By Udaya P. Gammanpila
“When Chandrika returned to the party after working against it, the party embraced her with both hands and elected her as the leader. Only I am subject to all sorts of harassments. If I had an aristocratic background, I would not have faced any of these harassments”. This was told by President Maithripala Sirisena in the presence of several SLFP Parliamentarians. It is true that he was flatly rejected by the UPFA supporters as evidenced by the recent parliamentary election results. However, is it because absence of an aristocratic background? Or something else?
Identification of true reasons for this rejection is crucial for President Sirisena’s political future. On the other hand, I am duty bound to correct him as a representative of the UPFA, as the party supporters have no opportunity to convey President Sirisena why they reject him. The UPFA supporters rejected President Sirisena in 2015, embraced Chandrika in 1994 and rejected again in 2015 for the very same reason, their contribution to electoral victories or defeats.
It is true that Chandrika broke away from the party in 1984 to establish Sri Lanka Mahajana Party. After returning to the party in 1991, Chandrika was just an ordinary member. However, the People’s Alliance led by the SLFP was able to secure victory by defeating the UNP after 16 years in 1993 because of the Chandrika factor. Hence, the party decided to make Chandrika party’s prime ministerial and presidential candidate ignoring party leader and the world’s first lady Prime Minister, Sirimavo Bandaranaike.
When she was later elected as the party leader, she had brought the party to power after a long drought of 17 years. Hence, her loyalty towards the party was out of question and nobody challenged her.
Chandrika’s track record
Although Chandrika was instrumental in bringing the party to power in 1994, she unsuccessfully worked to defeat the party in 2010 and succeeded in defeating the party in 2015. Hence, the very people who cheered her in the past began to hoot her after the Presidential Election in 2015. Her aristocratic background failed to stop the hooters. In this backdrop, it is crystal clear that the absence of an aristocratic background is not the reason for rejection of President Sirisena by the UPFA supporters. Why do they reject him? Are Chandrika and Sirisena in the same boat despite their different backgrounds? Let us find the answers to these questions.
Sirisena had been dedicating his life to the party for a long time. In turn, the party treated him well. Despite his humble background, he was elevated to the higher offices such as General Secretary of the Party and the Leader of the House in Parliament because of his dedication to the party. In other words, the party has reciprocated his dedication.
The smooth relationship between the party and Sirisena turned upside down in November 2014. By then, the party had chosen President Rajapaksa as the presidential candidate as a result of a proposal made by Sirisena. The Opposition was seeking a common candidate to defeat President Rajapaksa. However, Sirisena dreamt of becoming the President placing his future before the party’s future. Hence, he decided to become the presidential candidate of the Opposition to defeat the party at the forthcoming election. When party members have sacrificed their lives for the benefit of the party, the General Secretary decided to defeat the party for his personal gain.
Sirisena’s decision to become the common presidential candidate of the Opposition was a major contributory factor towards the defeat of the UPFA. Hence, he is responsible for the party’s electoral defeat after 20 years. This is his first betrayal.
The damaged caused to the party by him did not stop there. He joined the Opposition with a team of SLFP stalwarts. Some of them who are members of the present Parliament, namely, Rajitha Senaratne, M.K.D.S. Gunawardena, Hirunika Premachandra and Chathura Senaratne have now joined the archrival of the party, the UNP. This is his second betrayal.
After presidential election victory, his betrayals increased rapidly. He decided to appoint the leader of the UNP as the Prime Minister in January 2015 despite the UPFA having a clear majority in Parliament. He dared to violate the Constitution to betray the party. It was the third betrayal. Thereafter, telephoning Central Committee members of the SLFP, he influenced them to support him. In fact, he did not hesitate to offer different state perks for it. As a result, a team led by Dayasiri Jayasekara and S.B. Navinna joined him dividing the party again.
This breakaway faction claimed they were the genuine party and President Sirisena and Minister Duminda Disanayake were appointed as party chairman and secretary respectively. Since Mahinda volunteered to offer party leadership to President Sirisena, the party division was averted. That was the second division within the party caused by President Sirisena within a period of two months and that was the fourth betrayal.
Although the UPFA lost the government thanks to President Sirisena, they had planned to bounce back at the parliamentary election. The network of local authority members was the biggest strength of the government. It was more than double of that of the UNP. Hence, dissolution of the local councils was an essential pre-condition to ensure the UNP victory at the parliamentary election. However, such dissolution was illegal. According to law, the government should hold the election unless the term of the members of the councils is extended. In order to secure the UNP’s victory, President Sirisena did not hesitate to violate the law to dissolve the local councils. It was the fifth betrayal of the party.
After the presidential election, President Sirisena removed the UPFA members who dedicatedly work for the victory of the UPFA and offered those to the members who worked to defeat the UPFA. For instance, he removed S.M. Ranjith from the post of Chief Minister of North Central Province and it was offered to Peshala Jayaratne, who left the party along with President Sirisena. Similarly, he appointed Nishantha Warnasinghe as a minister of the Western Province who not only at the presidential election but also at the parliamentary election dedicatedly worked to defeat the UPFA. It is noteworthy that these posts are allocated to the UPFA.
Working against party
When Nimal Lansa was elected to Parliament, the vacancy should have been filled with Madu Madhawa Aravinda who was the next in the list. His dedication for the UPFA’s victory at the last elections was his solitary disqualification to lose the post. Appointment of Duminda Disanayake as the General Secretary is another such example. President Sirisena has passed a subtle message to his party activists. “If you want to be rewarded, you should work against the party.”
President Sirisena, being the leader of the UPFA, attempted his best to ensure the UNP’s victory by defeating the UPFA at the last parliamentary election. He publicly predicted the defeat of the UPFA. He declared that he would not appoint Mahinda as the Prime Minister even if the UPFA secured the victory. He removed the party secretaries and sealed the party head office just 48 hours before the election. As a result, the UPFA voters disappointed and boycotted the election. That is why UPFA vote base came down from 5.8 million to 4.7 million. This is the seventh and worst betrayal of the party.
The above analysis demonstrates that UPFA loyalists reject President Sirisena not due to absence of an aristocratic background but due to his betrayals of the party. If he is genuinely interested in winning the confidence of the UPFA supporters, he should give up his relationship with the UNP, the archrival of the UPFA.
It is near impossible considering the UNP’s sacrifices to bring Sirisena to office of the President. Hence, President Sirisena should make a choice between the UNP and the UPFA. Unless he does that, he will be mentioned in the history as a traitor by both the UNP and the UPFA.