By Gamini Jayaweera –
On 16 January 2015 former President Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa, following his unexpected defeat in the presidential election, gave up the leadership of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and Mr. Maithripala Sirisena who contested against the former president assumed duties as the new leader of the SLFP. Mr. Rajapaksa stated that the reason for relinquishing his leadership of the party was to avoid any possible division in the party. The new leader, Mr. Maithripala Sirisena assumed his duties hoping that he could give a new political culture to the SLFP membership and unite the party to contest and win the next general election under his leadership. But it appears that his expectations are not going in the right direction due to number of obstacles which have been created by the crafty operations of the external ‘Gang of Four’ well supported by the Rajapakshe fraction of the SLFP.
‘Gang of Four’
It appears that 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, and Mr. Udaya Gammanpila of Pivithuru Hela Urumaya is well supported by a large number of SLFP former Ministers, MPs, Chief Ministers, and other members of the party are working tirelessly to build a strong opposition to SLFP current leader Mr. Maithripala Sirisena’s vision of creating a new political culture.
It is hard to believe that a well-established party like SLFP is indirectly controlled and directed by the ‘Gang of four’ undermining the authority of the leadership and the Central Committee of the party. It appears that the leadership and the Central Committee of the SLFP cannot implement the rules, processes and procedures of the party on their membership because they ignore those instructions and participate in rallies organised by the ‘Gang of Four’ criticising the activities of the “Yahapalnaya” led by the leader of the SLFP. They are not only trying to build a “public opinion” against Maithripala fraction of the party but also giving ‘orders’ to SLFP Central Committee to select certain parliamentary candidates for the upcoming general election of their choice irrespective of the allegations of bribery & corruption, ongoing cases in courts & bribery commission against these MPs. They also demand that Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa should be nominated as the SLFP prime ministerial candidate in the forthcoming general election.
It appears that the General Secretary of the SLFP has accepted these ‘demands’ from the ‘Gang of Four’ when he stated in a recent press conference that all sitting MPs of the UPFA would be given nominations to contest the general elections irrespective of alleged illegal activities. Has this policy been ratified by the leadership and the Central Committee of the SLFP? If so, is there any purpose of appointing a Nomination Panel to select candidates? This is contrary to the policy of the party leader, Mr. Maithripala Sirisena and many senior figures in the party to refuse nominations to candidates who are being investigated for bribery & corruption, drug dealing, murders and exhibiting extremely bad behaviour in public violating the law of the land. It has been reported in the media last week that the President has stated in a SLFP group meeting that one of the main pledges that he was elected to office on, was to eliminate Kudukarayas (drug dealers) and Rasthiyadukarayas (undesirables) from the legislature. Is the General Secretary working very closely with the Leader of the party to finalise the process of selection criteria or is he trying to please the MR fraction and the ‘Gang of Four’?
Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa was a very popular leader during the last two decades mainly due to his leadership during the war against the LTTE. He led the armed forces to defeat the most ruthless terrorist organisation world had ever known to liberate all Sri Lankans from bombs, bullets, fear, anxiety, murder, and continuous curfews and emergency regulations. He has his rightful place in the Sri Lanka’s history. He has given up the leadership of the SLFP and has been elected as one of the Patrons of the party. As an elder statesman he should not be in active politics. His role in the party should be a passive one. Unfortunately recent events indicate that Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa wants to engage in active politics. This decision has created a visible split in the SLFP. This is contrary to what Mr. Rajapaksa stated on 16 January 2015 when he was handing over the leadership of the SLFP to Mr. Maithripala Sirisena. It appears that Mr. Rjapaksa’s change of heart has directly impacted the party’s discipline which is fundamental to winning or losing elections. The situation has led some members to functioning as members of MR fraction or separate individuals rather than a united SLFP by breaching party discipline. It appears that the relationship between MR Fraction and the external ‘Gang of Four’ is much stronger than the relationship between the internal divisions i.e. MS & MR fractions, of the party.
Most of the junior MPs and a few senior members who supported Mr. Maithripala Sirisena during the presidential election are extremely loyal to the president. They are in favour of President’s vision of creating a new political culture and to work with other political parties towards the advancement of social, religious, cultural, economic, and technological developments in the country. They give their unconditional support to the President’s determination to transform our misguided, and mismanaged society into a more tolerant, caring, fair and reasonable society. They also want to support the president’s determination to apply the rule of law to every citizen in the country irrespective of their “status” or political affiliation. But unfortunately, it appears that most of the other senior members of the SLFP who give conditional support to the president, also want to bring back Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa as the party’s prime ministerial candidate in the forthcoming general election. They do not want to participate in the creation of a new political culture which is advocated by the President Mr. Maithripala Sirisena. It also appears that they have placed one foot in MS Camp and the other foot in MR Camp to ensure that they can gain the maximum benefits when the opportunity arises.
Based on the above analysis it appears that there is a question about who is controlling the SLFP in the current political environment. It is time for Mr. Maithripala Sirisena, as the leader of the SLFP to take firm, decisive actions to safeguarding the party discipline so that the members can operate as a cohesive group rather than performing as fractions or individuals disregarding the policies of the Central Committee. Senior figures of the party should be advised to set an example to ensure that party’s discipline must be maintained at all times by the membership. The party cannot have two leaders. It is a recipe for disaster. The UPFA coalition partners should be warned that they would be expelled from the UPFA if they organise rallies to promote policies to undermine the authority of the leadership and the Central Committee of the SLFP. The SLFP members who violate the policies, rules, processes, and procedures of the party should be disciplined without delay to ensure that party members do not undermine the authority of party leadership and they should toe the party line. These actions will undoubtedly eliminate the confusion about who is controlling the SLFP in the current political environment and unite the party. This may lead to gaining a majority in the new parliament under the leadership of Mr. Maithripala Sirisena.
*The writer is a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and is a holder of Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Henley Management College, Oxford