President Maithripala Sirisena moved hard and fast yesterday to wrest control of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the United Peoples’ Freedom Party Alliance (UPFA) that he leads, 48 hours ahead of crucial elections, by unceremoniously sacking both party secretaries and appointing his loyalists to the posts.
Both SLFP General Secretary Anura Priyadarshana Yapa and UPFA General Secretary Susil Premajayantha had their membership in the SLFP suspended with immediate effect, with President Sirisena informing the Elections Commissioner in writing that the two men no longer acted legitimately for the two parties.
Duminda Dissanayake was appointed SLFP General Secretary while Wishwa Warnapala was appointed acting UPFA General Secretary, President Sirisena informed the Commissioner of Elections Mahinda Deshapriya, the parties concerned and his party’s administration in writing yesterday.
The calculated move was reinforced by a court order issued by Colombo District Judge Harsha Sethunga who banned the ousted General Secretaries from interfering with the duties of the new appointees and fixed the case for 28 August, more than 10 days after the parliamentary election. Dissanayake and Warnapala went to court to seek the injunction.
In his letters to Yapa and Premajayantha, President Sirisena accused them of conspiring against the party and acting against the party leader and party policies and used powers vested in him as SLFP Chairman to suspend their party membership and remove them from all currently held posts.
President Sirisena told Yapa and Premajayantha to expect letters detailing disciplinary action that is to be initiated against them in due course.
Both sacked office-bearers were seen as being instrumental to ensuring former President Rajapaksa was given nominations to contest on the UPFA ticket, against President Sirisena’s wishes. The pair would be equally powerful in naming the UPFA’s final nominees for the national list, where former President Rajapaksa is eager to ensure his loyalists make the cut.
Both Premajayantha and Yapa were at Rajapaksa’s final election rally in Kurunegala last night, but both men remained mum on the sacking.
Wimal Weerawansa, a staunch Rajapaksa supporter, told massive crowds at the rally that former Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva, who was also on stage, had advised that the Elections Commissioner could only recognise the two general secretaries who signed nomination papers during the current election cycle.
However, analysts said Sirisena had played a masterstroke by obtaining a court order to reinforce his decision, which could force the Elections Commissioner to accept the new status quo.
President Sirisena has been widely criticised for failing to remove the two officials who were suspected as being Rajapaksa loyalists, as soon as he took over the party chairmanship in January.
Exercising his authority as Chairman of the SLFP for the first time in seven months, President Sirisena also threw the UPFA elections operations room out of the SLFP’s Darley Road headquarters last night.
The move follows a press conference organised by the UPFA at the headquarters yesterday morning, at which the party attempted to showcase the seven SLFP seniors President Sirisena had named in his fiery letter to Mahinda Rajapaksa as the party’s potential prime ministerial nominees.
The seven, of which only three showed up at the press briefing, were to tell the media that all of them were rejecting the President’s offer. UPFA candidate and former Minister John Seneviratne claimed that all seven seniors named would reject the President’s offer and insisted Rajapaksa should be appointed prime minister if the UPFA won the election on Monday.
The eleventh hour moves sent shockwaves across the island, where political parties are wrapping up their campaigns with final rallies that must end by midnight.
Mahinda tells Maithri to respect people’s mandate
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday asked President Maithripala Sirisena to respect the mandate of the people in the upcoming Parliamentary election on Monday.
Responding to the letter sent by President Sirisena on Thursday stating that the President would not allow appointing him as the prime minister in the event of a UPFA victory at the upcoming election, Rajapaksa said the choice of the people should be respected.
In his letter, President Sirisena said there were many other senior party members deserving the prime minister post if the UPFA forms a government after the election and asked the former President to graciously allow one of them to become the prime minister
The former President vehemently rejected the “baseless criticism” of him made by the President “on information obtained from other sources”.
Rajapaksa in his letter to the President Sirisena said that he re-entered politics based on a request made by the public and several senior opposition UPFA members by February 2015.
“I expect you to honour the wishes of the people at the general election in the same way I did after the January election,” Rajapaksa wrote in his letter to President Sirisena.
The former President said he is happy that President Sirisena has acknowledged that UPFA would obtain a majority in the Parliament.