How all Sirisena’s horses and all his men couldn’t put SLFP together again

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The SLFP’s ongoing leadership controversy took a dramatic turn last Sunday when the ousted Maithripala faction appointed an acting chairman to the party.

Following Maithripala stripping Government Ministers Amaraweera and Alagiyawanna, together with Duminda Dissanayake of all positions in the SLFP for joining the Government and holding ministerial posts in it, Chairman Maithripala declared: “If they wish to join the SLFP they must leave their privileged posts and come.”

In the attendant applause that welcomed this principled stand taken by Maithripala, it was conveniently forgotten that senior SLFP member Nimal Siripala who holds the post of Ports, Shipping and Aviation Minister in the SLPP Government had been spared the axe. Perhaps none wished to spoil the heady occasion by drawing attention to it. Or perhaps it was in tacit acknowledgment of his sacred cow status of being minister for all seasons, whatever the party in power.

The tables were turned on Maithripala on April 4 when former SLFP President Chandrika Kumaratunga obtained from the Colombo District Court a temporary order to prevent him from functioning as Chairman of the SLFP. A jubilant Chandrika, walking with her new protégé SLPP government Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, told journalists: “The mistake I made in 2015, I corrected today.” She may well have atoned her original sin of bringing Maithripala to the presidential seat and purged her guilt but it sure split the SLFP wide open.

Worse was to follow for the ousted Maithripala faction when on April 8 party office bearers Duminda Silva, Mahinda Amaraweera and Lasantha Alagiyawanna whom Maithripala had sacked eight days before, held a special meeting of the SLFP and appointed Nimal Siripala as the acting chairman of the party.

PARTY OUTCAST: The downfall of Sirisena, exiled from party affairs for an uncertain period until the injunction to restrain him from functioning as party chairman is concluded in court

The decision rocked the Maithripala faction. Party members who had remained staunchly loyal to the party without deserting it to embrace the powers, privileges and ministerial posts in the SLPP government, were horrified to see those they had stripped of all party positions on the principle that no man can serve two parties, return to reassume their preciously held party designations. The unkindest cut for Maithripala may have been to see his chairmanship usurped by the SLPP government’s Minister Nimal Siripala with his anointment as acting chairman of the SLFP.

The aghast Maithri faction asked, how can Duminda Dissanayake who has joined the SLPP government, be national organiser of the SLFP? Can Amaraweera truly serve the best interest of the SLFP as a vice president while being a cabinet minister in the rival SLPP government? Can party discipline be maintained if a few top-ranking members are granted licence to have one foot in the SLPP camp enjoying the privileges and ministerial portfolios and the other foot in the SLFP camp holding high offices?

On April 17, the Chandrika faction led by acting chairman Nimal Siripala and the ousted faction led by Maithripala met at the BMICH to commemorate the 108th birth anniversary of Sirima Bandaranaike. Chandrika was absent.

In his speech, the ousted Maithripala reinforced the one-party principle when he declared: “I ask you all to delve deep into your conscience and ask yourselves if we can stand before Sirimavo’s statue and become associates of any other party? Bandaranaike’s blood and Sirimavo’s tears have nourished the party, and we who act inspired by that blood and tears must affirm that we will never betray the SLFP by becoming stakeholders of any other party.”

The Maithripala faction appeared to hold the high moral ground. That was till last Sunday. It was the day when the high moral ground from which Maithripala had summarily stripped Amaraweera, Alagiyawanna and Duminda Dissanayake of all positions in the SLFP, opened up to swallow him whole and plummeted him to the nadir.

The Maithri faction’s own SLFP Executive Council held a special meeting at a Kotte venue. In what seemed to be a tit-for-tat gesture in return for Chandrika’s faction appointing Nimal Siripala as acting chairman of the SLFP, Maithri’s faction outdid itself by appointing former SLFP member and now Minister of Justice in the SLPP government, full-fledged SLPP member Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe as the acting chairman of the party.

SITTING PRETTY: Nimal Siripala, new acting chairman of the SLFP

Apparently deserting the party and embracing SLPP membership to enjoy the powers and privileges that come with being a cabinet mister in the SLPP government does not conflict with the high moral principle as extolled so eloquently by Maithripala a few days earlier at the BMICH. Surprisingly those who say they are inspired by Bandaranaike’s blood and Sirimavo’s tears see no harm in swiftly throwing principles to the winds whenever it suits them.

Not all in the Maithri faction were happy either with Wijeyadasa’s appointment.  Pro-Maithri SLFP Vice President Thilanga Sumathipala questioned the legality of Sunday’s executive meeting. He said that the party’s constitution does not permit the Acting General Secretary to convene the Politburo or the Executive Council. He asserted that the Executive Council meeting convened by SLFP Acting General Secretary Mithrapala on Sunday to appoint Rajapakshe was illegal and claimed therefore the appointment of an acting chairman was null and void.

The new acting chairman of Maithripala’s SLFP, Wijeyadasa, also found himself in an SLPP soup. Whilst the legality of his appointment was being questioned by a senior member of the old SLFP school, SLPP Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam said on Wednesday, the SLPP would conduct a disciplinary inquiry against Justice Minister Wijeyadasa for accepting the post of acting chairman of the SLFP. Kariyawasam said: “This is against the SLPP Constitution and we are not sure whether the Justice Minister has accepted SLFP membership to accept that post. If he has done so he will no longer be an SLPP member.”

Should Rajapakshe lose his SLPP membership, his seat in Parliament as a SLPP MP and thereby his ministerial position will be in peril. But even before he could flaunt his newfound tinsel SLFP crown, he has been prevented from wearing it. SLPP MP Tissa Kuttiarachchi claimed: “Minister Rajapakshe obtained SLPP membership and got elected to parliament under the SLPP ticket. He has committed an offence by obtaining the chairmanship of another opposition political party. So, his SLPP membership will be nullified and as a result, he will lose his parliamentary seat as well.”

WIJEYADASA: Court restrains the Maithri faction’s choice from functioning as acting chairman of SLFP

Chandrika faction’s Amaraweera, Alagiyawanna and Duminda Dissanayake were granted an interim injunction on Wednesday by Colombo’s District Court, restraining Wijeyadasa from functioning as acting SLFP chairman. As their counsel told court: “Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe is not a member of the SLFP and it is constitutionally illegal for a member of another party to hold a position in the SLFP.” The order which will be effective till May 8, also prevents acting secretary Mithrapala from functioning in that role. Perhaps it is the first time, a court of justice has issued a restraining order against a justice minister.

As for Maithripala Sirisena, it seems the curtain has come down on his political future. Also on Wednesday, Colombo’s District Court granted an SLFP activist an interim injunction preventing Maithripala from functioning as the chairman of the SLFP. The order will be effective till the conclusion of the case.

So is it kaput for Sirisena? At the beginning of the month, he seemed the undisputed monarch of his Darley Road kingdom.  At the end of April, he has been condemned to exile, bereft of position, bereft of principles and bereft of sympathy.

As for the protagonist Chandrika, she has—in between her regular shuttle to London—been reduced to playing the role of kingmaker, not of governments as she did nine years ago but of her now insignificant party with a significant past. She has successfully ousted Sirisena and placed at the party’s helm, those holding ministerial posts in the Rajapaksa camp. If the final result doesn’t entirely please her, she has, at least, settled old scores with Sirisena.

And, finally, as for Nimal Siripala, he has had the mantle of SLFP chairmanship thrust upon him, read his script on cue on April 17 at the BMICH and left the stage into the wings, perhaps to nod off once again.  He has become the living epitome of one who believes, ‘everything comes to him who sleeps’.

That finally wraps a month of hullabaloo over a party that is not even a serious contender in the presidential race. For want of anything else, the internal strife of the SLFP has mildly filled the traditional lull in the news in the Avurudhu month. If there is any lesson to be learnt from the month-long saga, it is how politicians swiftly discard their principles at the first whiff of political opportunity.

Parties plan to show their force on May Day 

The first of May this year appears to be a thoroughly auspicious day for most parties to make grand announcements and, for some, to display an assembled strength and give the false impression of the party’s popularity. And almost all parties have chosen Colombo as the most propitious venue.

The UNP will stage its show at Maligawatte with President Ranil on stage as its star crowd puller. And if that wasn’t enough to draw the crowds, to spice up the event with a bevy of Indian artistes participating in a grand musical extravaganza. UNP Secretary Palitha Ranga Bandara says, “We expect a crowd of more than 100,000.”

The Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna will hold its May Day rally at Campbell Park in Colombo 8. Party Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam says, “It’s not the day we have planned to kick off our election campaign.” According to him, the party is being daily strengthened, and this year’s May Day is part of the strengthening process. Quite understandable. After its fall from grace, the rehabilitating process can be painstakingly slow. Certainly not to show May Day theatrics in public nor predict huge numbers at the event.

But Sagara says, they have planned a special event for the occasion but declines to reveal what exactly it is. It’s mum the word. Perhaps it’s so mind-boggling that it must be kept hush-hush; and must be sprung as a surprise for maximum effect on the supporters to galvanise the strengthening process.

The Samagi Jana Balawegaya will hold its May Day rally around Chatham Street, Fort. SJB Secretary Ranjith Madduma Bandara says, “The accent will be on workers under the theme of a strong nation with a great future.” The procession will start at the A.E. Gunasinghe grounds – named after Lanka’s first labour leader, the first to introduce May Day to the country, and who was the mentor of R. Premadasa – around 2 p.m. Also on the SJB card is an entertainment show at the conclusion of the event.

The JVP together with its party tail, the NPP, plans to stage its May Day celebrations in four different locations: one in Colombo, one in Matara, one in Jaffna and, of course, one in JVP and NPP leader Anura Kumara’s hometown, Anuradhapura. Though they have only three MPs in Parliament but plenty of leaders outside, a party leader will preside at each of the four main rallies to be held at the four main towns. The rally in the capital will be held near the Colombo Town Hall.

The JVP’s proud boast has always been and, no doubt, will be this year too, that the discipline of the party rank and file can be well gauged by their disciplined march to the venue. It’s to give the humbug that a once-a-year well-disciplined march, demonstrates the highly organised and disciplined lives of JVP carders in day-to-day activities.

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party is to hold its May Day rally at – well, they actually are still venue hunting to hold their May Day bash. But with the party split apart, with two acting chairmen and two acting committees, they might have to hold two rallies as well, if at all. By the time they get down to deciding on the venue, the May Day caravan would have passed them by.

Well then, that’s the lineup of the main parties on May Day. All plan to exploit the day reserved for workers, to show their force and seeming popularity to impress the people to ride upon their wave.