COLOMBO: Former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Friday vowed to remain in active politics to “strongly” safeguard the interest of the 5.7 million Lankans who had voted for him in the January 8 Presidential election, even as he stepped down from the Chairmanship of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) in favor of the newly elected Lankan President, Maithripala Sirisena.
“Having held membership and various offices including the party leadership, and having nurtured and safeguarded the party with great dedication for over 50 years, I am taking this decision as I have a great dislike to see the Sri Lanka Freedom Party face the danger of division,” Rajapaksa said in a statement.
“It is the responsibility of all of us who love the SLFP to ensure the unity of the party, which has helped protect and develop our Motherland. Therefore, the new leadership, the Executive Committee and all officials of the party, should steer it towards the welfare of not only the party but the entire nation as well,” he exhorted.
“I believe that all of you will pay heed to your responsibility of ensuring the safety and security of all party members as well as upholding democracy within the party,” he said.
And then came the punch line: “I also wish to further emphasize that I will strongly represent the wishes and aspirations of the more than 5.7 million members of the public who voted for me at the recent Presidential election.”
The handing over of the baton to Sirisena was necessitated two factors: Firstly, according to SLFP’s constitution, if the President of Sri Lanka is an SLFP member, he will automatically become the chairman of the party also. Secondly, the Sirisena faction of the SLFP had swelled after their leader’s election victory.
However, Sirisena’s taking over was delayed by the controversy over whether he remained an SLFP member when he contested the election as a Joint Opposition Candidate. The Sirisena faction in the SLFP argued that he was SLFP man, but this was not accepted by the Rajapaksa faction. But Sirisena’s hold on the party was proved very quickly when more than 35 party MPs and other provincial leaders extended support to him.
On Wednesday, Rajapaksa had met Sirisena at the residence of parliament Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa and agreed to hand over the party chairmanship to him.