By The “Sunday Times” Political Editor
Personal initiatives by President Maithripala Sirisena to re-unify the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) ahead of the local polls have all ended in failure.
Now, he has declared political war on the rival faction for repeatedly snubbing his overtures. Sirisena told his ministers and other SLFP stalwarts this week he would nominate a person for each electorate to monitor the activities of the rival group. Their tasks include gathering audio and video evidence of those taking part in the ‘Joint Opposition’ campaign on behalf of the Sri Lanka Podujana (People’s) Party (SLPP). At the same time Sirisena also declared that other than attending weekly Cabinet meetings, his priority in the coming weeks would be to take part in every district level meeting for the local polls. He will address 22 meetings countrywide.
Several nomination lists were rejected for the elections to 93 local councils. One of the major rejections was the Sri Lanka Podujana Pakshaya (SLPP) list for Maharagama, a stronghold of ‘JO” and MEP leader Dinesh Goonewardene. Pic by Indika Handuwala
In the wake of his inability to reunite with the rival faction of the SLFP, a fuller involvement in the campaign has become imperative for him. Though his rationale is based on the premise that every candidate has been named by him and he had to therefore to back them to the fullest, there are even more important reasons. He is conscious of the impact of the polls’ outcome on the Presidency and the need for his party to perform equally well if not better than his coalition partner, the United National Party (UNP).
The move to deal with SLFP dissidents is a prelude to initiating disciplinary inquiries prior to expulsion from the SLFP. Whether he could face the fallout of such a mass scale expulsion remains a critical question and he has threatened to do this many times before, but Sirisena is quite clearly piqued by the snub at the hands of leaders of the rival group. It was only last week, as revealed exclusively in these columns, that he spoke on the telephone with Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP) chief strategist Basil Rajapaksa, seemingly on his own initiative. This was after Ven. Medagoda Abeytissa Thera, the chief incumbent of the Sunethra Devi Pirivena in Kohuwala and one of the many emissaries, took a call and handed over the mobile phone to Sirisena. It was one final throw of the dice. “That is now over. There are larger sections of the public who expect our party to give voice to their concerns and highlight their grievances. They are looking to us in confidence,” Basil Rajapaksa told the Sunday Times this week He had confided in a close friend that Sirisena spoke to him after four and half years, which meant they were not on talking terms even when they were ministers in the Mahinda Rajapaksa cabinet. Strange enough Sirisena was General Secretary of the SLFP and Rajapaksa the National Organiser of the same party.