By Gamini Jayaweera –
On 16 January 2015, President Maithripala Sirisena was appointed as the Chairman of the Sri Lank Freedom Party, after former President Mahinda Rajapaksa voluntarily agreed to handover the leadership of the party to his successor. At the time, it had been reported in the media that the former President had made his decision to relinquish the party leadership ignoring the requests made by former provincial councilor Mr. Udaya Gammanpila, Mr. Wimal Weerawansa MP, and several other pro-Rajapaksa politicians, not to do so. The Central Committee of the SLFP also appointed the former presidents Mrs. Chandrika Kumaranatunga and Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa as patrons of the party. The SLFP MPs and the membership thought that they could unite the party under the new leadership of Mr. Maithripala Sirisena to fight the General Election to form a SLFP government after the end of minority interim government appointed by the President.
But unfortunately the things did not work out as anticipated by the New Leader and the Central Committee of the party. This was due to the former president’s change of heart, well supported by the coalition partners of the UPFA known as the ‘Gang of Four’, namely Mr. Wimal Weerawansa MP of National Freedom Front, Mr. Dinesh Gunawardena MP of Mahajana Eksath Peramuna, Mr. Vasudeva Nanayakkara MP of Democratic Left Front, Mr. Udaya Gammanpila MP of Pivithuru Hela Urumaya and the supporters of Rajapaksa in the SLFP, to contest the election as a SLFP candidate and to become the Prime Minister despite the objections from the new Leader of the Party. This disagreement led the prospective parliamentary candidates of the party to split in to two factions which was labelled as MS and MR factions. At the time of the general election campaign it appeared that the SLFP was led by two leaders. It was recipe for disaster and the SLFP and their partners were defeated by the United National Party which obtained the highest number of parliamentary seats in the general election.
The President and the Central Committee of the SLFP made a decision to join the UNP to set up a Coalition Government to run the country for the next five years. But MR faction of the SLFP and the “Gang of Four” ignoring the UPFA decisions decided to form an unofficial opposition called “Joint Opposition” and they claimed that they had obtained permission from the President for them to sit in the opposition though they are members of one of the parties in the coalition government. During the last few weeks there have been plenty of activities in the MR Faction, challenging the validity of Mr. Maithripala Sirisena’s leadership in the SLFP. Most members of the MR Faction were publically, demanding Mr. Maithripala Sirisena to hand over the leadership of the party to the former president or appoint Mr. Rajapaksa as the SLFP Leader of the LG election campaign for the UPFA. Prominent members of the MR camp have publically declared that formation of a new party led by Mahinda Rajapaksa is imminent. It appears that SLFP is in disarray and the membership is confused and completely disillusioned with the party. Is it justifiable to assume that unless this crisis is resolved one way or the other, the SLFP is heading for years in the political wilderness?
Can the SLFP membership avoid the prospect of their party heading into the wilderness? Can they find solutions to the problem for SLFP to survive in the Sri Lankan political arena as a major political force for years to come? Hope the members of both factions of the SLFP will bear in mind the following points when they make their decisions to either protect or destroy the party.
We know that about 6 years ago Sri Lankan armed forces led by the former President, Mahinda Rajapaksa defeated the most ruthless terrorist organisation world had ever known to liberate all Sri Lankans from bombs, bullets, and continuous curfews and emergency regulations. Sri Lankans have thanked the armed forces and the government, for defeating the murderous terrorists who tried to destroy Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankan people for nearly three decades. All Sri Lankans, irrespective of their party politics had shown their gratitude to the former President for winning the war by electing him as their leader in 2009 to rule the country for a second term. The people of Sri Lanka had placed their trust, pinned their hopes and expected the former President to re-build a democratic, compassionate, peaceful, law abiding, sovereign society but he failed to deliver those expectations, and lost the trust of the Nation. In January 2015 he was voted out of the office and a new President was elected. Former President has his rightful place in the Sri Lanka’s history. SLFP membership must accept the reality and move on.
The War is Over
The time of war is over. The victors and the vanquished suffered very badly physically and mentally. New President and the Prime Minister are leading the forgiveness and reconciliation process to bring all parties together. New atmosphere of trust, friendship and understanding between Sinhalese, Tamils, and Muslims is growing. There are positive dialogues between the Tamil leaders and the Sinhalese leaders. The Tamil children are singing the national anthem from their “hearts” and not from their “mouths” because now they can understand what they are singing. As John F Kennedy said; “Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process, gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structures.” The SLFP MPs must remember that they have not joined the party because of any one particular person. No member is bigger than the party. The MR Faction of the SLFP MPs and the membership cannot live in the past; they must move on. The new President needs their support to strengthen his efforts to rebuild the country for the benefit of all and avoid the risk of SLFP heading for long years in the political wilderness.
The Joint Opposition’s demand about appointing Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Leader of the SLFP for LG elections is neither ethical nor practical. It is widely accepted that two leaders for a group, an organisation, or a political party is a recipe for disaster. It is ironic that the same theory has been advocated by the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in November last year when he had attended a funeral in Matara. It had been reported that Mr. Rajapaksa, while participating in the funeral had told the media that there could not be two leaders to rule the country referring to the President and the Prime Minister. If so, how could Mr. Rajapaksa and his supporters justify their demand to elect Mr. Rajapaksa to lead the SLFP in the LG election campaign? The new direction of the party should be given by the newly elected leader, not by the previous leader. It is disappointed to witness that the former President with his long political career does not see that his failure to support the new leader has created disunity, and mistrust among the fellow members in the SLFP. This narrow minded and selfish action supported by the MR faction, may lead to the possibility of splitting the party and pushing SLFP into the political wilderness.
It has been said that those who make good political leaders are often those who least want the position in the first place. We can definitely say that our new President, Mr. Maithripala Sirisena falls into this category. Since he has become the President, he has demonstrated that he is willing to put the long-term prosperity of the country ahead of any personal gains. It seems that the new President is not a person who uses deliberate exploitation whenever and wherever possible to get what he wants. He has demonstrated that he wants to work with eastern and western bloc countries keeping an independence of foreign policy, not taking decisions in favor of either bloc based on preconceived notions. His efforts to building relationships with all countries irrespective of their political ideologies have earned respect for Sri Lanka from all parts of the world. Because of this non-partisan foreign policy adopted by the President, the countries who have accused us of war crimes are now supporting us in many ways to develop our country. The new President has exhibited that he has no ego and he is willing to solve problems with discussions, respecting other opinions and compromising wherever possible to achieve the maximum benefits for the people of Sri Lanka.
As leader of the SLFP, he has demonstrated the depth of patience and tolerance he has got when dealing with very difficult party matters where most other members in the party are impatient and intolerant. It is a virtue which gives anyone the strength and perseverance to achieve success in politics, business, or any other field in the long-run. In my experience, as an observer of the political activities in Sri Lanka for the last 50 years, it is my opinion that Mr. Maithripala Sirisena is the only President who has shown a very rare leadership quality of humility among other leadership qualities. Humility does not show weakness in leadership as some people believe but it is concerned with what is the right approach for the issue at hand. He has the ability to listen attentively and assess a situation to come up with a solution which would be agreeable to majority of the people. It is true that the new President does not just tell what some SLFP MPs want to hear but he says what needs to be said at. It is not too late for the SLFP MPs and the membership in the MR faction to unite around the new Leader of the party, if they truly wish that they do not want to “push” SLFP in to the political wilderness.
It appears, as I have mentioned before, that the problem with the MR Faction of the SLFP is that they follow a person rather than the policies of the party. A dangerous ploy to follow. They also think that Mr. Maithripala Sirisena has committed an unforgivable “crime” by setting up a coalition government with the UNP. The SLFP MPs and the membership of the MR faction should understand that the UNP has won the largest number of seats in the parliament after a free and fair election under the leadership of President Maithripala Sirisena. SLFP leader, as the President of the nation was acting democratically with the blessings of the Central Committee of the SLFP and set up a coalition government with the UNP to achieve the greater benefits for the nation.
We have witnessed in the past how the Marxists and the Leftists in Sri Lanka have had successful political marriages with the Capitalists to govern the country at times the democracy appeared to be threatened. It is worthwhile reminding the leaders of the “Joint Opposition” that there were instances in Sri Lankan political history, such as “the father of Marxism in Sri Lanka” and other “socialists” accepted ministerial posts and joined the capitalist government led by “Yankee Dickie” in 1977 to create an “open market economy”. It appears that the history has repeated in January 2015.
MR Faction also think that Maithri has committed an unjustifiable crime by creating an institution called FCID to identify the political and other “thieves” who have plundered the public funds for their private use. Is it an unjustifiable crime to investigate Ministers, MPs, and others who have allegedly misused public funds for their personal gains? MR Faction of the SLFP must also understand that Sri Lanka was not a “land of milk and honey” under Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration.
Though the President Maithripala Sirisena has his own reasons for not imposing disciplinary actions against the SLFP members who publically denounce and ridicule the decisions taken by the Leader and the CC of the party, the majority of the traditional SLFPeers honestly believe that the party’s discipline is in disarray. If members of any organisation commercial or otherwise, act against the rules and regulations of that organization, violating the decisions taken by the top management, it is inevitable that disciplinary actions will be taken to either suspend the members in question until the disciplinary hearings are complete or sack those members if they are found guilty in order to safeguarding the interests of that organisation. It appears that the failure of the SLFP leadership and the CC to respond properly and promptly at the outset of the rebellion, the issue has now become the most severe crisis in the SLFP since its formation.
Though the SLFP leadership was exhibiting noble qualities of patience and tolerance, sometimes in worldly events the leaders ought to know when to take action to nip critical issues in the bud for the sake of protecting the organization for the benefit of the majority of its members. As leaders, it is also important to learn “when to laugh and when to frown” to ensure that you are not allowing others to exploit you because you are practicing noble qualities. It reminds me a Buddhist story about practicing “Loving Kindness” told by late lay meditation master, Mr. Godwin Samararatne.
“There was a cobra in a forest practicing loving-kindness, saying: May all beings be well, may all beings be happy, may all beings be free of suffering. A partially blind old woman was collecting firewood in the forest, and when she saw the cobra she thought it was a rope. She used the rope to bundle the firewood she had collected. As the cobra was practicing loving-kindness, the cobra allowed the old woman to do this. The old woman carried the bundle of firewood home. Then after some difficulty the cobra escaped with lots of pain, with lots of wounds on its body.
Then the cobra went to meet his meditation master, and the cobra told the master: See what has happened; I adopt the practice of loving-kindness, but see the wounds, see the pain that I’m experiencing in my body! So the master very calmly, very gently told the cobra: You have not been practicing loving-kindness, you have been practicing foolish loving-kindness. You should have just shown by hissing that you are a snake! So it is very important that in everyday life we also learn what the cobra should have learnt.”
It is sometimes laughable the way some SLFP ministers, during their media briefings accuse the UNP for using the “Joint Opposition” as a vehicle to split the SLFP to gain electoral advantage. This reminds me of the old Sinhalese saying “Ugurata Hora Beheth Bonna Hadanawa Wagei”; meaning trying to drink medicine without the knowledge of the throat. Their unconvincing, laughable, and feeble attempts to treat the general public as a bunch of deaf, blind, and ignorant people are backfiring. They know very well the culprits who are trying to destroy the SLFP. These culprits want to safeguard their positions in the Sri Lankan political arena because they have nowhere to go without the support of the former President, Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The nation will most definitely give credit to both UNP and SLFP for whatever the successful achievements that will be achieved by the coalition government at the end of this parliament. It is worth noting that the SLFP members can make a significant contribution to enhance the democratic accountability of the coalition government by actively engaging in a system of checks and balances to prevent corruption, cronyisms, nepotism, deals with big businesses violating due processes, etc. The MR Faction of the SLFP should understand that the country is best served by being inside the government, rather than outside with no influence. The SLFP of tomorrow must continue to support the President for his efforts to develop the country during the next five years. By being with the “Joint Opposition” the MR Faction is not doing any favors to either the country or the party. It is time to grow up.
If the leaders and the membership of the SLFP want to avoid the risk of the party heading for long years in the political wilderness, they need to address this most severe crisis in the history of the SLFP head-on without beating the bush. I feel that it is the duty and responsibility of all SLFPeers to support the President Maithripala Sirisena in this critical juncture to protect the SLFP from heading into the political wilderness and ensure that the President’s vision of creating a new political culture will prevail over the curse of personality and adversarial politics practiced by the “Joint Opposition”.