May Day: A Litmus Test For Maithri And SLFP

  • Message from SLFP to UNP on MR’s move
  • Wimal takes battle against Basil to the public
  • Joint opposition members try to attend both rallies
  • Many heads to roll in the SLFP
May Day today will mark a political milestone for the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the country’s ever changing political scenario.

While all political parties in the country have made grand plans to show their strength in numbers today, the International Workers’ Day celebrated globally will become a political battle in Sri Lanka.

The United National Party (UNP) led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has planned to make a grand show at Campbell Park in Borella today while the SLFP led by President Maithripala Sirisena has also planned to bring out numbers in Galle. The latter’s main intention in showing numbers is to hit back at former President, MP Mahinda Rajapaksa, who has planned a separate May Day show in Kirulapona along with members of the joint opposition.

The role played by the Rajapaksas to organize a May Day outside the official event of the SLFP is clearly aimed at creating a split in the party. Interestingly, the Rajapaksas seem to have become rather bold in their actions in the political front despite facing many allegations of wrongdoing committed during the former regime.

The former President’s sibling, former Minister Basil Rajapaksa, who left the country soon after his brother’s defeat at the last Presidential election, returned to Sri Lanka months later and maintained a low profile after being remanded and subsequently released on bail for the alleged misuse of public funds. However, Basil has now announced his re-entry to active politics and has taken complete control of brother Mahinda’s political revival.

The actions of the Rajapaksas, especially the attempt to break the SLFP, has been viewed by the party leadership with much disdain since it is believed that members of the former First Family are behaving in a high handed manner due to the assurances given to them by some members of the government that they will be provided with immunity as long as they remain in active politics.

This even resulted in a senior UNP member, who was in the US last week on an official tour, receiving a message from a senior member of the SLFP about the current political situation.

The senior SLFPer pointed out to the UNPer that while the breakup of one of the main political parties is beneficial for the other main party, it would not yield the desired result for either party.

The senior UNP member was requested by the SLFP member not to allow short sighted political strategies to disrupt the current government’s programme.

“Please understand that while the breakup of one party will be beneficial to the other, the break-away group of the SLFP will join Mahinda Rajapaksa and form an anti-government force. Although the SLFP will be split by the Rajapaksas, their group will not only be a force against the SLFP, but also an anti government force. So keep that in mind and don’t work to bring an end to the government,” the senior SLFP member explained to the UNP member. The duo then had a friendly discussion on the progress made in the investigations being carried out against many of the allegations levelled against members of the former regime.

Nevertheless, the joint opposition led by Rajapaksa is currently in disarray over the role played by Basil Rajapaksa.

A majority of the members currently in the joint opposition have been critical of Basil since the conclusion of the last Presidential election and the likes of MPs Dullas Alahpperuma, Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Wimal Weerawansa have blamed Basil for Mahinda’s defeat.

Therefore, Basil’s return to play a role in the joint opposition has irked most of its members.

In one occasion, Dullas Alahapperuma and Mahindananda Aluthgamage openly objected to Basil when he had attended a meeting of the operations committee of the joint opposition. It was Mahinda who had to intervene and inform everyone that Basil was at the meeting on his invitation.


Attending two rallies

Be that as it may, Basil has now taken control of the joint opposition and is in the process of pushing the SLFP members in the group to break away from the party in order to form a new political force. The growing dissention against Basil and his idea of breaking away from the SLFP has been shot down by some senior party members currently in the joint opposition.

Several SLFP MPs in the joint opposition like Aluthgamage, Alahapperuma, and Kumara Welgama last week proposed to the group that since most members did not wish to be sacked from the SLFP they could hold a discussion with party leader Sirisena and reach an agreement on first participating in the SLFP official May Day rally in Galle and then attending Mahinda’s joint opposition rally in Kirulapona.

The likes of MPs Pavithra Wanniarachchi, Prasanna Ranatunga and Rohitha Abeygunawardena shot down the proposal claiming it would not serve the purpose of the joint opposition and would place them on a weak position.

Therefore, the move by some SLFP MPs to attend both May Day rallies became a damp squib.


Open clash

Meanwhile, MP Weerawansa has said that he and several others had requested Basil to engage in organizing activities while remaining behind the screen as the public opinion towards him is not very positive, though he possesses exceptional organizing skills.

Joining ‘Mahajana Sevaya Pinisai’ programme in Swarnavahini on Wednesday (April 27) Weerawansa has further stated that Basil being in the public eye might discourage the social forces which are moving towards the Joint Opposition.

Basil will pay more attention to these well inclined suggestions in future, he has added.

Weerawansa’s outburst on electronic media had disturbed Mahinda and hearing that some businessmen who had earlier supported his endeavours were now supporting President Sirisena had made him think twice about his decision to hold a May Day rally.

However, Basil who seems to be on a mission to prove a point, managed to pacify Mahinda while holding another round of discussions and negotiations with members in the joint opposition to ensure they tow the Rajapaksa line without any hindrance.


The dilemma

The likes of Weerawansa and Alahapperuma are now facing dilemmas.

Weerawansa has for some months been pushing Mahinda to return to active politics and form a separate party to form a platform for his return to power.

However, in the current scenario, while Mahinda is contemplating a clear break from the SLFP in a bid to form a new political party, it is being spearheaded by Basil, whom Weerawansa has been openly critical of.

As for Alahapperuma, he is now trying to figure how to honour his words to President Sirisena.

Alahapperuma and several members of the joint opposition had earlier assured the President that they would support Sirisena’s agenda and be supportive of the SLFP’s work, but would stand as a force against the UNP.

Unfortunately, Alahapperuma and company it seems are now unable to honour the assurance given to the President due to Basil’s plan of pushing for a clean break from the SLFP.

Hence, it has now become evident to many members of the joint opposition, especially the SLFP members, that Basil’s move to create a split in the SLFP would eventually benefit the UNP, which the joint opposition has unanimously decided to oppose.


Striking back

Be that as it may, SLFP Leader Sirisena has decided to expel all followers of Basil from the SLFP and to replace those electoral organizers loyal to him.

As the first step, MPs Geetha Kumarasinghe, Salinda Dissanayake and nine other Basil loyalists, who are supportive of holding a separate May Day rally in Kirulapone, were removed as electoral organizers last week.

SLFP General Secretary, Minister Duminda Dissanayake and other senior party members last week commenced holding discussions and interviews with SLFP members to identify individuals who could be appointed as new electoral organizers of the party.

It is learnt that the party leadership would make more changes in party posts following May Day.

President Mathripala Sirisena has decided to summon all executive bodies of the SLFP within one week after the conclusion of May Day, The Sunday Leader learns.

It is reliably learnt that the SLFP Central Committee as well as the Executive Committee will be summoned accordingly by the President after the May Day.

Several key decisions related to some key posts in the SLFP along with posts of party organizers are to be discussed and decided at these meetings.

Sources in the SLFP said that proposals presented by several party seniors on Mahinda are also to be taken for discussion.

However, SLFP sources say that President Sirisena is likely to take some stern decisions at the forthcoming meetings.

One such decision is to sack an SLFP minister who has been openly working with the joint opposition in violation of decisions reached by the party’s Central Committee.

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