The removal of 22 electoral organizers by the SLFP last week gave a clear indication of speeding up party reorganization in keeping with the strategies and policies of President Maithripala Sirisena, against the continuing rivalry and obstructionism by the pro-Mahinda Rajapaksa groups within the party. The subsequent meeting of the SLFP’s Central Committee indicated there could be more disciplinary action against those who do not fall in line with President Sirisena, and seek to pursue policies not in the best interests of the SLFP and its role in governance today.
Although Mahinda Rajapaksa keeps readily repeating he will never leave the SLFP, while pointing accusing fingers at others who did that in the past, such as Anura Bandaranaike, Vijaya and Chandrika Kumaratunga, there is little doubt that the pressures from the Rajapaksa aligned are to cause a rift leading to set up a new political party. There is a very frequent explanation given by persons who say they were present when President Sirisena asked for the party leadership from Mahinda Rajapaksa, after the January 8, 2015 election result, and that Rajapaksa was generous enough to give it to him, with the understanding that party unity would be assured.
The facts in this regard are totally different, whatever may have happened at any discussions held within closed doors, in a highly respected official domain, the residence of the Speaker, at that time the brother of the former President. The reality is that after his election for the first term as Executive President of the country in 2009, Mahinda Rajapaksa altered the SLFP Constitution to state that if a member of the SLFP is elected Head of State or President of the country, such person would be the President and leader of the party. This was his move to remove former President Chandrika Kumaratunga from the party leadership, and take it to himself, making her a patron of the party. What happened to him is the implementing of his own political thinking and planning, which happened in this instance to go against him.
As the State Minister of Finance Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena told the media earlier this week, that those who had remained with Mahinda Rajapaksa at the January 2015 presidential poll had been given an opportunity to come to terms with the subsequent reality in politics, which included the change in the SLFP’s political leadership, and the consensual understanding reached with the UNP on matters of governance, or face disciplinary action. However, there had been far too much time gone since that initial change of party leadership, and the General Election that followed, for some SLFPers to remain in pro-Rajapaksa camp that is challenging the leadership of President Sirisena. Several others from the SLFP were with the State Minister when he made this statement, and also condemned the role of the Mahinda Rajapaksa group for its current actions against the party, its policies and leadership.
These moves pushes MR into a position of further isolation, despite the media buzz being shown about public support and continuing temple visits by MR, and even a speech made by his brother, Basil Rajapaksa, about the need for a new party leadership. The use of Basil Rajapaksa for any such strategic activity looks most immature, considering the criticism of his role as National Organizer of the party; which many, including several prominent SLFPers and Wimal Weerawansa, too, have blamed on the UPFA and Mahinda Rajapaksa’s defeat on January 8, 2015.
As issues of economics and day-to-day governance gain importance, these are signs that the political disruption that could be caused by the rivalry within the SLFP is being removed with a resolve growing stronger; with President Sirisena moving to manage the controls of his party, and the UPFA. The replacement to fill the vacancy in the office of UPFA Secretary, following the demise of Prof. Vishwa Warnapala, will add to the strength of the Sirisena leadership vis-à-vis the “Joint Opposition” and future parliamentary strategy.
While internal issues within the second major party of the governing coalition appear to be settling in this manner, the government is certainly facing considerable discontent among the public on some issues of immediate relevance to them, and others made to look so by determined opposition, as well as forces that have traditional policies of racist extremism, chauvinism, and certainly an inbuilt anti-Indian attitude.
It is a contradiction that the JVP, playing a valuable role with Mr. Sunil Handunnetti as Chair of the Parliamentary Committee of Public Enterprise (COPE), is moving on to an ill-informed anti-Government position on the issue of the proposed Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement (ETCA) with India. Under Handunnetti’s chair COPE has extended the scope of its investigations to include the Central Bank, its present management and those in the past, as well as other key ministries and State institutions, give out periodic reports of progress, and call for progress reports on sequential action by those responsible.
Ignorance on ETCA
It is amidst such work that is most needed for proper functioning of the parliamentary system that the JVP is opposing the proposed ETCA, which has still not been drafted and presented to the public for discussion. This gives the impression that the JVP is still carrying the burdens of the “Five Lectures” by its founder, Rohana Wijeweera, one of which was on the threat posed to this country by India, of course with strong links to the tea industry and its history. There are many others too, who write to the media and also criticize the ETCA based on how the tea industry was established and the presence of Indian workers in the hill country, with little regard for the reality of all that being part of colonial history in both India and Ceylon, and has nothing to do with the post-colonial records of the two countries.
It is regrettable that the JVP that has moved very much ahead since the first insurrection of 1971, having held ministerial positions, too, is taking almost the same position on the ETCA as the racist and chauvinist extremist forces that are seeking to build new flames of hatred against India; as well as the unverified concerns of some professionals, in what is regarded as the debate on the ETCA. What is necessary is for the strongest voices to demand that the drafts – one- two – or even three – of this agreement are placed before the public and fully debated before any finality is reached. It does not help anyone, whether professionals in medicine or any other field, or politicians of any hue or strategy, to attack and oppose the ETCA, when the facts about it have not yet been fully discussed between Sri Lanka and India, and the necessary documents are not presented for study and debate by the people and politicians of this country.
The very nature of the proposed agreement, from what has been explained, show it is not something that will be forced on this country like the13th Amendment to the Constitution. The progress that both Sri Lanka and India have made since 1987, the changes in international relations, and the contents and substance of the Agreement, would certainly make the ETCA an understanding of value to both Sri Lanka and India, with neither benefitting from any backhand nor hidden action for or against the other.
The Government, and the Prime Minister, who is the ETCA mover in Sri Lanka, must make wider use of the media and all opportunities to address the professionals, the public, the employed, unemployed and youth, on the actuality of the ETCA, and show how it will make a vast improvement to employment opportunities, better skills for our people, and more investment in Sri Lanka.
Issues of credibility
While criticism on the ETCA can be met with good and effective debate, the Government is faced with other issues of credibility by ministerial behaviour, which point to emerging MR trends, and not those of good governance. Higher Education Minister Lakshman Kiriella’s letter recommending employment of a Temporary Lecturer in Political Science to the University of Kelaniya stands out as the stuff of bad politics and non-ministerial duty.
This is not unlike Namal Rajapaksa MP’s letter given some time ago for the enrolment of a student who was not selected to a university on the Z-score tally. The latter being to assist a student who wanted to learn more, gives sympathy to it, unlike the recommendation of Minister Kiriella – while both remain incorrect and deserve condemnation.
The Government – both the UNP and SLFP – has to make it clear that such action does not help in its image or message of good governance. It must fight the growing trends towards nepotism, and political favouritism that we see emerging, with the same seriousness as its slogans against all that was foul of the Rajapaksa Regime. The same passage is not the path of progress for good governance promised to the people.