Cobra-mongoose cooperation

Island Editorial

Joint Opposition (JO) firebrand Wimal Weerawansa has been fighting quite a battle, during the last so many months, to have his National Freedom Front (NFF) recognised as an independent party in Parliament. He says he has pulled out of the SLFP-led UPFA. Strangely, resistance to his move has come not so much from the SLFP, which leads the UPFA, but from the UNP! Speaker Karu Jayasuriya has told the House that he will take up the issue with the party leaders, but it is highly unlikely that Weerawansa’s wish will ever be granted in that his move is severely detrimental to the UNP’s interests as well.

Time was when the SLFP, under former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s leadership, defended the then beleaguered UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and helped foil his rivals’ efforts to oust him. Whenever disgruntled UNPers staged protest marches and tried to surround their party office in a bid to get rid of Wickremesinghe, President Rajapaksa had the roads near Sirikotha relaid thus helping hold the protesters at bay. We once pointed out in this space that at the rate the UNPers were mounting protests and the RDA (Road Development Authority) was carrying out relaying projects in Pitakotte, we would have elevated highways in that area. The Rajapaksas did so not out of any love for Wickremesinghe; they knew the best way to weaken the UNP was to perpetuate its internal problems by keeping him at the helm of that party.

Cartoon added by TW from Ceylon Today 

There is obviously no love lost between the SLFP and the UNP. President Maithripala Sirisena is consolidating his position in the government and trying to checkmate the UNP through the Treasury bond probe. The UNP is also doing its damnedest to undermine his authority. But, for their own political survival they have had to cooperate like a cobra and a mongoose holding on to the same log, in a violent flood, and helping balance it to avoid being drowned. This is why the UNP has leapt to the defence of Sirisena, troubled by the NFF’s attempt to break up the UPFA. It may not be having Darley Road relaid, but it is all out to prevent the disintegration of the SLFP-led UPFA so as to help President Sirisena retain his grip on the SLFP and, thereby, the UPFA lest the present government should collapse. The executive presidency is the linchpin which keeps the yahapalana administration together.

The NFF’s pullout from the UPFA is part of the JO’s strategy to isolate President Sirisena politically and weaken his position in national politics in time for the next electoral exercise. Sirisena’s loss will be the Rajapaksas’ gain. The JO’s battle plan is clear; it wants to enable the newly formed Sri Lanka People’s Front (SLPF) to attract the UPFA constituents and emerge as an alternative to the SLFP. Even some of the SLFPers who secured ministerial posts by siding with President Sirisena are now straddling the fence if their public statements are anything to go by; known for acting out of expediency rather than principle, they won’t hesitate to switch their allegiance to the Rajapaksas to safeguard their interests.

Weerawansa’s NFF may not be a powerful political force where its numerical strength is concerned, but its exit from the UPFA is likely to have a snowball effect. This is a worrisome proposition for the UNP, which is not yet prepared to ditch President Sirisena. For, its economic performance has been pathetic and its efforts to neutralise the Rajapaksa factor have come a cropper. The anti-incumbency factor is weighing against it. Public resentment over economic hardships, unfulfilled election promises, waste of public resources, corruption, abuse of power etc is welling up. It needs the SLFP to prop it up.

Interestingly, the UNP, which is trying to put paid to the NFF’s attempt to be independent in Parliament, forged an alliance with the SLFP, which acted independently without the UPFA’s consent, to form what is being described as a national government. The 19th Amendment provides for a coming together of the winner and the runner-up at a general election to form a national government and make ministerial appointments in excess of the constitutionally prescribed limit. But, it is the SLFP, and not the UPFA, which contested the last parliamentary election!

Weerawansa may be able to break ranks with the SLFP-led UPFA, but he is only hoping against hope if he thinks his party will be recognised as an independent entity in Parliament. All signs are that he will have to remain behind bars indefinitely.