COLOMBO: Both President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Saturday clearly indicated that the on-going fruitful alliance between their respective parties – the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the United National Party (SLFP) – will continue in order to develop Sri Lanka and maintain its sovereignty.
That the alliance between the two major Sri Lankan parties, which jointly head a “unity government” will continue for the foreseeable future, came out clearly from the speeches of the President and Prime Minister at a rally held here to mark the 70 th. anniversary of the UNP.
While Sirisena said that the alliance will help “develop Sri Lanka and enable it to move forward as a sovereign nation for many year to come,” Wickremesinghe said that those who had sought the help of the terrorist and separatist LTTE to win an election have no right to criticize the alliance between the SLFP and the UNP.
The reference was to Rajapaksa’s alleged deal with the LTTE to get the Tamils to boycott the 2005 Presidential election so that he could win it solely with the support of the majority Sinhalese community. If the LTTE had allowed the Tamils to vote, Wickremesinghe would have won.
Rajapaksa being further pushed to a corner
The re-affirmation of SLFP-UNP alliance is expected to further alienate the Mahinda Rajapaksa faction in the SLFP because it is totally opposed to the continuance of the SLFP’s alliance with the UNP. SLFP and UNP have been traditional rivals from the day SWRD Bandaranaike broke away from the pro-West, right wing UNP to start an anti-West, leftist and Sinhalese nationalist SLFP 65 years ago.
However, despite their past antagonism and policy differences, SLFP leaders Maithripala Sirisena, former President Chandrika Kumaraunga and UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. came together sometime in late 2014 to oust SLFP chief and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa from power. A section of SLFPers who were agreeable to this, supported Sirisena when he became the joint opposition candidate for the January 8, 2015 Presidential election.
When Sirisena won the Presidential election because of the unpopularity of the Rajapaksa regime across a cross section of voters, the bulk of the leaders of the SLFP abandoned Rajapaksa and flocked to the Sirisena camp and made him the chairman of the party.
The Rajapaksa faction did not leave the party nor was it expelled. But it acted against Sirisena and his SLFP-UNP coalition government both within and outside parliament. The Rajapaksa faction’s 48 to 50 MPs acted as the “Joint Opposition” and off and on talked of forming a separate party. But Rajapaksa has been restraining them saying that he can capture the party when the coalition with the UNP breaks up, as it definitely will.
But despite sharp differences over policies and the style of functioning, Sirisena and Wickremesinghe have accommodated each other. President Sirisena, with his ears closer to the political ground, has been acting as a moderating influence on the pushy Wickremesinghe and Wickremesinghe has not complained.
In fact, Wickremesinghe has openly said that despite predictions to the contrary, the ruling coalition will continue beyond the stipulated two years to complete the government’s five year term. On Saturday, no time limit was given for the coalition. President said that it would continue “for many more years.”
This might force Rajapaksa and his followers to quit the party and form a new outfit. Alternatively, and more probably, they could wait for the local bodies‘ elections next year (to be held anytime in the first four months of 2017) to come to a firm decision.
Sirisenas ha said that the SLFP will contest the elections separately under the “Hand” symbol and not in coalition with the UNP. If Sirisena loses the election, and comes third after the UNP and the Rajapaksa faction, Rajapaksa will lay claim to the party and isolate Sirisena. On the other hand, if Sirisena comes second (the UNP is expected to come first), Rajapaksa will be isolated and most of his followers will flock to the Sirisena camp.