SLFP: A house divided
On Saturday this newspaper carried an article which said that former UPFA/SLFP Matale District MP and Provincial Councils and Regional Development Minister Janaka Bandara Tennakoon resigned from the government.
He had said that the recent speech of President Maithripala Sirisena who is also the SLFP/UPFA Leader and the activities of the SLFP’s arch rival the UNP had precipitated his resignation.
The reference to Sirisena’s recent speech was where the President addressing the nation over TV the day after nominations closed for the 17 August, 2015 General Election, i.e. on 14 July, had said that Rajapaksa will never be made the Prime Minister (PM). The prerogative of nominating the PM is in the hands of the President.
Nevertheless, Rajapaksa poses himself as the SLFP led coalition’s de facto prime ministerial candidate at the forthcoming poll.
He has the support or seeming support of a large number of former SLFP-UPFA MPs of the immediately preceding Parliament who had a simple majority in the 225 member House.
Rajapaksa, once Sirisena’s mentor, fought a bitter battle for the presidency at the 8 January, 2015 poll with his former deputy, where the latter came out on top.
Meanwhile, Tennakoon is the only UPFA/SLFP Cabinet Minister to have resigned from the UNP led Government.
There are 13 others from that coalition of parties, or, brother party colleagues of Tennakoon’s who still continue as Cabinet Ministers in the UNP led Government.
They are Irrigation and Agriculture Minister Duminda Dissanayake, Disaster Management Minister A.H.M. Fowzie, Skills Development and Vocational Training Minister Piyasena Gamage, Higher Education and Research Minister Dr. Sarath Amunugama, Rural Economic Affairs Minister S.B. Dissanayake, Special Projects Minister Felix Perera, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, Aviation Services Minister Reginald Cooray, Irrigation Minister Vijith Vijithamuni Soysa, Fisheries Minister MahindaAmaraweera, Health and Indigenous Medicine Minister Rajitha Senaratna, Lands Minister M. K. A. D. S. Gunawardene and Labour Minister S.B. Nawinna.
Three of them, Senaratna, Nawinna and Gunawardene have even joined the UNP led UNFGG coalition to fight the 17 August poll.
In related developments, Plantation Infrastructure Development Minister Palani Digambaram is a ‘somersaulting’ minister who was originally elected in the UNP led coalition the UNF’s ticket in 2010, who afterwards crossed over to the UPFA. He subsequently resigned from the then UPFA Government in support of Sirisena’s presidential candidacy in November last year.
In the meantime, Tennakoon’s resignation follows the ‘resignations’ of three other SLFPers from the government a few days earlier.
They were former Deputy of Higher Education Minister Dr. Sudarshani Fernandopulle, former Deputy Rural Economic Affairs Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna and former Deputy Ports and Shipping Minister Eric Weerawardena. However, their ‘resignations’ are academic, because when a Parliament is dissolved, as is the case currently, it’s only the Cabinet which is functional, until such time a new government is formed.
The trio had voiced almost the same reasons as Tennakoon’s for their ‘resignations’.
Nonetheless, the bulk of the ‘deputy ministers’ and ‘State Ministers’ from the UPFA-SLFP coalition, unlike their aforesaid one sister and two brother ‘deputy ministers’, haven’t announced their ‘resignations’ from the UNP led minority government. There are a total of 16 of them.
They are former State Culture and Arts Minister Nandimithra Ekanayake, former State Environment Minister Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, former State Labour Minister Jeevan Kumaratunga, former State Finance Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, former State Public Administration and Democratic Rule Minister Pandu Bandaranayake, former State Housing and Samurdhi Minister Hemal Gunasekara, former Deputy Tourism and Sports Minister Wasantha Senanayake, former Deputy Buddha Sasana and Democratic Rule Minister Tissa Karaliyadda, former Deputy Fisheries Minister Dayashritha Tissera, former Deputy Disaster Management Minister Lakshman Seneviratne, former Deputy Irrigation Minister Lalith Dissanayake, former Deputy Plantation Industries Minister Jagath Pushpakumara, former Deputy Media Minister Shantha Bandara, former Deputy Lands Minister Chandrasiri Sooriyaarachchi, former Deputy Public Order and Christian Affairs Minister Wijaya Dahanayake and former Deputy Skills Development and Vocational Training Minister Thilanga Sumathipala.
Meanwhile, another former UPFA-SLFP MP, i.e.former Deputy Local Government and Rural Development Minister Sanath Jayasuriya, has informed Sirisena that he has resigned from politics. He has served his five year term, so he won’t be deprived of his MP’s pension!
Nevertheless, these factions within the UPFA-SLFP coalition show how large the internal schisms within the UPFA-SLFP coalition are on the eve of a crucial poll. All of the remaining 13 members still in Cabinet from the UPFA-SLFP coalition are from the SLFP, the island’s second largest political party after the UNP, except, perhaps the ‘recent’ UNP crossover Yapa Abeywardena.
The same is true in respect of the remaining 16 UPFA-SLFP ‘State and deputy ministers’, other than perhaps Samarasinghe and Seneviratne.
A house divided can only fall.