SLFP, UNP work out political strategies to outdo each other at next election

Published : 10:53 am  March 12, 2015 | No comments so far |  | 


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Three Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) MPs – Hemal Gunasekara, Bandula Gunawardane and Gamini Vijith Wijayamuni Zoysa – met in the exit corridor of the parliamentary complex last Friday and chatted for a while. Their topic of discussion, even during this informal and spontaneous interaction, was the political challenges lying ahead for their party riddled with differences, and the urgent need to foster unity among the present and past leaders.
Already, more than 50-days have been ticked in the 100-day calendar of the new government, and the two main parties – the SLFP and the United National Party (UNP) – are in sticky situations in working out political strategies to outsmart each other at the next parliamentary election.  As it was obvious, the UNP pushed for a general election shortly after the conclusion of the 100-day programme. Such an early election under the Proportional Representation System, as pledged in the election manifesto of President Maithripala Sirisena, would afford a favourable ground for the UNP to drive home its message after the electorate win.  It was more so as the SLFP, crestfallen, after the defeat at the presidential election, was in disarray at the moment, being unable to announce their prime minister candidate at the next election.
Given such ambiguity in current politics, the SLFP mooted the idea that the present Proportional Representation System   should be scrapped to revert back to the First Past the Post System. The party toughened its position in this respect that it should necessarily be done as part of the same exercise to incorporate constitutionals reforms.  The UNP did not respond positively to this idea, though it was keen to have the constitutional amendments passed as soon as possible in Parliament in conformity with pledges made to the general public during the election campaign of President Maithripala Sirisena.
Initially, the SLFP received a shot in the arm when President Sirisena announced to its MPs that he would opt for electoral reforms to be passed into law as a national requirement of his government.  Elated upon hearing such remarks, SLFP MPs applauded clapping at that meeting. The SLFP was even eager to give ample time for the government to extend its term for the   time consuming exercise to evolve electoral reforms along with constitutional changes.
Subsequent to this meeting, SLFP Vice President, Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, the close confidant of President Sirisena, announced to the press during his Cabinet briefing that electoral reforms would be passed into law during the term of this government. “The next election will be conducted under the new system,” he said. However, confusions and contradictions within the government opened up when his Cabinet colleague   Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam refuted claims by Dr. Senaratne on this matter. In fact, Mr. Kariyawasam said no such approval had been granted by the Cabinet though the Health Minister made an announcement otherwise.
“I am also a member of the same Cabinet. I know such a decision was not taken,” he said.
This contradiction unfolds the truth that there is no cohesion within the government in its affairs.  The unity is absent mainly due to the fact that the two sides are hell bent on their political tactics aimed at winning the next parliamentary election.
After being in the opposition since 1994, barring the two-year period between 2002 and 2004,   the UNP was yearning for a government of its own, and the ideal political climate had emerged after the lapse of two decades to try out its luck.
As if going by the traditional Sinhala adage, ‘Roti has to be cooked when the griddle is heated to the right temperature (Thetiya Ratwunu Welawata Rotiya Hada Ganna Onay), the UNP was mustering its fullest possible strength to secure a clear majority in Parliament at the next election.
More the election was delayed; more it became disadvantageous to the UNP.  Of course, further time was sought by the SLFP in particular, to reorganise itself and to bring unity in the party.
Mainly, the SLFP was in a precarious situation after the defeat of President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the January 8 election.  President Maithripala Sirisena took over the SLFP chairmanship after the election, in conformity with the party constitution that stipulated that an SLFP MP elected to the executive presidency, automatically became the chairman of the party.   Mr. Sirisena defected from the SLFP and opposed Mr. Rajapaksa at the presidential election. After he was elected, he took over the SLFP chairmanship. But, some SLFP members are wholeheartedly with him as the loyalty of some of them was still with Mr. Rajapaksa. Moreover, a section of SLFP Central Committee has taken up the position that Mr. Rajapaksa should be brought back as the prime minister candidate of the party at the next election. These members are buoyed by the political initiatives of four parties led by the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP), conducting political rallies, to press for Mr. Rajapaksa to stage a comeback.    SLFP members openly defy the party call not to participate in such rallies.
But, it was learnt that attempts by some members to bring back Mr. Rajapaksa had angered the present leaders of the SLFP, who aspired for key positions in a future government led by the party. In case Mr. Rajapaksa entered into politics again, it would not bode well for these leaders politically, eying for top posts such as the premiership.  Hence, they, according to sources from the party, are not in favour of such a move to promote Mr. Rajapaksa again.  Yet, a bulk of the party’s local authorities’ members were in for a move to promote the candidacy of Mr. Rajapaksa at the next election. In assertion of their stand, various local authorities controlled by the SLFP-led United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) have adopted resolutions to this effect.  Besides, several SLFP politicians, mainly provincial council and local authorities’ members   have openly defied the party call not to attend rallies organised by other parties.
Amid such developments in politics, the SLFP was not keen for an early election at the moment; it keeps insisting on the enactment of electoral reforms together with constitutional reforms, probably as a tactic to gain time to position itself well ahead of an election.


Next pro-MR rally in Ratnapura

The four-party ally, which promoted the candidacy of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, was planning to have its next rally in Ratnapura towards the end of this month. MEP, Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (PHU), National Freedom Front (NFF) and the Democratic Left Front (DLF) are the parties that took the lead in this exercise.
They said their Kandy rally was a huge success. 87 UPFA provincial council and local authorities’ members attended this rally. Alongside, three more new parties also sent in their representatives to symbolise support. The Ceylon Workers Congress (CWC), Lanka Samasamaja Party (LSSP) and the Communist Party sent in their nominees to the rally. Similar rallies would be conducted covering all the provinces including the North and the East.   In the Eastern Province, the National Congress, a party led by former Minister A.L.M. Athaullah was slated to join.

Religious ceremonies to mark the 200th Anniversary of the Kandyan Treaty

Ven. Ellawala Medananda Thera, together with the Head of the Pepiliyana Sunethra Devi Pirivena, Ven. Medagoda Abhayatissa Thera, was arranging to conduct a religious event in the compound of the Kirivehera, Kataragama to mark the 200th Anniversary of the Kandyan Treaty on March 15, and to bestow merits on national heroes  fallen since then.
Some UPFA members such as former Education Minister Bandula Gunawardane are playing a role in this exercise.  Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is also expected to attend it.


Parties agree in principle, differ on proportion

The All Party Committee on Electoral Reforms met on Tuesday in the parliamentary complex to discuss the proposals for electoral reforms along with Election Commissioner Mahinda Desapriya. The meeting was presided over by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and attended by party leaders such as Urban Development Minister Rauff Hakeem of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, MEP leader Dinesh Gunawardane, SLFP MP Prof. G.L. Peiris, JVP MP Vijitha Herath, Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapaksa , Opposition Leader Nimal Siripala de Silva and a few others.
The parties agreed in principle to introduce a mix of the First Past the Post and Proportional Representation (PR) Systems. However, the parties could not reach any consensus on the proportion of seats to be designated to each under the First Past the Post System, the Proportional Representation System and the National List. The SLFP push for electoral reforms backed by the MEP hit a snag right at the beginning as the UNP, the main party of the governing ally, took up the stand that electoral reforms could not be enacted in a hurry. Alongside, the minority parties such as the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) also subscribed to a similar position, triggering concerns that the much needed electoral reforms would not see the light of day soon.
Yet, it all lies in the hands of President Maithripala Sirisena. If he consolidates his position that it should happen as part of the 100-day programme of his government, and prevail upon both the parties to unite in this endeavour, it would be a reality.  It is still uncertain how he will act in this direction.


Ajith Kumara fears loophole in Drug Policy

The government was able to enact the National Medicinal Regularity Authority Bill providing for a National Drug Policy in the country.  There had been a public discussion for a period as long as 40 years on the need to have a National Drug Policy legalised in the country to prevent pharmaceutical companies from profiteering unethically at the cost of innocent patients.
Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) Ajith Kumara was the sole member who opposed the bill and voted against it.  He moved an amendment, but the government could not entertain it. Therefore, he voted against the entire bill. Later, he explained his position to his parliamentary colleagues.
“In this bill, there is a condition that provides for the acceptance of donations to the Regulatory Authority. It means even pharmaceutical companies can make financial donations.  If it happens, they will gain control in this body. It means they have a say in the whole affair. I wanted to block it legally by bringing this amendment. It is solely to prevent companies making financial assistance to it,” he said.
Most MPs approved his idea.