By Dharisha Bastians
Sri Lanka’s victorious ‘rainbow’ coalition that came together in November 2014 to support the common opposition candidacy splintered by the end of the weekend, after President Maithripala Sirisena capitulated and agreed to allow his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa to contest on the UPFA ticket.
The Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), a small but key ally that strongly backed the Sirisena candidacy for the 8 January election, formally broke with the UPFA coalition led by President Sirisena, and announced it will contest independently at the 17 August parliamentary poll.
Addressing a media briefing yesterday, former Sirisena confidant and JHU strongman Champika Ranawaka, who served as Energy Minister in President Sirisena’s Cabinet, said the JHU would break ranks with the UPFA and contest separately under a new good governance front.
“It is left to the people to respond to the SLFP decision to grant former President Rajapaksa a nomination,” Ranawaka told reporters.
He said the JHU Central Committee had decided that the party would be contesting from a new party.
“In 2004, when there was a great threat to this country’s territorial integrity, the JHU took the lead in that battle to save the country. In 2014, when there was a threat to democracy, the JHU stepped in to play a key role in getting President Sirisena elected,” Ranawaka said at the briefing.
“The forces of the 8 January revolution can come together again under this new alliance,” Ranawaka said.
The JHU General Secretary said their new front campaign on a platform of good governance, democracy and civilised politics.
Meanwhile, speculation was rampant that former cricket captain and Ports Minister Arjuna Ranatunga was in talks to join the UNP or another anti-Mahinda front to contest the parliamentary election. SLFP provincial councilor Hirunika Premachandra, who tied the knot yesterday, is also considering her options and talking with the UNP, sources said.
Ranatunga has publicly criticised the move to grant the former President nominations from the SLFP, telling BBC Sinhala last week that to do so would mean President Sirisena had betrayed the mandate bestowed on him by 6.2 million voters in January.
The former cricketer and SLFP politician has been seeking an appointment with President Sirisena to discuss issues before he makes a final decision, Daily FT learns.
However, President Sirisena has kept mum on the issue of nominations for Rajapaksa and it has become increasingly difficult for former pro-Sirisena sections of the SLFP to get appointments with the President, Daily FT learns.
Late Saturday, Ministers Rajitha Senaratne and Champika Ranawaka were to meet President Sirisena, but Ranawaka announced the JHU would be quitting the UPFA, since the JHU is convinced that the President has promised his predecessor the nomination, and left the meeting. Senaratne however held discussions with President.
Senaratne, Ranatunga, Lands Minister M.K.D.S. Gunesekera and Duminda Dissanayake held talks with former President Chandrika Kumaratunga yesterday, as the anti-Mahinda faction of the SLFP mulls its options ahead of the parliamentary poll.
The UNP, JHU, Kumaratuga and other political parties and civil society groups that joined to defeat the Rajapaksa regime in January this year are also in talks to re-forge an alliance to renew the struggle against the former President, Daily FT learns.
“It looks like Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ghost is walking around again. Don’t worry, all the forces that defeated him in January are now rallying behind the UNP,” Minister Lakshman Kiriella told a pocket meeting in Kandy yesterday.
Meanwhile, SLFP Kurunegala District MP S.B. Nawinna, who defected to the UNP last weekend, told a news conference yesterday that he had been opposed to President Rajapaksa’s running of affairs but campaigned for him in January for the sake of the SLFP.
“But it is clear to me now that if Mahinda Rajapaksa is going to come back to the SLFP, my party, there is no point; this country doesn’t need Mahinda Rajapaksa to come back, what it needs is a leader like Ranil Wickremesinghe,” Nawinnna told reporters in Kurunegala.
President Sirisena continued to come in for heavy criticism from former allies over the weekend, with JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva telling a news conference at the party headquarters yesterday that the President had violated his 8 January mandate by the people.
“The people voted Maithripala Sirisena into office to establish democracy and good governance and change the political system. For him to grant Mahinda Rajapaksa nominations from the UPFA is a betrayal of that trust,” Silva said.
He said that President Sirisena had cast aside the country and clung to his political party.
“Now it looks like he has lost the country and he will soon lose the party as well,” Silva warned.
The Rajapaksa faction had been defeated at the presidential poll in January, the JVP MP said, and they were poised to lose the parliamentary election in August too. “This will finally finish them politically,” Silva said.
Nominations begin today
The period calling for nominations for the 17 August parliamentary election begins today, but in the present political turmoil many politicians and political parties are still unclear which party or alliance under which they will be contesting the poll.
The nomination period ends at noon on 13 July, exactly seven days from now.
The UNP and the UPFA will both contest under their traditional elephant and betel leaf symbols. It is likely that several smaller parties, including the SLMC, will ally with the UNP to contest the poll.