The Sunday Leader

Rise And Fall Of The Once Mighty UPFA

By Santhush Fernando

Mahinda Rajapaksa

Celebrated English romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822) penned ‘King Ozymandias’ which is regarded as one of his greatest works.

As the poem goes…

“I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:

And on the pedestal these words appear:

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’

Nothing beside remains… round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Despite the great Greek philosopher – Epicurus (341–270 BC) the founder of the school of philosophy called Epicureanism whose purpose of philosophy was to attain the happiness, and by creating self-sufficient lifestyle surrounded by friends (and henchmen and yes-men); the poem Ozymandias, on the contrary teaches that even for the once high-and-mighty monarchs and rulers who might be surrounded with powerful ‘friends’ and clothed by untouchable power too are eventually susceptible to downfall, decline, death and decay. Enjoying happiness and peace at the cost of others can be dangerous reminding us the old adage – ‘what goes around comes around’!


You reap what you sow!

To us Sri Lankans it reminds the universal truth propounded by Lord Buddha that nothing is infinite and eternal.  The Holy Bible too teaches “…as you sow, so shall you reap.”

Although it is quite too early to figure out whether this Ozymandian fate will befall upon Sri Lanka’s once ever-powerful and hitherto nearly undefeatable Head of State – former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, many believe that days of the Rajapaksa clan-led United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) are over or as some see it dying a natural death.

Universal truth

Nevertheless this phenomenon is not limited to Sri Lanka alone. From Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos (and of course his power-hungry wife Emelda Marcos) to the father of independence of Ghana (Then Gold Coast) –  Kwame Nkrumah to Libya’s Primary Leader from 1969 to 2011 – Muammar Gaddafi, there are numerous kings, presidents and rulers who were once-beloved and even worshipped but later had fallen short of people’s trust and love and so were hated and abhorred later on.

However, strangely there are many similarities common among these beleaguered that makes one ponder whether this is a behavioral trait shown by a particular power-hungry leadership stereotype.

Ferdinand Emmanuel Edralin Marcos, Sr. was a Filipino Attorney-at-Law who ruled as President of the Philippines from 1965 to 1986 with an iron fist and his administration was known for corruption, nepotism, family bandism, extravagance, and brutality. In a strangely twist of turns, his presidential hopeful son – Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. last Wednesday apologized from those who claimed they were victimized during the regime of his father and namesake, the Philippine Inquirer reported this week. Public outrage led to the snap elections of 1986 and to the People Power Revolution in February 1986, which removed him from power.

“But will I say sorry for the thousands and thousands of kilometers that were built? Will I say sorry for the agricultural policy that brought us to self-sufficiency in rice? Will I say sorry for the power generation? Will I say sorry for the highest literacy rate in Asia? What [am I] to say sorry about?” the senator asked.

However, strangely, the similarities did not end there. (See box- Marcos and Mahinda – The good, bad and the ugly)


The rise of the UPFA

The UPFA, although claims to be the broadest coalition of political parties in the country, ranging from the extreme left to left-of-centre to right, unlike its main contender Sri Lanka’s largest single political party – the United National Party (UNP), it cannot claim to be the largest political front.

Its largest party – the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) founded on September 2, 1951, by disgruntled UNP Leadership hopeful – S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, became the second largest party and always had to align itself with leftist parties when it aspired to come to power in the elections of 1956, 1960, 1970 and finally again on 1994 – with the exception in 1977. During that poll, the then highly unpopular United Front Government (Samagi Peramuna) led by former Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike was reduced to a mere 8 seats, making it a minority party – Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), the main opposition in a Parliament while J. R. Jayawardene’s formidable UNP government commanded an unprecedented 140 seats in the 168-member House after registering a resounding five-sixth majority in Parliament.

Although President Chandrika Bandaraknaike Kumaratunga was able to topple this 17-year regime in 1994, the UPFA came into being ten years later in 2004 with influence of the Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Permanuna (JVP) following the failed flirting with JVP-UPFA union’s predecessor – the Probation Government which was matched under the then President CBK’s People’s Alliance (Podujana Eksath Peramuna) government in 2001.

UPFA- What’s in a name?

The two parties forged the UPFA in 2004 with the SLFP and JVP signing the memorandum of understanding and other traditionally left-leaning, pro-SLFP parties – the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party, Desha Vimukthi Janatha Pakshaya, Mahajana Eksath Peramuna, the Communist Party of Sri Lanka, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party, National Muslim Congress and National Unity Alliance too joining hands in a bid throw the UNP government out of power. The JVP dictated that the party name should be Eksath Janatha Nidahas Sandanaya bringing it above the Eksath Jathika Pakshaya in the ballot paper as per Sinhala alphabetical order.

With the heavy influence of the Nationalist Marxist-JVP, the PA was cannibalized into a left-of-center leaning socio-economic platform which candidly had a resolve to defeat world’s most ruthless terrorist outfit – the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

With the premature dissolution of Parliament on February 7, 2004, General Elections were held on April 2, 2004, with the UPFA winning 105 seats defeating the ruling UNP led by then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe left with only 82 seats.

With pro-South Eelam People’s Democratic Party’s sole MP – Douglas Devananda joining the UPFA, the Alliance was still seven seats short of an absolute majority (a majority of more than 50% of the total membership of the House), but however managed to form a minority government.

This was the first victory under the UPFA.

MR grabs premiership

However, the first sparks of division and leadership scuffle erupted with Mahinda Rajapaksa compelling CBK to offer him the Premiership, which she and her confidante Mangala Samaraweera had promised the JVP that it would be given to none other than one of Sri Lanka’s best-known statesman – then Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. The JVP was bitter over the whole issue and then JVP firebrand MP (now a die-hard supporter of MR) Wimal Weerawansa heavily criticized Rajapaksa’s appointment and even waged a hard-hitting propaganda war through the party paper.

However, tables turned towards Rajapaksa when in the ‘landmark’ judgment in Ven. Omalpe Sobitha Thera Vs. Elections Commissioner delivered by the controversial Chief Justice Sarath N. Silva, CBK’s tenure was abruptly ended and the Supreme Court ordered that elections be held prior to 22.12.2005.

This was a blessing in disguise for both presidential hopefuls – Ranil Wickremesinghe who first invoked the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and UPFA’s heir apparent – Mahinda Rajapaksa who had been secretly rallying forces around him.


2005 Presidential Election boycott 

During the run-up to the election, Wickremesinghe was heavily criticized for allegedly conspiring with the LTTE to divide the country. But the very Wickremesinghe, accused of colluding with the Tigers, in fact became the victim of LTTE and was defeated.

The Tigers through its proxy – Tamil National Alliance (TNA) called upon the Tamil-speaking voters to boycott the polls which resulted in depriving Wickremesinghe several hundreds of thousand votes.  Speculation was rife that Rajapaksa had reached a deal with the Tigers after the LTTE Supremo Vellupillai Prabhakaran started believing that Wickremesinghe was tightening international reins on the terror outfit.

Former Rajapaksa confidante – former National List MP Tiran Alles, who fell out with him after his colleague Mangala Samaraweera defected from the UPFA alleging hegemony by the Rajapaksa clan; made a public revelation in the run up to 2010 Presidential Elections that the so-called nationalistic Rajapaksa regime, had in fact betrayed the country, by giving money to the LTTE.

The MP who was later on brought into Parliament by the JVP-Sarath Fonseka union in 2010, stated that presidential sibling – Basil Rajapaksa personally handed over to the then LTTE Financial Chief Emil Kanthan a staggering sum of Rs. 180 million to ensure that voters of the LTTE-controlled North predominantly and East to a lesser extent, are prevented from voting at the 2005 presidential election, allegedly at the behest of then presidential candidate Mahinda Rajapaksa.


Rise of Mahinda

As such, Mahinda Rajapaksa won the election in 2005 garnering 4,887,152 (50.29%) or with a marginal 0.29% needed for a count of the second preferential vote. Later on he openly high-jacked the UPFA after he succeeded the Presidency he managed to isolate and sideline the then outgoing President Chandrika Bandaraknaike Kumaratunga from the party, using the powers of the Executive Presidency.


Summary of the 2005 Sri Lankan presidential election

Candidate Party       Votes      %

Mahinda Rajapaksa

United People’s Freedom Alliance

4,887,152        50.29%

Ranil Wickremesinghe

United National Party

4,706,366        48.43%


Parliamentary Elections 2004


Year          No of Votes    Vote %   Seats won Status

2004         4,223,970     45.60%        105             Government

2010         4,846,388     60.33%        144             Government

2015         4,732,664     42.38%         95                Opposition


Presidential Elections


Year        Candidate             No of Votes           Vote %   Result

2005       Mahinda Rajapaksa            4,887,152              50.29%  Won

2010       Mahinda Rajapaksa            6,015,934              57.88%  Won

2015       Mahinda Rajapaksa            5,768,090              47.58%  Lost


(To be continued next week)


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