whether they should form a political party or a movement is not yet decided. Be that as it may, the current status has precipitated developments towards establishing a novel political identity for the JO as wresting control of SLFP-UPFA is now out of the question as long as President Sirisena holds onto it.
Different ideas prevail within the fold of the JO on the forming of a new party or a movement.
Some fear that they may incur blame for splitting the SLFP which is a grand old party. There are others pushing for a separate movement independent of SLFP or UPFA. They argue that the JO is not in a position to retake the SLFP control. Nonetheless, they need some form of political identity to organize people, and all these factors warrant a new party or a movement.
Mostly, the UPFA allies loyal to MR such as the National Freedom Front (NFF) favour the idea of forming a new party, and speculation is rife in political circles about the symbol of the new party. It is believed that the ‘Lotus flower’ is the chosen symbol.
Let alone the leftist allies of the UPFA who think otherwise; these allies-Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP), the Communist Party (CP) and the Democratic Left Front (DLF) - believe the formation of a new party would be a fillip to President Sirisena as he would be left with no challenge to the SLFP leadership. In such an eventuality, the President would find no other claimant to the party. He would have a free run in its affairs.
The leftist allies argue that it would give a message internationally advantageous to the government. On behalf of the leftist parties, it is learnt that MP Vasudeva Nanayakkara suggested that though a different symbol could be used for electoral purposes, the JO should never give up its claim for the ownership of SLFP.
“If it is left in the hands of the President, he will have no challenge from outside. It is easy for him to deal with the National Unity Government and the international community,” he suggested.
However, there are arguments running counter to it. As long as the President remains, the SLFP leadership cannot be taken over by another. The SLFP constitution does not provide for it. According to a provision incorporated into it during the time of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, an SLFP member who ascends to executive presidency is deemed to be the President of the party as well. MR took action in this regard for him to become the party President unseating his predecessor Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga upon election to presidency in 2005. Today, the same provision has become counterproductive to MR seeking to gain control of the SLFP.
Hence, advocator of a new party believe in novel strategies rather than keeping their fingers crossed for the SLFP control. But, they do think that the control of the SLFP would slide towards their hands one day in the aftermath of an electoral victory.
The manner in which President Sirisena took control of the party is cited as the classic example here. The President defected from the party and successfully contested the party’s candidate for presidency with the backing of other parties. After victory, he secured the party leadership. Also, Ms. Kumaratunga broke ranks with SLFP and formed yet another party. Again, she returned to the party folds as its leader.
These advocator even cite examples from the United National Party (UNP) in which late Minister Gamini Dissanayake who clinched the party leadership despite the fact that he defected from it at one time and formed a new party under the symbol of an Eagle.
In this manner, arguments and counterarguments go on within the JO regarding the formation of a new political party. Most speak with certainty about the new party.
Dissension within SLFP Govt Group over expulsion
Highly placed SLFP sources said some party seniors -- holding posts in the government -- are distraught about the expulsion of its members from organizer posts. The decision has been taken in their absence by a troika of persons -- the President, Party Secretary Duminda Dissanayake and Ms. Kumaratunga. These seniors, disillusioned by the state of affairs, are planning to voice against the move at the appropriate forum later.
Govt forgets to incorporate JVP amendment
The Office of Missing Persons (OMP) Bill was signed into law by Speaker Karu Jayasuriya on Tuesday. During its passage through Parliament the other day, there was a commotion created by the JO. The parliamentary authorities rushed through the enactment as a result, but in the process, the govt has failed to incorporate one of the three amendments proposed by Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) during the debate that lasted for a short while only due to the din in the House.
The JVP took it up with Leader of the House Lakshman Kiriella. The latter was instructed by the government leadership to make fresh arrangements on a separate date to debate and incorporate the amendment concerned. Accordingly, Subject Minister Mangala Samaraweera is to be informed of it to work out fresh arrangements.
After OMP, TNA moves to release PTA detainees
In the aftermath of the OMP Bill becoming a law of the country, the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which supported it fully has renewed its call for the release of what they called ‘Tamil political prisoners’. They are virtually the LTTE suspects held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
TNA and Opposition leader Rasavarothayam Sampanthan moved an adjournment motion in Parliament on the subject again. He says the government should live up to its commitment to
scrap the PTA.
The UNP toughens action on Samurdhi officials
The parliamentary group of the UNP resolved on Monday that Samurdhi officials and Agricultural Research Officers, unlike other public servants, did not cooperate with the government in the execution of its work at grassroots level. Instead, the party noted that these officials were doing politics. A Committee headed by Deputy Minister Ajith P. Perera was appointed to look into this matter and make recommendations on action to be taken.
These services were introduced by the SLFP-led government elected in 1994. Mostly, it was widely believed that such officials were part of the SLFP’s election campaign apparatus at one time. Now, a UNP-led government is in place.
JO engages EU
A Joint Opposition delegation led by former External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris briefed the European Union delegation accredited to Sri Lanka on a myriad of subjects including the delay of the local government election and threats to journalists. The meeting took place at the residence of Prof. Peiris.
The JO team said there was no single local authority with elected representatives in the country, and it was denial of the franchise of people at grassroots level. “Though there is an uncertainty over when the election would be conducted, many of the western countries are hailing Sri Lanka as an example of democracy. We are very surprised by that attitude. That attitude emboldens the government,”
Prof. Peiris said.
EU urged to look into IGP’s video footage
The JO delegation also asked the EU delegation to look at the video footage of Inspector General of Police (IGP) Pujith Jayasundara asking his officers not to break the law but to bend it. That particular sentence is uttered in English by the IGP. “How dare a police officer in uniform make such a statement? The JO queried and said good governance would be unrealistic in such a set up.