Colombo Telegraph

Dividing The Sri Lanka Freedom Party

By Mahinda Rajapaksa

Mahinda Rajapaksa

In January 2015, a new leader took over an undivided SLFP. I made no attempt to retain the leadership of the SLFP at that time because of the need to preserve the unity of the party through which all of us had engaged in politics. Both I and the party rank and file believed that no harm would befall the party under the leadership of an individual who had been a party member for four decades and its General Secretary for 13 years. Even though many members of the opposition felt we should have contested the 2015 Parliamentary election separately, we contested that election under the SLFP and the UPFA because of our desire to protect the party. Even at that time, we did have serious misgivings about the new SLFP leader’s conduct.

The moment he became president, the present leader of the SLFP gave the Prime Ministership to the UNP which had only 43 Members of Parliament. Though this sent shockwaves through the membership of the SLFP, there was  the expectation that things would change once he became the leader of the SLFP. But that too did not happen. Even after becoming the leader of the SLFP and the UPFA which had a two thirds majority in parliament, the new SLFP leader only used this majority to keep the UNP government in power. Furthermore, he deprived the SLFP and the UPFA of a political advantage they had by dissolving the Local Government institutions that were mostly controlled by the UPFA. If these had not been dissolved, they would have been of immense help to the UPFA at the 2015 August Parliamentary elections. Even in that backdrop, we contested the 2015 August Parliamentary election under the UPFA because of the need to prevent the division of the SLFP. There was also the expectation that it would be possible to extricate the new SLFP leader from the clutches of the UNP.

However due to the actions taken by the new SLFP leader when it became clear that the UPFA was poised to win the 2015 August elections, any hopes that the party rank and file may have reposed in him were dashed. By writing an open letter to me just days before the poll saying that he would not appoint me as the Prime Minister even if the UPFA won the election, he was saying in effect that even if the SLFP won, he would hand over victory to the UNP. When it appeared that even that statement could not stop us from winning, he sacked the General Secretaries of the SLFP and the UPFA just 48 hours before the polling began to show the voter how determined he was to see the defeat of the SLFP. After the UNP won the 2015 August Parliamentary election with the help of the SLFP leader, the latter then got a group of SLFP parliamentarians to prop up the new UNP government.

All the UPFA parliamentarians elected at the 2015 Parliamentary election were elected on a platform that opposed the 8 January 2015 conspiracy. All of them contested that election in opposition to the yamapalana government. It is a matter of profound regret to me that more than 30 SLFP members elected to parliament on that basis have decided to prop up the UNP government at the invitation of the SLFP leader. However, 52 UPFA parliamentarians continue to sit in the opposition in accordance with the anti-yamapalana mandate they got at the 2015 August Parliamentary election.

From time to time during the past two years, SLFP parliamentarians in the opposition have been removed from their electoral organiser positions by the SLFP leader. Removing popular figures in the SLFP from their electoral organiser positions is a move calculated not to strengthen the SLFP but to ensure the victory of the UNP.  Among the opposition SLFP parliamentarians sacked from their electoral organiserships are Prasanna Ranatunga, Bandula Gunawardane, Geetha Kumarasinghe, Gamini Lokuge, Sanath Nishantha, Piyal Nishantha, Johnston Fernando, Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena, Keheliya Rambukwella, Pavithara Wanniarachchi, Rohitha Abeygunawardene, Jagath Balasuriya, C.B.Ratnayake, Janaka Bandara Tennakoon, Lohan Ratwatte, Anura Vidanagamage, Salinda Disanayake, Mohan Silva, Tikiri Adikari, D.B.Herath and Kanchana Wijesekera.

In the latest round of purges, Janaka Bandara Tennakon has been sacked with no account taken of the immense services rendered by him to the SLFP in the Matale district. His father T.B.Tennakoon was not only a founding member of the SLFP but also a key figure in the political revolution of 1956. The services rendered to the SLFP and the country by the late Anuruddha Ratwatte have been ignored when the SLFP leader sacked his son Lohan Ratwatte from his electoral organisership.  Because of the SLFP leader’s actions, the extent to which the SLFP electoral organisership has been devalued can be seen in the manner Dullas Alahapperuma, JanakaWakkumbura and Rohana Dissanayke voluntarily resigned from their SLFP electoral organiserships. Pramitha Bandara Tennakoon resigned from his Central Province ministerial portfolio without a second thought, in protest against the removal of his father from his electoral organisership.

The party leader has to take the entire responsibility for causing a split in the SLFP by removing the most popular individuals in the party from their electoral organiserships. Sacking SLFP parliamentarians who have refused to prop up the UNP government from their electoral organiserships while retaining the SLFP parliamentarians who are propping up the UNP government, is a move calculated to strengthen the UNP, not the SLFP. Parliamentarians of the SLFP who have remained in the opposition in accordance with the mandate they received at the 2015 Parliamentary election have been sacked from the SLFP central committee as well. However nothing has been able to prevent this dysfunctional government that is kept in office under the patronage of the SLFP leader, from declining in popularity with each passing day.

If the government cannot govern effectively even with a group of SLFP parliamentarians propping them up, the SLFP members serving in the government should ask themselves why they are still on board this sinking ship. The SLFP may get members of ethnic and religious political parties from the north and east that never vote for the SLFP or celebrate May Day to attend their rallies with free sightseeing trips thrown in as an incentive, with the hope of bamboozling the people. However the indefinite postponement of the local government elections show that the government does have a realistic assessment of their popularity at this point in time.

I wish to pledge once again that I will give leadership to the opposition forces and work to defeat this government in accordance with the mandate I received in 2015. I invite all members of the SLFP who are against their party being turned into a tail of the UNP and the members of the public who are against the anti-national actions of this government to attend the anti-government May Day rally at Galle Face and thereby send a forceful message to this dysfunctional, repressive government.

*Mahinda Rajapaksa – Former President of Sri Lanka

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