May Day: Further divisions emerge within political parties, new alliances, while some lawmakers stay at home

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

In spite of determined UNP’s efforts, it couldn’t convince SJB MPs to switch their allegiance to President Ranil Wickremesinghe in time for yesterday’s May Day rally, presided over by the green leader at Maligawatte, Colombo, the main Opposition party said.

Gampaha District SJB lawmaker Kavinda Jayawardena told The Island that regardless of the UNP’s repeated appeals, the party was sure none in its parliamentary group would join President Wickremesinghe in the run-up to the presidential poll.

UNP General Secretary Palitha Range Bandara, on several occasions, invited the breakaway SJB group to extend their support to Wickremesinghe, thereby strengthened the party.

The SJB secured 54 seats, including seven National List slots – the second largest group elected at the last parliamentary polls, conducted in August 2020, whereas the UNP was able to scrape just one National List slot.

MP Jayawardena said that as the UNP hadn’t been so far able to propose a tangible plan of action to overcome the continuing economic-political-social crisis, it couldn’t expect political parties to extend their support to the UNP leader.

Two SJB MPs Manusha Nanayakkara and Harin Fernando, during Ranil Wickremesinghe’s tenure as Premier, joined the government in May 2022, but since he received the presidency in July 2023, no SJB MP switched his or her allegiance to the President.

Earlier in the day, President Wickremesinghe and yet the formidable party among plantation workers, the Ceylon Workers Congress, held a May Day rally at the Kotagala public grounds. The single largest political party, representing the Upcountry Tamils, extended an invitation to President Wickremesinghe as it quit the ruling SLPP. The CWC contested the last parliamentary election on the SLPP ticket. Jeevan Thondaman represents the CWC in Wickremesinghe’s Cabinet.

The EPDP, represented in Cabinet by Jaffna District MP Douglas Devananda, joined the ruling SLPP’s rally at the Campbell Park, while his spokesperson Nelson Edirisinghe told The Island that the party would support President Wickremesinghe at the forthcoming presidential poll. Responding to another query, Edirisinghe said that the EPDP contested the last parliamentary election on the SLPP ticket and won two seats in Jaffna and Vanni.

The ruling SLPP held its rally, sans some of its members, as well as key constituent parties. The SLPP that had won 145 seats, including 17 National List slots, lost nearly 30 MPs since the last general election. Of them, six led by former External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris joined the SJB rally held at Chatham Street, Colombo. Other members of Prof. Peiris’s group were Dilan Perera, Dr. Nalaka Godahewa, Wasantha Yapa Bandara, K.P.S. Kumarasiri and Dr. Upul Galappaththy.

The other original members of that group, including Matara District MP Dullas Alahapperuma, hadn’t been able to reach a consensus regarding future course of action, sources said. Therefore, they refrained from either joining any other political party or organizing an event of their own to mark the May Day. That group included Dullas Alahapperuma, Prof. Channa Jayasumana, Charitha Herath, Ratnapala Ratnasekera, Lalith Ellawela and Thilak Rajapaksha.

Patali Champika Ranawaka, who entered Parliament on the SJB ticket, didn’t organize a May Day event, while a senior spokesman said that they were preparing for the convention of the party. Former minister Ranawaka leads the Eksath Janaraja Peramuna that received the Election Commission’s recognition last year. Another elected on the SJB to skip May Day was Kumara Welgama, leader of New Lanka Freedom Party.

Uththara Lanka Sabhagaya (ULS), consisting of another active SLPP rebel group, held its rally at the Lalith Athulathmudali playground, Kirulapone. National Freedom Front (NFF) leader and former Minister Wimal Weerawansa chaired the meeting, in his capacity as the Chairman of the alliance, comprising Communist Party (represented by Dr. G. Weerasinghe and Weerasemana Weerasinghe, MP), Pivithuru Hela Urumaya (MP Udaya Gammanpila), Our Power of People Party (Ven. Atureliye Rathana, MP, in his capacity as the leader of Dharani Jathika Sabhawa) and civil society group Yuthukama (Gevindu Cumaratunga) joined the rally.

The ULS declared in unison at its May Day rally that it was the only grouping genuinely opposed to President Wickremesinghe’s agenda inimical to national interests.

Gampaha District MP Nimal Lana’s ‘New Alliance’, consisting of SLPP MPs, too, kept away from the Campbell Park rally. That group has pledged its support to President Wickremesinghe but decided not to join the rally until the official declaration of Wickremesinghe candidature.

State Minister Lasantha Alagiyawanna said that the majority of the SLFPers, who had been elected on the SLPP ticket, decided to keep away from May Day rallies. This group included the majority of the 14-member SLFP group in Parliament now.

Responding to The Island query, MP Alagiyawanna said that a May Day meeting that had been organized in Gampaha by Maithripala Sirisena faction of the party was meant to boost the image of Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, PC, whose appointment as Acting Chairman of the SLFP didn’t receive the approval of Court.

However, the SLFP rally that was attended by only two MPs – Maithripala Sirisena and Dushmantha Mithrapala -attracted just a fraction of the crowds the party used to attract over the years. Minister Mahinda Amaraweera, another key member of the group opposed to Sirisena’s leadership, was away from the country.

MP Dayasiri Jayasekera said that he didn’t organize any event as a member of the SLFP but addressed a gathering organized by Prabha Ganeshan, a member of a political grouping recently set up by the SLFPer.

The JVP held four rallies, including one in Colombo, whereas two breakaway factions, the NFF and Peratugaami Pakshaya, addressed supporters separately. The NFF is a member of the ULS.

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Sirisena announces WR’s presidential candidature

Amidst continuing turmoil in the SLFP, its suspended Chairman Maithripala Sirisena on May Day announced that Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, PC, would contest the forthcoming presidential election.

Former President Sirisena pledged SLFP’s backing for Rajapakshe’s candidature at the election scheduled to be held later this year at the commemoration ceremony of the late T.B. Ilangaratne in Colombo.

The former President said that Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe has the support of the majority of party members.

“Wijayadasa Rajapakshe will run for the upcoming Presidential election and we will offer him our full support,” he said. The unexpected public announcement was made ahead of the SLFP May Day rally in Gampaha and Sirisena himself was suspension from all internal functions of the party on a court order.

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