Tie-Up With UNP Is Sirisena’s Achilles Heel
COLOMBO: If Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena is to marginalize the Mahinda Rajapaksa faction in the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and gain full control over it, so that the party wins the August 17 parliamentary elections under his leadership, he has to distance himself from the United National Party (UNP), which is now his ally and partner in the government.
The SLFP and the UNP are traditional rivals in the Lankan political arena. No SLFP leader can hope to retain the loyalty of its cadres and enthuse SLFP supporters to vote for the party if he has a tie up with the UNP.
But jettisoning the UNP now is not easy. Sirisena has said that his understanding with the UNP was only for the first 100 days of his Presidency, but he has a moral obligation to keep it in government till the new parliament is elected. Without UNP’s unstinted support he would not have won the Presidential election.
Therefore, Sirisena will not be able to criticize the UNP during the election campaign. When the government under Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe files cases and launches investigations against SLFP leaders and ministers in the erstwhile SLFP government led by Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sirisena will have to watch helplessly. This will only undermine his position in the SLFP and strengthen the hands of Rajapaksa, his principal rival in that party.
Sirisena is trying to keep Rajapaksa at bay by saying that he will not give him the SLFP ticket to contest the coming elections. But the power to give or deny the party ticket is with the General Secretary of the party. And SLFP General Secretary Anura Priyadarshana Yapa may well switch to the Rajapaksa faction. Susil Premajayantha, General Secretary of the United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA), of which SLFP is part, is also poised to join Rajapaksa.
There is a rush to get on to the Rajapaksa bandwagon, partly because the grass roots level SLFPer is with him and partly because of the anti-incumbency factor. A Social Scientists Association survey says that while minority Tamils and Muslims are satisfied with the government, anti-government elements are in a slight majority among the majority Sinhalese, a community which SLFP concentrates on.
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