Sri Lanka’s former President Maithripala Sirisena, who defected from the Mahinda Rajapaksa government to the rival political camp before being elected to office in 2015, has re-joined his former colleague and current Prime Minister Mr. Rajapaksa.
Mr. Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) on Monday formed an alliance with the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP or People’s Party) to contest the general election scheduled this summer.
Significantly, President Sirisena — who remained neutral in the November presidential election though the SLFP backed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa — will contest the parliamentary election as part of the new alliance in his home constituency Polonnaruwa (North Central Province), according to SLFP general secretary Dayasiri Jayasekara, who is also a State Minister.
“President Sirisena and our team are scheduled to meet with the SLPP leadership to chalk out the strategy for our alliance,” Mr. Jayasekara told The Hindu on Tuesday. “This must be one of the most powerful coalitions in our history, with three Presidents at the helm,” he said, referring to former Presidents Mr. Sirisena and Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa, and his younger brother and current President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
The formation of the new alliance effectively signals a re-consolidation of forces that were earlier aligned to the SLFP, one of Sri Lanka’s foremost national parties that has produced three Presidents in the past, including Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa.
It was after Mr. Sirisena’s defection — he formed government with the rival United National Party (UNP) in 2015 — that the Rajapaksas founded their own party, the SLPP, in 2016.
Mr. Sirisena was left with the SLFP rump, as many of its members joined the Rajapaksas, who pitched the SLPP as their new political vehicle.
The SLPP made its first, big impact when it swept the local government polls in February 2018. Building on that momentum, and subsequently on the incumbency and the perceived failings of the Sirisena–Ranil Wickremesinghe administration, the party mounted what proved an effective campaign, leading to Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s big win in November.
“Though SLPP and SLFP may have had some differences in the past, they hold similar policies. Basically, all the left-wing forces have re-united now,” said Keheliya Rambukwella, a Minister and government spokesman. In the 1950s, the SLFP emerged as a centre-left party challenging the economically right-wing UNP. Over the decades, the SLFP’s support grew among Sri Lanka’s Sinhala-nationalist base and the party drew criticism from others who contested its leftist claim.
“The alliance will work out a mechanism,” Mr. Rambukwella said. Asked who would call the shots — Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa has been named leader of the alliance, while Mr. Sirisena has been designated its chairman — he said: “According to the party structure it has got to be general secretary Basil Rajapaksa,” referring to the third Rajapaksa brother, a former Minister, and the key election strategist of the Rajapaksa camp.
The alliance is eyeing a two-thirds majority in Parliament in the general election likely in April.
Meanwhile, Leader of Opposition Sajith Premadasa is leading the oppositional campaign through an alliance that some political parties representing the hill country Tamil and Muslim minorities have pledged to support.
The development comes after differences emerged within the UNP over party leadership that Mr. Wickremesinghe currently holds and deputy leader Mr. Premadasa reportedly sought. Following internal discussion, Mr. Premadasa was named leader of the UNP-led alliance, while Mr. Wickremesinghe will continue as party leader.