Colombo, November 20 (The New Indian Express): The emergence of the breakaway Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), comprising loyalists of former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, has forced the current Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena to increase the membership of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) so as to be able to meet the challenge the SLPP is expected to pose in the forthcoming local bodies elections.
One of the top leaders of the SLPP, Basil Rajapaksa, announced recently, that the SLPP would be launching a drive to enroll one million members, which is a very large number in a country where the total population is 20 million.
A bit shaken by this by the rebels’ grandiose plan, Sirisena has asked the SLFP’s local organizers to go on a drive to enroll five million members on a war footing. The urgency arises from the fact that the local bodies elections are most likely to be held before April 2017.
It has been the case of Rajapaksa’s loyalists, that while the bulk of the leaders of the SLFP are with Sirisena, the party’s rank and file and the vote bank are still with Rajapaksa. They cite the July 2015 parliamentary elections to show that while Rajapaksa lost the January 8. 2015 Presidential election to Sirisena, his group was on top in the parliamentary elections. Despite a subsequent depletion of its ranks because of defections to the Sirisena side, the Rajapaksa group still has 48 to 50 MPs.
Sirisena’s bid to build the SLFP under him is hamstrung by its alliance with the United National Party (UNP). The UNP’s domestic and international policies frequently run counter to the political needs of the SLFP. The UNP’s taxation and other economic policies, its muddled relations with China and its alleged eagerness to compromise national sovereignty for the sake of retaining the friendship of the West, have embarrassed the nationalistic-minded and pro-people Sirisena. Srisiena has had to use the powers of the Executive Presidency to reverse or modify many of the decisions of the UNP-led government.
However, despite the inconvenience and embarrassments, Sirisena is under compulsion to maintain the SLFP’s alliance with the UNP because the coalition government is still to achieve one of its main goals – to give the country a new constitution which will meet the aspirations of all the communicates in Sri Lanka. This is one election promise Sirisena cannot back out of.
The need to strengthen the official SLFP also stems from the need to draw up a constitution which will have the widest measure of support. In a recent interaction with party organizers, Sirisena not only asked them to increase the SLFP’s membership to 5 million, but also said that he wants those now with Rajapaksa to join the mainstream SLFP.
(The featured picture at the top shows Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena with his challenger,former President Mahinda Rajapaksa)