Its decision time for the SLFP led UPFA

Amaraweera’s ultimatum

Daily News Editorial

Theme Cartoons added  by TW from Ceylon Today

Its decision time for the SLFP led UPFA. Alliance General Secretary Minister Mahinda Amaraweera, on Thursday, practically read the riot act to the Joint Opposition, headed by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, to either rejoin the SLFP or face the consequences. “A decision will have to be taken soon with regard to the JO which is doing immense damage to the party”, Amaraweera went onto state. It was obvious that the day of reckoning had to come, sooner or later, for the rebels, who had virtually split the SLFP down the middle. The gulf is only beginning to widen, with the JO doing its own thing, holding rallies and staging agitations, relegating the SLFP to the shadows.

Today (07) it is holding a women’s rally to commemorate International Women’s Day at the Vihara Maha Devi Park, with Mahinda Rajapaksa as the main speaker. There is also May Day looming, with the JO all out to outdo the SLFP in the numbers. The mainstream SLFP also cannot remain forever in the shadow of the UNP which is the senior partner in the Unity Government and it must someday strike out on its own and form a SLFP government. The current split will in no way help the party in this endeavour, and, in fact, the SLFP’s prospects in this respect is doomed, with the major proportion of the rank and file solidly behind the JO.

What is more, Local Government elections cannot be postponed indefinitely and the Provincial Council elections for Sabaragamuwa, North Central and the East are beckoning. President Sirisena, as the leader of the SLFP, cannot afford to have the JO best his party at the polls (if it contests separately) or for that matter, even allow a victory for the UNP. Such a prospect would only undermine his authority as the party leader. Besides, no Local Government or Provincial Council election have ever been lost by a party whose leader was the country’s President, in the past (D. B. Wijetunga excepting) and the President will not want to be the first in this respect.

On the other hand, the major split in the SLFP, as at present, will virtually give the UNP a walkover at any election and this prospect too would not endear the President to his party supporters who consider the Grand Old Party as their chief enemy. Hence, it all points to a grand showdown, this time around, more so, with elections pending and the need to shore up the party’s fortunes uppermost in the minds of the SLFP seniors. Will the party take disciplinary action against the rebels? Such a prospect too is fraught with risk. Disciplinary action would naturally follow a suspension of party membership and an exit from parliament. What would ensue are court battles by those expelled which would likely drag on, further exacerbating the crisis. But, the matter could not be prolonged indefinitely if the SLFP is to assert itself. Hence, what amounts to an ultimatum of sorts, by the UPFA General Secretary, who no doubt, would have had the nod of the President to go ahead.

The JO accounts for some 50 MPs and should they all be expelled from the party, as well as parliament the grouping no doubt would be dealt a crippling blow. Perhaps, this is why it has formed a proxy political party under Prof. G.L. Peiris in a move to buy insurance if push comes to a shove. It is ironic, though, to observe the SLFP, which, while in power, engineered debilitating splits in the UNP, that ruined its electoral prospects, is today being placed in the same bind. The split in the UNP was occasioned by Mahinda Rajapaksa buying over its MPs to get the 18th Amendment, ensuring a lifetime Presidency for him, passed while the current SLFP split is due to a power struggle within the party, with the rebels wanting to enthrone Rajapaksa in the seats of power once again. In the melee, there are elements in the Maithri faction, such as Dilan Perera and Isura Devapriya, who are taking pot shots at the UNP and its leader to keep up appearance that the SLFP still considers the Greens as its main enemy.

Be that as it may, interesting times are ahead in the country’s political landscape, as onetime buddies fight it out between them while the UNP watches the unfolding drama from the sidelines, waiting to reap the harvest from the fallout. The irony certainly wont be lost on Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who, at one time, was forced to see his party virtually disintegrating before his own eyes due to the machinations of the SLFP led governments. Interestingly, the JO wants the SLFP faction in the Unity Government to ditch the UNP as a condition for returning to the fold, while the Blues have gone to the extent of extending the two year cohabitation agreement until the government runs its full course. S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike who founded the SLFP, as an alternative to the UNP, certainly would not have visualized such a scenario, where his party, or a faction of it, is today united with the sworn enemy.