How Yahapalana project diminished SLFP, caused current impasse



MP Maithripala Sirisena and Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, PC, at the 108 birth anniversary celebrations of the late Sirimavo Bandaranaike, at the BMICH recently (pic courtesy Justice Ministry)

President Maithripala Sirisena dissolved Parliament in late June 2015 to save his Yahapalana partner UNP from the COPE (Committee of Public Enterprises) probe report on the first Treasury bond scam.

Having directed the then UPFA General Secretary Mahinda Amaraweera to lodge a complaint at the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) soon after the media exposed the scam, President Sirisena quietly dissolved Parliament on the night of June 26, 2015, and called a General Election on August 17, 2015.

The then COPE Chief DEW Gunasekera is on record as having alleged that Sirisena dissolved Parliament to thwart him presenting the report on their findings. The Yahapalana leadership probably felt that had that happened it could have caused immense damage to the UNP campaign.

The obstruction caused by Sirisena, in late June 2015, and then declaration against the UPFA prime ministerial candidate in August 2015, exposed the SLFP leader. Sirisena plainly promoted the UNP at the expense of his own political party and those who accepted Cabinet portfolios and various other perks and privileges in terms of Sirisena’s agreement with the UNP cannot under any circumstances absolve themselves of the responsibility for the current crises. In addition, there were several SLFP State Ministers in the Yahapalana administration. The ruination of both the SLFP and the UNP was caused by Yahapalana policies and strategies. Perhaps, those interested in the issue at hand should undertake examination of facts and events leading to the destruction of two major political parties.

But can the Yahapalana lot explain to the country not just what they did with money obtained from two massive Central Bank bond scams, but what they did with USD 12.5 billion they borrowed at high interest from the international bond market and the one billion USD they got for the brand new Hambantota Harbour by renting it out to China on a 99-year lease. And how much did our comrades, who were hand in glove with that regime get for their share of theatrics?

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Maithripala Sirisena, in his capacity as the Yahapalana President and leader of the SLFP, resorted to an utterly irresponsible course of action in 2015.

Having won the 2015 presidential election, with the support of a UNP-led coalition that included the TNA and the JVP, the one-time SLFP General Secretary had no option but to fully cooperate with the UNP. President Sirisena bent over backwards to appease the members of the Coalition that ensured his victory. The TNA that once recognized the LTTE as the sole representative of the Tamil speaking people, delivered all Northern and Eastern electorates to Sirisena, on a platter.

The developing crisis in the SLFP, in the run-up to the presidential election later this year, cannot be examined without taking into consideration Sirisena’s unscrupulous actions during the Yahapalana administration before relations between the President and the UNP deteriorated, especially after the heavy setbacks the Yahapalana partners suffered at the Local Government polls in February 2018. By then, their relations had suffered irreparable damage and Sirisena was exploring ways and means of bringing Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe down to his knees.

At the time Sirisena switched his allegiance to Wickremesinghe, in late 2014, the then SLFP-led UPFA enjoyed a near 2/3 majority in Parliament, having won 144 seats, an increase of 39 seats at the April 2010 General Election since the previous parliamentary poll conducted in 2004. Today, under Sirisena’s faltering leadership, the SLFP parliamentary group consists of just 14 MPs. Of them, 12 had been elected on the SLPP ticket. with one appointed on the SLPP National List (Dr. Suren Raghavan) and only one elected on the SLFP ticket (Jaffna district lawmaker Angajan Ramanathan).

Sirisena, fighting on multiple fronts, has the backing of only one MP. Kegalle District MP Sarathi Dihsmantha Mithrapala seems to be the only lawmaker so far confident of Sirisena regaining control of the party against the backdrop of twice President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga moving Court against the shackled SLFP leader. Sirisena’s move to bring in Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, PC, too, has backfired with the contentious SLFP leadership row now beyond the hands of the various SLFP factions.

Former President Sirisena’s recent claims, regarding Indian involvement in the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, has given a new dimension to the post-war developments here.

Having accused the Nimal Siripala-Mahinda Amaraweera led group, backed by Mrs. Kumaratunga of trying to align the SLFP with President Wickremesinghe’s UNP, Sirisena has surprised all by reaching a consensus with Justice Minister Dr. Rajapakshe on the post of Acting Chairman of the party. Sirisena had Dr. Rajapakshe elected in response to Mrs. Kumaratunga’s group naming Nimal Siripala de Silva as the Acting Chairman. Both Acting Chairmen, Nimal Siripala de Silva and Dr. Rajapakshe are members of Wickremesinghe’s Cabinet and the move on the part of SLFP factions to elect outsiders as Acting Chairmen seemed absurd.

Sajin Vass Gunawardena, who once wielded immense political clout as monitoring MP of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, during President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s second term, is now with Sirisena’s faction. The other post-war monitoring MP, the Rajapaksas appointed, was Duminda Silva, a former UNPer.

Bombshell declaration

Sirisena’s faction has repeatedly accused Mrs. Kumaratunga’s group of facilitating President Wickremesinghe’s political strategy.

Let us examine how Sirisena cooperated with the UNP, having betrayed the party in the run-up to the 2015 presidential poll. It would be pertinent to mention that Sirisena contested on the ‘Swan’ symbol of the New Democratic Front (NDF). Founded in 1995, it was originally called Democratic United National Lalith Front but renamed NDF in 2009. Since then, the then General Sarath Fonseka (2010), Maithripala Sirisena (2015) and Sajith Premadasa (2019) contested under that symbol and the possibility of incumbent President Ranil Wickremesinghe, too, choosing that party to contest forthcoming presidential poll cannot be ruled out.

A few days before the General Election, on August 17, 2015, President Sirisena’s office leaked a highly controversial letter. Therein, Sirisena, in his capacity as the SLFP leader, disclosed several issues he took up with the UPFA prime ministerial candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The five-page letter emphasized whatever the outcome of the election, UPFA’s prime ministerial candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa wouldn’t be appointed Premier under any circumstances, even if that party won the General Election. There hadn’t been a similar warning issued by a President here or perhaps anywhere else that their own prime ministerial candidate wouldn’t be considered for the post. That statement was meant to discourage the UPFA block vote thereby giving a clear advantage to the UNP. That betrayal caused a debilitating setback. That was Sirisena’s intention. In other words, the SLFP leader wanted the UNP to win the election at the expense of his own party. But, Mrs. Kumaratunga and her associates wouldn’t dare take up that issue as at that time all of them cooperated with the UNP to defeat the Rajapaksas. That is the ugly truth.

Sirisena’s letter to Mahinda Rajapaksa, issued to the media on Aug 13, 2017, dealt with several issues and was written with the sole purpose of releasing it to the media, just ahead of the General Election. Inquiries made by the writer at that time, revealed that Mahinda Rajapaksa’s camp decided against releasing it to avoid any unfavourable fallout.

Having warned Mahinda Rajapaksa not to expect the premiership, Sirisena proposed that in case the party won the election, the party could pick a premier from among Nimal Siripala de Silva, John Seneviratne, Chamal Rajapaksa, Athauda Seneviratne, A.H.M. Fowzie, Susil Premjayantha and Anura Priyadarshana Yapa.

Sirisena urged Rajapaksa to publicly display his magnanimity to pave the way for the appointment of a new Premier. Sirisena claimed that he was able to help the SLFP retain the presidency by giving leadership to the growing Opposition movement against Mahinda Rajapaksa due to his (Sirisena’s) qualities and the faith the electorate had in the SLFP.

Sirisena also claimed that he averted a huge electoral rout by not calling parliamentary polls immediately after his triumph at the January 8, 2015, presidential poll. Sirisena found fault with Rajapaksa for contesting from the Kurunegala district, regardless of his (Sirisena’s) specific request not to contest as it would deprive the SLFP of the support of the Tamil speaking people, civil society and the middle class.

Interestingly, on the day Sirisena leaked his letter to Mahinda Rajapaksa, Premier Wickremesinghe addressed the media at the Sri Lanka Foundation where he explained how victory for the UNP-led National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG) could help consolidate the gains made at the presidential election. Premier Wickremesinghe reiterated his unwavering commitment to the continuation of the post-presidential polls arrangement with Sirisena.

In line with his overall strategy, immediately after the conclusion of the General Election, Sirisena unceremoniously removed 25 members of the SLFP Central Committee. At the behest of Sirisena, Colombo District UPFA candidate Prasanna Solangaarachchi secured an enjoining order from the Colombo District Court to prevent the convening of the decision-making CC. That move was meant to prevent convening of that body until the conclusion of the General Election. Subsequently, Duminda Dissanayake (now a key member of the Kumaratunga-led group) in his capacity as the Acting General Secretary of the SLFP, removed CC members as directed by Sirisena.

Regardless of Sirisena’s betrayal, the UNFGG couldn’t secure a simple majority. They obtained 106 seats, including 13 National List slots whereas the UPFA won 95 seats. The UPFA parliamentary group included 12 National List slots. In terms of the agreement between Sirisena and the UNP, the former offered the required support to form a government, thereby sharing the Cabinet portfolios. Sirisena’s despicable move divided the UPFA in Parliament.

Sirisena went a step further. The Yahapalana President and Premier offered the position of Leader of the Opposition to R. Sampanthan, the leader of the TNA, though it won only 16 seats, including two National List slots at the General Election.

Had Sirisena remained neutral, the outcome at the 2015 General Election could have been either different or extremely narrow. Sirisena also denied National List slots to those who had been supportive of Mahinda Rajapaksa and openly questioned the President’s declaration that he wouldn’t be considered for Premier, under any circumstances. Sirisena packed the UPFA National List with those who had been rejected by the people as he sought to consolidate his position, regardless of consequences.


Both Sirisena and Wickremesinghe agreed that tangible measures were required to thwart any attempts by the Rajapaksas to stage a comeback. Sirisena appeared to have agreed that the Treasury bond scam, perpetrated in late February 2015, just a couple of weeks after his swearing in ceremony, shouldn’t undermine a far reaching agreement between the SLFP, the main constituent of the UPFA and the UNP. SLFP Duminda Dissanayake and UNP General Secretary Kabir Hashim (KH quit UNP in early 2020 and was elected on the SJB ticket at the last General Election) signed ten agreement on behalf of their respective parties at a ceremony held at the Presidential Secretariat on August 21, 2015. The agreement basically dealt with nine major issues and was in operation for a period of two years. Dissanayake and Hashim inked the agreement immediately after Wickremesinghe was sworn in as the Premier before Sirisena.

About eight months after the signing of the agreement, the powers that be perpetrated the second Treasury bond scam. Between the signing of the agreement (Aug 2015) and the second treasury bond scam (March 2016), the Yahapalana government betrayed the war-winning armed forces at the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Commission. That was unparalleled treachery and till now Sri Lanka has failed to take tangible measures to set the record straight.

The Aug 2015 agreement failed to have the desired results. In fact, the flawed Sirisena-Wickremesinghe strategy caused rapid deterioration of both political parties during the Yahapalana administration. Wickremesinghe’s efforts to retain the leadership finally led his Deputy Sajith Premadasa to split and contest the last General Election under the SJB ticket. The UNP that secured 106 seats at the August 2015 General Election was reduced to just one National List slot whereas Sajith Premadasa’s SJB obtained 54 seats, including seven National List slots. The UPFA didn’t even contest the last General Election as in its place emerged the SLPP (Pohottuwa party) that handsomely won the General Election but an explosive mixture of developments and external interventions caused its collapse, paving the way for Wickremesinghe to return to power under most unusual circumstances.

Ousted President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in ‘Conspiracy to oust me from the presidency’ ascertained that in the wake of the violent protest campaign, dubbed ‘Aragalaya,’ then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was the only person capable of restoring the rule of law in the country.

In the chapter, titled ‘The Politics of Regime Change,’ in the recently launched memoirs that dealt with the circumstances leading to his ouster in July, 2022, Gotabaya Rajapaksa recognized the UNP leader as the ideal person to overcome, what he called, mob rule.

Developing crisis

The SLFP is in such turmoil, the belittled leadership is not in a position at least to organize a proper May Day rally today. Obviously, Sirisena may have not anticipated the Colombo District Court issuing injunctions against parachuted Acting Chairman Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, while he continues to be Justice Minister in the present government after being elected on the SLPP ticket, and Acting General Secretary Sarathi Dushmantha.

The injunctions, effective until May 8, were issued after considering a case filed by Ministers Lasantha Alagiyawanna and Mahinda Amaraweera and MP Duminda Dissanayake.

On behalf of the plaintiffs, President’s Counsel Chandaka Jayasundara presented the facts to Court and stated that it is illegal and unconstitutional for the defendants to hold those positions.

The Court was told that Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe couldn’t hold the post of Acting Chairman as he was not a member of the SLFP and it is constitutionally illegal for a member of another party to hold a position in the SLFP.

In respect of Sirisena, courts have issued two orders preventing him from functioning as the Chairman of the party in violation of SLFP Constitution whereas Sirisena has moved Court against Minister Mahinda Amaraweera alleging that the Minister defamed him. Sirisena has demanded a staggering Rs 1 bn from one of his former associates. Responding to media queries, a cheeky Amaraweera has warned Sirisena of further disclosures. Sirisena seems to be in a bind literally facing nightmare after nightmare of his own making due to unbelievable acts of treachery he has perpetrated boomeranging on him. The beleaguered suspended SLFP leader is faced with a set of problems for which there seems to be no solution. Even if the courts, in respect of ongoing cases finally decided in his favour, the SLFP has suffered such devastating damage a full and quick recovery seems unrealistic.

The SLFP is in a true dilemma as to its future. With the Election Commission, in terms of the Constitution, empowered to make official announcements on presidential elections on or after July 17, the once formidable political party that had secured President’s Office on several occasions is not sure how to reach consensus on the presidential and parliamentary polls. Of the current parliamentary group, nearly a dozen seem to be with President Wickremesinghe, Dayasiri Jayasekera on his own and Sarathi Dushmantha Mithrapala declaring his support for Sirisena who is very much unlikely to get an opportunity to re-contest Polonnaruwa on the SLPP ticket again.