Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa who is a Senior Advisor of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) appeared to have burned his boats with the party he has been a member of for more than four decades when he called people to vote for the Joint People’s Front.
Rajapaksa made this call when he spoke at the launch of the Joint People’s front election campaign at the Sugathadasa Stadium today at a meeting attended by approximately 8000 candidates contesting under the ‘Pohottuwa (bud)’ symbol.
Rajapaksa, in an hour long speech, detailed the reasons why the people should support the Pohottuwa, elaborated on the kinds of challenges that candidates are likely to face in the run up to the elections.
This is the first occasion that Rajapaksa has publicly called upon the people to support the Pohottuwa, the symbol of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). The SLPP, which includes most of the parliamentarians in the ‘Joint Opposition,’ will be contesting the local government election which will see the party going against the SLFP, United National Party (UNP), Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and other registered political parties and independent groups.
The SLFP leadership has on many occasions vowed to take disciplinary action against members who go against party decisions, notably in May when the Joint Opposition held a separate May Day rally with the participation of several SLFP MPs including Rajapaksa.
This move by Rajapaksa, which directly calls upon voters to support a political party other than the SLFP, forces the hand of President Maithripala Sirisena who is also the leader of that party.
The SLFP, which is virtually split into the Sirisena and Rajapaksa camps, managed to secure a significant number of seats in Parliament in August 2015 because the two factions came together at the time.
Rajapaksa, an SLFP MP representing the Kurunegala District, is still popular among the rank and file of the party as evidenced by the unprecedented crowds that attended the JO’s May Day rally.
Whether or not Sirisena will move to sack Rajapaksa from the party and in such an event whether it is the SLFP or the SLPP that loses most remains to be seen.