Tie-Up With UNP Is Sirisena’s Achilles Heel

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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.

TNIE

Photo credit SN

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Posted on June 28, 2015, in Sri Lanka. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Burying the hatchet: Rajapaksa and Sirisena

    After the Presidential elections in early 2015, the SLFP, to which both the present President and Rajapaksa originally belong to, has been split into two camps in support of the two. Before the presidential elections, Sirisena had quit SLFP and contested as the ‘common candidate’ for all parties opposing Rajapaksa. Even though Rajapaksa lost the presidential elections, he maintained a hold on his loyalists thanks to his Sinhala majority voter-base. Now, both the camps are negotiating over who will be the prime ministerial candidate, if at all there will be one.

    There have been several rounds of talks between the two camps recently, even a face-to-face between the two leaders. Even if there has been no resolution in sight, things could be moving towards one.

    Rajapaksa and Sirisena have open channels of communication

    Observers say that at the SLFP Parliamentary Board meeting held on June 16, several members of the party pushed hard for Rajapaksa to be nominated as the party’s PM candidate. Rajapaksa loyalists say that 60% of the party is with Rajapaksa and want to see him come back. “One set of people are fully in support of Rajapaksa, but there are also others who don’t want Sirisena to fight with Rajapaksa, and want both to work together,” says Dayan Jayatilleka, Sri Lanka’s former Representative to the United Nations, and a known Rajapaksa sympathiser. “Even those who are against Rajapaksa are not open about it, they are sitting on the fence. There is even a possibility that some Sirisena supporters will join Rajapaksa camp,” says senior journalist Veeragathy Thanabalasingham, who edits the magazine Samakalam.

    The Rajapaksa camp has three demands. One, the end to the ‘victimization’ of his supporters and family members – which means all the criminal investigations against him and his family must be dropped and the cases buried. Two, they want the nomination of Rajapaksa supporters as SLPF candidates for upcoming elections, which also means declaring Rajapaksa as the PM candidate. Third, Rajapaksa camp wants a government without the support of United National Party (UNP) headed by Ranil Wickramasinghe, who is the present Prime Minister of Sri Lanka and Rajapaksa’s arch enemy.

    Sri Lankan Prime Minister and UNP leader Ranil Wickramasinghe

    Sirisena is said to have formed a six-member committee to negotiate the terms with Rajapaksa. But these demands are not easy to be met. And in the eventuality that this political engagement does not lead to an alliance, Rajapaksa has other plans. He is appealing to his core base of Sinhala supporters who take pride in the defeat of LTTE and the ‘development’ by Rajapakse government.

    Mahinda’s massive outreach

    In the past few days, Rajapaksa has kicked off a massive outreach program to be visible in the public domain. His team is conducting what they call a ‘grassroots test’ to gauge the mood of the people. “It is a centre-left movement, which is not just about Rajapaksa, but a patriotic, anti-west, populist movement. These are people who believe in nationalism and the development agenda of the previous government,” says Jayatilleka. Quite obviously, Buddhist Sinhalas and fundamentalists support this surge.

    Rajapaksa meets people in public meetings

    According to Rajapaksa supporters, four political parties have joined hands together to push for Rajapaksa’s political return. They are the left-wing political party Mahajana Eksath Peramuna, the Jathika Nidahas Peramuna or National Freedom Front, the Democratic Left Front and the relatively new and smaller party Pivithiru Hela Urumaya. This coalition is engaged in creating the atmosphere of support for Rajapaksa.

    Through this platform, and independently, Rajapaksa is said to be creating a vitiating political climate, raising fears of LTTE’s return and playing the communal card to appeal to Buddhist fundamentalists. A month ago, he reportedly alleged that LTTE flags have been raised in the Northern Province. The Sri Lankan government has since denied it. “After the brutal rape of a girl in Jaffna, there were protests against police inaction. Rajapaksa said that these were signs of revival of LTTE and militancy,” says Thanabalasingham, “He is recreating the fears of LTTE among the Sinhala people.”

    There are several factors which could compliment Rajapaksa’s return.

    First, it is a minority government at the helm which has the perception of being weak and unable to run a smooth government. Observers, though, say that it is because the new dispensation has chosen the harder path of democracy. Several Rajapaksa supporting MPs are also known to be creating blockades for the government’s reform agenda.

    Second, Rajapaksa camp says that the cases against Basil and Gotabaya Rajapaksa have created the impression among the Sinhala voters that the Rajapaksa family is being targeted, thereby giving way to sympathy for the former President.

    Third, the Sri Lankan economy is performing poorly and several ‘development’ projects have stalled, according to some. “The value of the (Sri Lankan) rupee has fallen and unemployment is on the rise, and people have a feeling that cronyism is a small price to pay for development of the nation,” says Jayatilleka.

    Fourth, the dynamics of Presidential elections are different from those of Parliamentary elections. While Rajapaksa might have lost the Presidency, he still has his core vote-bank. And in the Parliamentary elections, the crucial minority vote which consolidated to defeat him earlier might get split among the smaller minority parties. “The minority votes against Rajapaksa went to Sirisena earlier, but now they might get disintegrated into smaller parties. This counter-polarization might help Rajapaksa garner more seats,” says Thanabalasingham.

    Even so, Rajapaksa does face several challenges.

    If he is not able to get enough seats, then the UNP might be able to ally with minority parties and form the new government. Any such post-election scenario will not be in favour of Rajapaksa.

    “His rhetoric could fail. As Sirisena has said, people voted for change as a response to the unlimited power enjoyed by the Rajapaksa family. They don’t want another authoritarian government,” says Thanabalasingham. He also points out that now Rajapaksa does not have access to state machinery and the might of the military which he enjoyed in the presidential contest. Without that, he may not be able to get as many votes as he did in the presidential elections.

    Journalist Dharisha further points out in her column that if the UN report on war crimes report is released before elections, it could be to Rajapaksa’s advantage. The report is likely to indict senior military officers. With the UN report being seen as a western conspiracy, and Sirisena being perceived close to western nations, this will further dent the image of the present government and help Rajapaksa’s campaign.

    With every passing day, it seems, Rajapaksa is only getting stronger.

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  2. Mahinda Rajapakse is a patriotic Sri Lankan- a Sinhala Buddhist both in his dress as well as in his thinking. Mahinda Rajapakse was ambitious, not for political leadership and the prestige that comes with it but for Sri Lanka as apatriot to raise it to the standard of a developed country. He was not liked by the West nor did he like the West. He was not politically against the west, but disliked the West’s interference into internal affairs of Sri Lanka the sovereignty of which he did not want to sacrifice for crumbs falling from the tables of the White West

    Mahinda Rajapakse is a kind man born out of Matara rural Buddhist Culture . He does not have vengeance in his heart. He has no fear of political rivals, being confident of the people’s support and therefore he did not have Ranil Wickramasinghe’s inane desire to rid of his political rival “lock stock and barrel”. If he was a cruel vengeful man like Ranil Wickramasinhe he could have got the police to investigate in to Ranil Wickramasinghe’s past to charge him for crimes committed by hm.in the past. He also could have investigated, Ravi Karunanayake, Chandrika Kumara tunga, Ravi Karunanayake and the rest for corruption.

    Mahind Rajapakse had a set of good supportive Ministers. They had apparently been trustworthy and above board as no single act of corruption or bribery has been proved against any one member of Mahinda Rajapakse’s government so far taken for investigation by the Ranil Wickramasinghe’s notorious special crime investigation Unit the FCID or the bribery commission.

    The accusation of bribery and corruption against Mahinda Rajapakse and all those who were connected directly or distantly to him is a plot invented by the experienced USA CIA as means for a regime change as they could not do that by organising a revolt of the people as they did in Chile against Salvador Allende , in Libya recently against Gaddafi, or in Egypt against Hosni Mubarak etc.

    It is a well organised plot, taking a Minister from Mahinda Rajpakse’s Cabinet to put him as Mahinda Rajapakse’s rival Presidential Candidate , and getting Chandrika as a public accuser making accusation against Mahinda Rajapakse Government without any proof. She recently gleefully stated at a press conference that the previous Government had obtained Rs. 15billion as commission from Norochcholai Power Plant. Who would believes her any how ? She is now like Mervin Silva of Kelaniya who changes political sides at the change of any government and noted for his absurdities.

    Sinhala Buddhists should wake up to change the Situation and regain the Sri Lanka we lost to Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickramasinghe on the 8th January,2015.

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