COLOMBO: In a move which has serious implications for former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the ruling United National Party (UNP), Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has begun taking control of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) which, with 126 MPs, is the single largest party in the Lankan parliament of 225 members.
After he won the January 8 Presidential election, Sirisena was made Chairman of the SLFP even though he had defected from the party prior to the election to become the Joint Opposition Candidate. For one thing, the SLFP did not want to function anymore under the discredited Rajapaksa. For another, it wanted Sirisena to jettison the UNP and form an SLFP government making use of the fact that the SLFP is the single largest party in parliament. But Sirisena was too beholden to the UNP to ditch it.
However, when some SLFP MPs, and other leaders began gravitating towards Rajapaksa in their search for a strong leader, Sirisena shed his complacency. First, he told SLFP MPs that they should not attend Rajapaksa rallies. He then started to project the interests of the SLFP in his dealings with the UNP and the cabinet led by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Given the fact that the SLFP does not want parliament to be dissolved before the expiry of its term in 2016, Sirisena opposed Wickremsinghe’s move to dissolve parliament on April 23 and hold elections in June.
To prevent Parliament from being dissolved, the SLFP had said that it will not support the UNP government’s constitutional amendments if electoral reforms are not carried out simultaneously. The UNP wanted electoral reforms to be taken up after the June Parliamentary elections saying that combining the First Past the Post system with the Proportional Representation Sytsem is a complicated matter which needs time.
Sirisena then stepped in and appointed a committee including the Attorney General and the Surveyor General to delimit constituencies with a view to reforming the electoral system. Sirisena supporter Rajitha Senaratne said that delimitation can be done fast and that the UNP has no option but to agree to postpone polls till the electoral reforms are carried out.