The Sunday Leader

SLFP At The Crossroads

Udaya Gammanpila, Dinesh Gunawardena, Dayan Jayatilleke and Azath Salley


The rally, which was held in Nugegoda to support former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, created ripples among rank and file of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

The majority of Sri Lanka Freedom Party supporters were in two minds about the rally. As much as they respected former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as the former leader and the war-winning President produced by the SLFP, they did not want constituent parties of the UPFA to override the political agenda of the party.

This rally, which drew significant attention of mainstream and alternate media, was the collective brainchild of National Freedom Front Leader Wimal Weerawansa, Pivithuru Hela Urumaya Leader Udaya Gammanpila, Mahajana Eksath Permauna leader Dinesh Gunawardena and Democratic Left Front leader Vasudewa Nanayakkara. None of these parties had islandwide party machineries and they all depended on individual popularity of the founders. It was against this backdrop that some believed there would be a huge crowd presence at the Nugegoda rally, which called for the UPFA to name former President Rajapaksa as its Prime Ministerial candidate.

Knowing this, the organizers of the rally resorted to a good publicity strategy. They conducted their pre-rally publicity campaign by urging those who voted for Rajapaksa to be present at the rally. They catered this message to 5.8 million people who preferred Rajapaksa over Maithripala Sirisena who contested the election as the Common Candidate of the opposition backed by the UNP.

At the same time, some allies of the government, including Central Province PC member Azath Salley, also played into the hands of the organizers of the rally where the publicity is concerned. Salley, addressing a press briefing, said he would resign from his portfolio if organizers managed to bring over 5,000 people to the rally. The Provincial Councillor, needless to say, was not the most popular politician among the Sinhala-Buddhist community of the country and the organizers of the rally used Salley’s challenge as a publicity tactic prior to the rally. They asked the people to attend the Nugegoda rally to bring what they termed as Salley’s ‘extremist politics’ to an end.

The SLFP, a few days before the rally, made a collective decision to refrain from taking part in it in an official capacity. However, seniors of the party announced that if some party member wished to express support to the former President by participating in the rally, he or she was allowed to do so in a personal capacity. In reality, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party was aware of the fact that some of the Parliamentarians would be taking part in the rally and SLFP seniors wanted to make sure that it would not reflect badly on the party.

Among the UPFA-SLFP Parliamentarians who were present at the rally were Kumara Welgama, T. B. Ekanayake, Salinda Dissanayake, Manusha Nanayakkara, Dilum Amunugama, C. B. Ratnayake and Jayantha Ketagoda. Western Province Chief Minister Prasanna Ranatunga, who was accompanied by a group of Provincial Council members of the party, was the most ‘high profile’ SLFP politician present at the rally. None of the top level office bearers of the party showed any affiliation with the group supporting former President Rajapaksa.

Some of the MPs who were present at the pro-MR rally had interesting ‘connections’ built around them. For instance, it was revealed that Manusha Nanayakkara, an MP who crossed over to the UPFA from the UNP, had tried to approach some seniors of the UNP to get nominations to contest the forthcoming General Elections under the UNP ticket. However, knowing his checkered past, the UNP seniors were skeptical about Nanayakkara’s move and he was not entertained. It was against this backdrop that Nanayakkara was seen at the rally supporting Mahinda Rajapaksa. It was not clear whether he was actually trying to align himself with the Rajapaksa as he had no other option or was trying to show his ‘importance’ to the seniors of the UNP by being present in the Nugegoda rally.

Even though MP Dilum Amunugama was present at the rally, his uncle Sarath Amunugama has now become a staunch backer of President Maithripala Sirisena at high profile meetings in the party. One can also come to the conclusions that the Amunugamas are trying to please both camps by keeping one foot with the Rajapaksa and the other with President Sirisena. However, under the Rajapaksas, Dilum Amunugama worked closely with Namal Rajapaksa who was the leader of the Youth Wing of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

Kumar Welgama’s son, Senal Welgama, a member of the Western Provincial Council, dodged a meeting that was organized by Prasanna Ranatunga to support the former President. Along with young Welgama, Hirunika Premachandra and Malsha Kumaratunga also dodged the meeting.

In addition to that, there is an interesting debate over the crowd presence of the pro-MR rally too. Wimal Weerawansa, one of the organizers of the rally, in his speech stated that 500,000 people were present at the rally. However, it was absolutely naïve to believe that 500,000 people could actually occupy the town of Nugegoda which is anyway packed on week days and especially at after-work hours. On the other hand, a sizable proportion of people and students who were going home after classes were stranded in that area due to the rally and they also must have contributed to the crowd presence. Nevertheless, a good crowd attended the rally and multiple sources from the MR camp said it was around 60,000.

Meanwhile, former diplomat Dr Dayan Jayatilleka has contradicted NFF Leader Wimal Weerawansa’s claim that over 500,000 people attended the rally in Nugegoda, stating that the crowd participation amounted to over a hundred thousand.

In an article written a day after the rally, Jayatilleka said the former President was ‘wanted’ by over hundred thousand people who gathered at Nugegoda on Wednesday. Jayatilleka was the one who read out Rajapaksa’s message at the rally and some people even speculated that the statement was actually drafted by Jayatilleka who also has a reputation as a political strategist.

“There was a WANTED poster out for Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday at Nugegoda, and it wasn’t one for crimes of corruption, human rights violation, dictatorship pasted by the JVP. It was a WANTED poster made of over a hundred thousand persons, which said that he was Wanted by the people, by the nation, as the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka,” Jayatilleke said in his article. This was in stark contrast to the statistics presented by Weerawansa and other ardent MR supporters who are of the belief that the rally has given rise to a pro-MR ‘tide’ ahead of the General Election.

Nevertheless Azath Salley, who earlier challenged the MR supporters to bring more than 5,000 people, is now giving various excuses to go back on his words. The Councillor, when contacted by journalists following the rally, said his statement on the crowd participation was misinterpreted in media and therefore he had no reason to resign. He said his challenge was directed at Weerawansa and the latter was not able to bring more than 5000 people to the rally.

He also went on to claim that the rally was ‘racist’ and could not be construed as a political meeting. “Although it was earlier claimed that the rally was called to ask former president Mahinda Rajapaksa to return to politics, it later adopted racist slogans,” Salley said adding that the people voted against racism at the presidential election.

However, seniors of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, especially the ones who were sidelined during the tenure of former President Rajapaksa, are skeptical and worried about the present state of affairs in the UPFA of which the SLFP is the key stakeholder. One of them is former Chief Minister of the North Western Province S. B. Navinna who was appointed as the Treasurer of the party at the recently held Executive Committee meeting. Although it was widely speculated that Navinna might cross over to support the Common Candidate of the opposition at the presidential election, he stayed with the former President until the very end. Navinna was among the first group of SLFP members who aligned themselves with President Sirisena.

Irked by attempts made by some parties of the UPFA, Navinna said Wimal Weerawansa, Udaya Gammanpila, Vasudewa Nanayakkara and Dinesh Gunawardena had no right to make decisions on the Prime Ministerial Candidate of the SLFP. He indicated the Nugegoda rally as an attempt made by non-SLFP parties of the UPFA to override the ordinary SLFPer.

Commenting on the rally held at Nugegoda, Navinna had further said that SLFP could make its own decision on the Prime Ministerial Candidate of the party. “We have several senior politicians who have the potential to be the Prime Ministerial Candidate of the party.” he stated indicating that the former President had only think chances of becoming the Prime Ministerial Candidate of the party.

“However, we will reveal who the candidate is when the General Election is announced” he further said asserting that if Mahinda Rajapaksa wanted to be the Prime Ministerial Candidate he was free to send in an application, so that the Central Committee of SLFP could make a decision on the matter. Similar sentiments were expressed by the Vice Chairman of the SLFP, Minister Rajitha Senaratne who said if the former President wanted the PM candidature he should discuss the matter with President Maithripala Sirisena.

“People must understand the conspiracies that are taking place with the intention of dividing the party” he said. As Navinna said, it is now crystal clear that there is a strong division in the SLFP over the subject of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s return to national level politics. While one group openly claim that the Opposition Leader should become the Prime Ministerial Candidate of the party, the other group assert that Rajapaksa should be the Prime Ministerial Candidate of the opposition. They also threaten to field Rajapaksa as a third candidate if the SLFP fails to accept the former President as its Prime Ministerial Candidate. In that case, the SLFP vote would be divided at the forthcoming Presidential election and that will play into the hands of Ranil Wickremesinghe, who will be the Prime Ministerial Candidate of the UNP.

However, a fresh problem will arise if the pro-MR group presents a resolution to the Central and Executive Committees of the party to field Rajapaksa as the Prime Ministerial Candidate of the party. Whether President Sirisena has the majority support in the top decision making bodies in the party is still a question! It is not clear as to how seniors of the SLFP would react in the face of such a development.

Be that as it may, the rally which was held at Nugegoda sent a strong message to the government to live up to the expectations of the people who voted for President Maithripala Sirisena. The government has a lot to catch up when it comes to the timeline of the 100 day programme although the Prime Minister claimed that the programme would be fully implemented before the dissolution of Parliament which is due on April 23.

In addition to that, no action has so far been taken against those who were accused of bribery and corruption. This, in return, has brought the credibility of the new government into serious question where allegations on bribery and corruption are concerned. The civil society of the country and social media activists, who were instrumental in shaping the ‘national psyche’ in favour of Maithripala Sirisena, are now becoming restless on the slow pace at which the investigations are moving. They now question whether the UNP and the JHU were not serious when they raised questions over the alleged bribery and corruption of the previous regime. While this inaction will be advantageous to the former President and his family, it will also help parties such as the JVP to increase their ‘share’ at the forthcoming General Election.

4 Comments for “SLFP At The Crossroads”

  1. Common candidate, was joined by many ruling party memebers of parliment.
    The Nugegoda meeting was huge and many Sirisena supporters too came on Stage.This is politics of cross overs due to dissatifaction. The victory was not such a major one and many impersonations by the UNP who are master of it. Family bandism contiinues despite pledges wityh Sirisena’s own brother clueless of Telecom engineering is the Telecom boss now and many nepotism like Sajit Pemadasa a son of a President and a Senanayake!
    This not ponly in Sri Lanka but happened by Kennedy’s and Bushes..

  2. edward theophilus

    I am not Sinhalese but I would like to state that Mr Sirisena is the most stupid leader elected to president ship. He cannot conserve several words in an International language. Openly alone cannot talk with overseas leader. Although mr Premadasa was not educated, he was capable. Now Magnar Carter is going on Sirisena does not know it. He will loose power soon because constitutional reforms. He cannot get them back letter he will be an ordinary person. Sinhala Buddhists will be united later understanding the facts.

  3. Lima


  4. Sylvia Haik

    The former president is much too wise a politician to enter high level politics again after the recent snub. Any attempts to contest the Premiership will only rekindle the apparently shelved bribery and corruption allegations against him and his regime. It might also displease the UNHCR investigators who are now granting concessions to Mr. Rajapakse’s successors. The West also seem friendlier and talks are afoot to reinstate the EU’s GSP+ that was lost harming our garment industry.

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