By Shamindra Ferdinando
MP Namal Rajapaksa yesterday said that he would take the membership of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) when former President Mahinda Rajapaksa accepted the leadership of that party at its convention later this year.
The MP said that not only him but the entire group loyal to the former President would take up membership of the SLPP
Rajapaksa said so in response to The Island query whether he would take up the SLPP leadership at the party convention. The issue was raised yesterday in the wake of 41 SLFP MPs elected on the UPFA ticket at the last parliamentary election in August 2015 meeting at the residence of SLPP Chairman and former External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris to charter a future course of action. In addition to them, Prof. Peiris and former SLFP National Organizer Basil Rajapaksa participated at the discussion.
Former President Rajapaksa chaired the discussion.
MP Rajapaksa said that the switching of allegiance to the SLPP was now inevitable as the country headed for two crucial national elections in 2019 (presidential) and 2020 (parliamentary).
Nuwara Eliya MP C.B. Ratnayake last Monday (Oct 8) told the SLPP media briefing at the Nelum Mawatha, Battaramulla Office of the former President that they would take SLPP membership whatever the consequences. Ratnayake was flanked by Prof. G.L. Peiris and Kalutara District MP Piyal Nishantha.
Political sources told The Island that among a range of current issues that had been dealt with at this meeting was possible arrangement with President Maithripala Sirisena to oust the UNP led government.
Although some expected former Defence Secretary and presidential hopeful Gotabhaya Rajapaksa to attend, he hadn’t been there, sources said.
Sources said that the group discussed the advantages as well as disadvantages of teaming up with President Sirisena, who currently commands 26 lawmakers (24 SLFP and 2 CWC) in parliament.
Responding to another query, sources explained the advantage they would enjoy at the time of the next presidential election if a consensus could be reached. Those who favoured reunification of warring factions pointed out that in case the UNP was not deprived of the premiership, by the time of the next presidential election, the current dispensation would have sold the country’s remaining commercial assets. They also said that the recent Jana Balaya Colombata campaign had been geared to take back control of the government therefore efforts should be made to bring the project to fruition.
However, others had asserted that it would be a mistake on their part to form a government as they lacked time to make a significant difference. The meeting had been reminded the next presidential election was just over a year away therefore teaming up with President Sirisena wouldn’t be advisable, sources said. It was also pointed out that the current composition of parliament wouldn’t allow the formation of a comparatively strong government.
The UNP remains the largest single party in parliament with a 106 group plus one elected on the SLMC ticket. The combined strength of the UPFA consists of 95 (69 JO and 26 SLFP/UPFA) lawmakers, whereas the TNA, JVP and EPDP groups comprised 16, 06 and 01 elected and appointed members.
Sources said that there was consensus that they should continue with plans for 2019 presidential and 2020 parliamentary elections.
The powwow at Prof. Peiris’s residence took place amidst strong denials by the Rajapaksa group that the former President in the company of Basil Rajapaksa recently discussed the possibility of forming a caretaker government.
Sources quoted the former President as having told the gathering that they should await President Sirisena to act before making commitments. The group reiterated that everything would depend on the SLFP quitting the UNP-led government. Sources insisted that precondition wouldn’t be changed under any circumstances, sources said, adding that the JO would move cautiously.
The SLFP let us down badly at a No Confidence Motion (NCM) moved against Premier Wickremesinghe over his alleged involvement in treasury bond scams perpetrated in 2015 and 2016, sources said. “Of course, there is a credibility issue,” a politician involved in Tuesday’s deliberations said, underscoring the need to avoid traps in the run up to national polls next year.
The former President has advised the members to be cautious and to ensure they speak in one voice. Sources said that the former President had explained there shouldn’t be any conflict among them when contentious issues were addressed publicly.
Asked why members of the MEP (Mahajana Eksath Peramuna), the PHU (Pivithuru Hela Urumaya), the NFF (National Freedom Front) and the SA (Socialist Alliance) allied with the JO hadn’t been present, sources emphasized, pointing out that it was organized several weeks ago before the media reported talks on caretaker government. They said that JO allies and the breakaway SLFP group (Group of 15) had been invited for a combined session at the former President’s Wijerama residence today (Oct 11).
Well informed JO/SLPP sources told The Island that having jointly mismanaged the economy since January 2015; the SLFP couldn’t easily disassociate itself from the UNP.