By Gamini Jayaweera –
In recent political meetings, press conferences, and several articles published in newspapers a number of SLFP seniors and the Chief Minister of Western Province have accused that the former President Madame Chandrika Kumaratunga was responsible for attempting to destroy the SLFP from the srilankan political map because her decision not to support the UPFA candidates, especially Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa and his close supporters. Some senior members of the SLFP publically asked the Central Committee of the SLFP to ban former President Mrs. Kumaratunga’s membership of the party. These allegations and threats to expel Mrs. Kumaratunga, one of the Patrons in the SLFP is a serious issue for the traditional members of the SLFP who are looking for unbiased answers to the problem. Hope this brief analysis of the situation will help the real SLFP supporters to make up their minds to cast their votes wisely in the forthcoming general election.
Traditional SLFP Supporters
In 1951, my late father was working with late Mr. Duncan De Alwis at the Ministry of Local Government where Mr. SWRD Bandaranaike was the minister responsible for Health and Local Government. According to my late father’s account on the night (close to mid-night) of 16 July 1951, after signing the letter of resignation Mr. SWRD Bandaranaike thanked the handful of individuals including Mr. Duncan De Alwis and my father who were present at the time and told them that he would never forget the way in which they had shown their unconditional support for him. Since July 1951 until his death in April 1982 at the age of 65, my father was a strong supporter of the SLFP and spent his own money on party activities at district level to promote the activities of the party but never asked for any favours from the leaders of the SLFP at any time. His philosophy was SWRD’s bloodless revolution in 1956 had given the opportunities to the ordinary people of rural areas to enjoy better living conditions by way of easy access for progression to senior positions in government employment which was denied to them in the past due to lack of English education and therefore we should always support the SLFP. Our families and friends were traditional core SLFP supporters until 2011 and their loyalty was slowly disappeared when the party was gradually embarking on a completely different direction against the principle objectives of the “old” SLFP.
Discipline of the Party
The main problem of the party surfaced when former President Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa was encouraging opposition MPs to join the SLFP and in return offering ministerial posts to those MPs who crossed over from other parties, ignoring their motives to join the SLFP. Some of these MPs’ aims were to earn as much as they could engaging in illegal activities for which the former President Mr. Rajapaksa turned a blind eye. Others wanted to enjoy the power and all sorts of other “benefits” including assurance given by the party leadership that they would contest the elections (Provincial Council, and Parliamentary) from SLFP replacing the traditional SLFP supporters who worked hard for the party during difficult times. It appears that all these unethical activities were carried out by the leadership in order to remain in power for a considerable time, supressing the opportunities open to other senior members in the party. This is one of the major factors which resulted in breaking up the SLFP.
The party’s discipline was in disarray. No actions were taken against MPs who were violating the law of the land because they were MR supporters. In recent past when the Central Committee of SLFP issued an order for party members not to participate in “Make Mahinda Prime Minister” campaign organised by coalition partners of the SLFP, the Chief Minister of Western Province and some other MPs attended the rally violating the decision approved and issued by the Central Committee of the party. There was no action taken against these members for their inappropriate behaviour and blatant disrespect for the decision taken by the party’s central committee. If members of any organisation commercial or otherwise, act against the rules and regulations of that organisation ignoring decisions taken by the top management, it is obvious that those members will be either suspended or sacked for the sake of safeguarding the interests of that organisation. Otherwise the organisation will breakup and ultimately go out of business. This is exactly what is happening in the SLFP. It is easy for the Chief Minister of Western province and other senior members of the SLFP to blame former President Mrs. Kumaratunga for the current status of the SLFP for cheap political gains.
The Impact of the Coalition Partners
Most of the senior members and other members of the SLFP have become “second class” members of their own party because of the prominence given to the coalition partners by the former President Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa. It appears that most of the decisions in this election campaign have been taken by the “Gang of Four” (Mr. Dinesh Gunawardena, Mr. Wimal Weerawansa, Mr. Vasudeva Nanayakkara, and Mr. Udaya Gummanpila) with the full blessings of the former President Mr. Rajapaksa. Most of the traditional SLFP members are irritated about the activities of the “Gang of Four” but unable to do anything because the SLFP campaign is headed by the former President Mr. Rajapaksa and supported by some senior figures in the party who have their feet in both camps of the SLFP. It is a fact that the leaders of the “Gang of Four” do not have a popular vote base in the country. They know that if they are not part of the UPFA they will not get in to the parliament. Please refer to one of my previous articles published in the Colombo Telegraph titled “Who Is Controlling The SLFP – Maithree, Mahinda, or The Gang of Four” dated 31 May 2005.
Traditional members of the SLFP are completely disillusioned with the party and will decide to cast their votes in this election against the members of the UPFA. It is surprising that the Chief Minister of the Western province and the other senior members of the SLFP who are accusing Madame Kumaranatunge for destroying SLFP, cannot understand the reality of the situation. We would like to remind these supporters of Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa that “SLFP is NOT Mahinda”. No member is bigger than the Party. The Leaders come and go but the party remains in the hands of the membership. If you treat your traditional membership as “second class” members in their own party, naturally the party will end up with disloyal corrupt members who will change their colours as soon as the opportunity arises.
It is evident that SLFP is losing its popular support not because of the former President Madame Kumaratunga is addressing Civil Society meetings in this election, requesting people to vote for politicians with honesty, integrity and intelligence but for the abandonment of traditional supporters and core principles of the SLFP by the UPFA campaign team lead by Mr. Rajapaksa with the “Gang of Four” supported by some spineless senior members of the SLFP.
It is true to say that hundreds of thousands of traditional SLFP families like ours have voted against the “Rajapaksa Regime” in the last presidential election to restore the democracy in the country. They are fed up with the “high handed” approach exercised by the “Gang of Four” in the internal affairs of the SLFP. The traditional supporters are disappointed and disgusted for not exercising Central Committee’s authority to discipline the Chief Ministers and the MPs who violated the decisions taken by the Central Committee. During this election traditional SLFP supporters are turning their backs on the party because nominations have been given to drug dealers, murderers, ethanol dealers, and dishonest members who have tarnished their political image in the last Parliament.
It is unfair and unreasonable for the Western Province Chief Minister and a few other senior figures in the party to accuse that the former President Madame Chandrika Kumaratunga is responsible for splitting the SLFP in this election. I hope that this article will clear the air and vast majority of traditional SLFP supporters will believe that the behaviours of Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa, “Gang of Four” and the spineless senior figures in the party are responsible for destroying the SLFP in this election. It is crystal clear that Madame Kumaratunga is following the advice given by late Mr. Martin Luther King Jr. “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”, and hoping to restore the party’s former glory after the general election.
*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.