The governing UPFA, which has been a formidable force to reckon with in the local political scene in recent times, is now showing signs of cracks with die hard SLFPers threatening to rebel.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Co., after creating frictions in the opposition political parties since assuming office first in 2005, is now facing similar issues closer to home. By initiating defections in opposition political parties, the governing UPFA built its strength.
The cracks in the governing party that were simmering within for some time are now coming out in the open in various forms.
From internal protests, to strong worded statements by senior SLFPers and acting against the dictates of the party seniors, the governing party is showing signs of an internal rebellion.
The SLFP, which forms the main constituent party of the UPFA, has been rife with issues since the ascension of the Rajapaksas.
The first step by Rajapaksa was to sideline former President and SLFP President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge in 2006 by taking over the party leadership and limiting Kumaratunge’s power to that of an advisor to the party. Kumaratunge was eventually completely sidelined from party matters.
The rest of the SLFP seniors were also sidelined in the years that followed and the process continues.
The associations affiliated to the SLFP like the youth wing and trade unions have also been hit with the Rajapaksas trying to create their own fiefdoms within these bodies.
Young MP Namal Rajapaksa was the first to step in and demobilize the SLFP youth wing by forming his own Nil Balakaya (Blue Force).
A disgruntled senior SLFPer said last week, “In the event the UPFA falls some day, there would not be an SLFP thanks to the Rajapaksas.” When inquired as to the reason for such a strong worded statement, the SLFPer said that all affiliated organizations of the party are now defunct and replaced by various movements initiated by members of the Rajapaksa family.
“All these bodies are based on individuals and are functioning on their glory, not at a party,” the SLFPer explained.
Given this explanation it is no surprise that the SLFP seniors are now running out of patience.
Powers and privileges in the governing party are now limited to few chosen people of the Rajapaksas, who are mostly defectors from opposition parties or persons accused of various nefarious activities.
The irony however, is that at a time when a joint opposition movement has launched a campaign under the slogan, “enough is enough!” (Ivasuwa ethi!), it is the governing party members who are in fact starting to rebel against the system.
A key signal of the internal rebellion was witnessed from the Central and North Western Provincial Councils that had their inaugural sessions last week following the recent provincial elections.
The Chief Ministers in both councils were directed by the party leader on the appointment of persons to key posts in the council.
However, when the governing party’s candidates were proposed to the posts of chairmen in both councils, the opposition parties also proposed names for the positions. Secret ballots were then called to elect chairmen in the two respective councils, which saw governing party members also casting their votes in favour of the candidates proposed by the opposition parties.
In the North Western Provincial Council it was Chief Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera who was directed by the Rajapaksas to propose the name of Indrani Dasanayake for the post of council chairman.
When Indrani’s name was proposed, the opposition led by the UNP put forward UPFA member Dharmasiri Dasanayake for the post.
When a secret ballot was called, Indrani obtained only 22 votes, while the UNP and the rebel-UPFA councillors voted for Dharmasiri by casting 30 votes in his favour.
Jayasekera was displeased that governing party councillors had disobeyed a directive carried out by him on instructions by party seniors.
A similar incident took place in the Central Provincial Council as well. Although the governing party candidate won in the secret ballot, when the final numbers were announced, it was evident that governing party councillors had voted in favour of the opposition candidate.
The warning signal sent by the Central and North Western Provincial Councils was not lost on President Rajapaksa.
He understood clearly that the mechanism now at play could result in the governing party experiencing humiliating defeats at the forthcoming budgets in the local governments.
Several UPFA led local governing bodies were defeated at last year’s budget as well.
However, given the current state of affairs, the President is suspicious whether the budgets of the local governing bodies would see humiliating defeats for the UPFA.
The President has now decided to crack the whip on his party members by directing an inquiry and action against the governing party councillors who had acted in violation of the party directives in the Central and North Western Provincial Councils.
The President and his confidantes who decide on matters related to the party and country are well aware of the growing dissention within the party and have adopted several measures to address the situation.
One measure is to keep a close watch on the members whom the Rajapaksas suspect of rebel rousing and could pose a threat to the regime in the future. The other measure is to allocate several ministerial and deputy ministerial portfolios to some SLFPers to keep them content.
The Rajapaksas have been keeping a close watch on SLFP seniors who are now openly expressing how disgruntled they are with the party leadership and the manner in which the government is operating.
No lesser person than Prime Minister D. M. Jayaratne has made critical comments on the current state of affairs. Former Premier Ratnasiri Wickremanayake has also been critical of the government.
Former Western Province Chief Minister Reginal Cooray has publicly expressed his displeasure saying that the work assigned to him as a Cabinet minister is meaningless and is similar to wearing under garments above his clothes.
Jayaratne’s son Anuradha Jayaratne was not appointed as the Chief Minister of the Central Provincial Council stating he lacked experience although he polled the highest preferential votes at the election. However, a different criteria was applied to Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa’s son, Shashindra Rajapaksa when he polled the highest preferential votes in the Uva Provincial Council election.
Despite contesting for the first time, Shashindra was appointed as the Chief Minister by Uncle Rajapaksa.
For the first time, there was a protest held by SLFP supporters in Kandy against the President’s decision not to appoint Anuradha as the chief minister of the province.
Another disgruntled SLFP senior, former Chief Minister of the North Central Province Berty Premalal Dissanayake was sidelined by the SLFP leadership since he was seen as a loyalist of former President Kumaratunge.
At Dissanayake’s funeral, his son, Education Services Minister Duminda Dissanayake made a hard hitting speech about the fate that befell his father and the support shown by Kumaratunge.
“When we asked Madam Chandrika not to come to the hospital to see my father, she said that she will stand far and look at him since she wanted to somehow see Berty. Although my father was after a surgery and unable to walk, he smiled and tried to stand when he saw her. I guess that’s what strong party members feel when they know their leaders are behind them. I thank Madam Chandrika Kumaratunge for making my father happy before he died,” Duminda said.
The President, who was in New York at the time of the funeral, was informed of Duminda’s speech.
Duminda has for some time been sidelined by the Rajapaksas since he was seen as a threat to Namal’s role as a youth leader in the country. Duminda at the time was the head of the SLFP youth wing.
However, the Dissanayake family, which is a senior SLFP family, has been sidelined by the Rajapaksas.
The President angered by Duminda’s speech at his father’s funeral, appointed his loyalist Minister S.M. Chandrasena as the SLFP organiser of Berty Dissanayake’s electorate, Kalawewa in Anuradhapura.
Dissanayake was the SLFP Kalawewa organiser for over 30 years since 1983. Duminda is the SLFP organiser for Mihintale.
SLFPers in Anuradhapura believed that Duminda would be appointed to his father’s electorate.
It is believed that Duminda was overlooked for the post of Kalawewa organizer due to his strongly worded statement at his father’s funeral.
Be that as it may, the actions of the Rajapaksas have resulted in the disgruntled SLFPers forming an alliance that is in constant touch with former President Kumaratunge.
Kumaratunge is now fast emerging as an alternative leader of the SLFP for the party members.
Muslim parties agitating
Apart from the SLFP, trouble is also brewing among several allies in the governing UPFA as well.
The SLMC and other Muslim parties in the UPFA have been agitating for the devolution of power and the full implementation of the 13th Amendment.
The Muslim allies have also been displeased with moves by some governing party members to unleash sporadic attacks against Muslims along with a hate campaign.
The SLMC has been pushing motion after motion against the governing party moves in the Eastern Provincial Council.
Pandemonium reigned in the second day of the Eastern Provincial Council sessions last week when SLMC group leader in the council, A.M. Jameel moved a motion requesting the government to strengthen the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that led to the formation of the Provincial Council system in the country, instead of trying to dilute the piece of legislation.
Chief Minister and UPFA member Najeeb Abdul Majeed opposed the motion stating it was not the time to bring up such a motion.
The Chief Minister’s remark had led to a heated exchange of words among the members.
The TNA councillors led by their Leader who is also the Leader of the Opposition, C. Thandayuthapani had reportedly supported the SLMC councillors claiming that the 13th Amendment should be strengthened.
Chairperson of the Council, Ariyawathi Galapaththi had finally allowed the motion to be debated.
At the end of the debate, Jameel had called for a vote on the motion.
The Chairperson thereafter put the motion up for vote.
When the final count was taken, 16 councillors including TNA, SLMC and the Provincial Minister of Education, Wimalaweera Dissanayake, and nominated Councillor, T. Navaratnarajah had voted in favour of the motion.
Only UPFA councilor Priyantha Pathirana had voted against the motion while Chief Minister Najeeb, former Chief Minister Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan and members of the Muslim political parties led by Cabinet Ministers A.L.M. Athaullah and Rishard Bathiudeen had abstained from voting.
The motion was passed with a majority of 15 votes.
Meanwhile, the JHU has also been critical of the government’s conduct.
President Rajapaksa’s move to remove JHU General Secretary, Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka from the portfolio of Power and Energy when he pointed out the wrong policies of the administration was not taken well by the governing party ally.
The JHU has continuously been calling on the government to make clear statements of its stances and to follow the policies pledged during election time.
However, the Rajapaksas have opted to ignore the calls with the arrogant attitude that there would not be a survival for the UPFA allies if they were to step out of the alliance.
Nevertheless, members of the constituent parties like the SLFP seniors are now running out of patience.
The JHU recently slammed the Rajapaksa government saying the administration has failed to fulfil the expectations of the people who had voted for it.
JHU parliamentarian Ven. Athuraliye Ratana Thero has said that the people’s expectations from the President whom they wanted to be a national leader who respects the country’s virtue, ethics and national policies, have now become an “illusion.”
Ven. Ratana Thero has come down hard on the government saying that trying to earn revenue through liquor and gaming licenses and legalizing it is an act against Buddhism.
He has observed that there was no proper opposition in the country to discuss these issues.
According to the Thero, an opposition has therefore been formed within the government against issues faced by the country and people.
Many governing party allies together with disgruntled SLFPers, it is learnt are now in discussion among themselves as well as with opposition parties to form an alliance that could win at the next key election.