By Norman Palihawadane, Kushan Subasinghe and Ajith Alahakoon
As purging of dissident SLFP leaders from the party is in full swing, incumbent and former Presidents of the party have expressed divergent opinions on the future of the SLFP.
President Maithripala Sirisena, on Thursday, called on his new electoral organisers to reorganise and prepare the party for the next election.
The president, handing over letters of appointment to the new electoral organisers at the President’s House, said the upcoming elections would be held under a new electoral system and the party had rid itself of its weak elements. The party should be reorganised to face the elections and that should be the duty of the newly appointed electoral organisers, the President said.
President Sirisena has removed Joint Opposition stalwarts and UPFA MPs Kumara Welgama and Mahindanada Aluthgamage from the posts of electoral organisers of Matugama and Nawalapitiya respectively. He has appointed 50 new electoral organisers including former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who is the new SLFP organiser for the Attangalla electorate. Former deputy minister of trade Priyangani Abeyweera has been appointed the new SLFP organiser for the Matugama electorate while provincial councillor H. A. Ranasinghe has been appointed as the organiser for Nawalapitiya.
Former State Minister Priyankara Jayaratne has been removed as the Anamaduwa organiser and the vacancy so created has been filled with Wayamba Provincial Councillor Ananda Sarath Kumara by President Sirisena.
An SLFP minister said four other party seniors would be removed from their electoral organiser posts in the coming days. He said former ministers Chamal Rajapaksa, Vidura Wickramanayake, Ranjith de Zoysa and Arundika Fernando would be removed as party organisers. They had been accused of non-cooperation to ensure SLFP’s reorganising programme and supporting the Sri Lanka Podu Jana Peramuna, the senior minister said.
He said Vidura Wickremanayake was not well and Chamal Rajapaksa had informed President that he would never leave the SLFP so their removal had got delayed.
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa speaking to The Island from Japan said he regretted the way the affairs of the party were being handled. The incumbent leadership was sacking all those who did not toe the line of the leadership. The end result would be a weakened party, he said, adding that the UNP would gain from that exercise. “I strengthened the party. I made it the strongest party in the country. Now, it is extremely weak. All SLFP members are disheartened to see the way former leaders are being treated. Most capable leaders have been axed. The grassroots leadership of the party has now been weakened and the UNP will get its benefit,” Rajapaksa said.
Former Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage vowed that he would join a new political force and obtain the highest number of votes with the help of true SLFP members in his electorate. “Seven seniors have been removed from the party’s electoral posts. All those seven polled more than 100,000 votes each during the last elections. We have been removed because we do not support the Yahapalana programme. We know the SLFP members in the grassroots and with their support we will come to power and someday form an SLFP government.”
Former Minister Kumara Welgama said the SLFP was now dancing to the tune of the UNP. The party leadership had become a prisoner of the UNP and removing all the capable leaders from the organiser posts. “I protected the party for 35 years. But now I am saddened to see the party is being led according to the whims and fancies of the UNP. I was given the electoral organiser’s post by Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Though her son and daughter left the party I remained there. I will do my best to work with the Joint Opposition to save the SLFP.”