SPECIAL REPORT : Part 86August 25, 2015, 5:36 pm
By Shamindra Ferdinando
Having thwarted former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s prime ministerial aspirations, President Maithripala Sirisena moved swiftly, and decisively, to consolidate his position, in the SLFP, at the expense of the UPFA.
Within 72 hours after the announcement of the final result, of the Aug. 17 parliamentary polls, President Maithripala Sirisena regained control of the party. Having denied National List slots to those who had been supportive of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s bid to secure premiership, President Maithripala Sirisena issued a dire warning to the UPFA parliamentary group. Fall in line or face the consequences, was the unmistakable message, though some may choose to ignore the presidential warning.
In accordance with his overall strategy, President Maithripala Sirisena finalized a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the ruling UNP, last Friday (Aug. 21). UPFA constituents were even deprived of an opportunity to discuss the impending pact. It was meant to protect the UNP - led United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG) for a period of two years There is provision for the two parties to extend the pact, which basically dealt with nine major issues.
President Maithripala Sirisena called the top UNP leadership Friday night to his official residence at, Paget road, Colombo 5, to discuss the formation of the government.
Having failed to secure a simple majority in parliament, at the Aug. 17 general election, the UNP needed President Maithripala Sirisena’s support to achieve a simple majority in parliament. President Maithripala Sirisena is now in a position to help the UNP secure even a two-thirds majority in parliament. The UNP obtained 106 including 13 National List slots, whereas the SLFP-led UPFA obtained 95 seats. The UPFA tally included 12 National List slots. President Maithripala Sirisena accommodated several of his defeated loyalists on the National List to strengthen his position.
SLFP General Secretary, Duminda Dissanayake, and UNP General Secretary, Kabir Hashim, finalised the agreement soon after Ranil Wickremesinghe took oaths, on Friday morning as Prime Minister, before President Maithripala Sirisena. Twice President Rajapaksa had been among those present on the occasion. The SLFP-UNP agreement was the second of its kind, though both parties refrained from making reference to the first MoU. It would be pertinent to examine the first ever formal political pact, between the SLFP and the UNP, finalised at the onset of the Eelam War IV.
Those who had accused President Maithripala Sirisena of entering into a marriage of convenience, with Premier Wickremesinghe, without obtaining a mandate from the electorate, never compared Friday’s MoU with that of President Rajapaksa’s signed on the morning of Oct 23, 2006.
The Oct 23, 2006, agreement had the backing of the Co-Chairs, to Sri Lanka’s peace process, namely the US, EU, Japan, and peace-facilitator, Norway. Rajapaksa finalised the agreement with Wickremesinghe, in spite of strong opposition from the JHU. The JVP, too, opposed the pact as it felt such a development could undermine its position within the ruling outfit. Western powers felt that the SLFP-UNP agreement could facilitate the Norwegian-led peace initiative, even though the LTTE quit the negotiating table, in April, 2003.
UNP Chairman, Malik Samarawickrema, and the then SLFP Gen. Secretary, Maithripala Sirisena, signed the Oct 23, 2006, agreement on behalf of the UNP and the SLFP, respectively. The event took place at Temple Trees, under the auspices of President Rajapaksa and the then Opposition Leader, Wickremesinghe.
The second pact, between the SLFP and the UNP, came into being nine years later. Although Malik Samarawickrema had been present at the finalization of the second agreement, it was inked by UNP General Secretary, Kabir Hashim, and acting SLFP General Secretary, Duminda Dissanayake.
In his memoirs, launched in the run-up to April, 2010, general election, Maithripala Sirisena recalled the circumstances under which the SLFP and the UNP entered into an agreement, in 2006. Maithripala Sirisena had been in China, on an official visit, when Rajapaksa summoned him to Colombo to finalize an agreement with the UNP. The two parties finalized the agreement, following several rounds of talks between high level delegations. The SLFP delegation comprised Maithripala Sirisena, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Susil Premjayantha and Dr. Sarath Amunugama. The UNP delegation included Malik Samarawickrema, Tissa Attanayake, Rukman Senanayake and Mahinda Samarasinghe.
The short-lived Rajapaksa-Wickremesinghe pact, of Oct, 2006, had been essentially based on an abortive agreement between the then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Wickremesinghe. It could have lasted much longer if not for some UNPers boasting of forming a government of its own by the Sinhala and Tamil New Year, in 2007.
Incidentally, Kumaratunga skipped Friday’s signing of Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe agreement due to Rajapaksa’s participation. The Oct., 2006, and Aug, 2015, agreements primarily differed on one reason. The SLFP-led coalition had been in power, when Rajapaksa entered into the agreement with the Opposition, the UNP whereas, the second agreement was between the UNP and a President elected with its support. The other major difference is the environment in which Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe entered into an agreement, in Oct, 2006. The LTTE had been preparing for the final onslaught at that time, though the LTTE is no longer an issue, thanks to the resolute leadership given by Rajapaksa (Aug 2006-May 2009).
Kumaratunga initiated a move to reach a consensus with Wickremesinghe, soon after she took over three key portfolios, namely defence, interior and media, and prorogued parliament, on Nov 4, 2003. The Kumaratunga initiative was generally referred as the Mano-Malik talks as they spearheaded negotiations, on behalf of the two major parties.
The Mano-Malik plan envisaged a government of national reconciliation and reconstruction. After giving the go ahead for the finalization of the blueprint, Kumaratunga dissolved parliament, on Feb 7, 2004. She was acting under pressure from the JVP, pursuing an agenda of its own. The JVP project was meant to tighten its grip on the SLFP. The then SLFP heavyweight, Mangala Samaraweera, and the late Anura Bandaranaike, too, brought immense pressure on Kumaratunga to dissolve parliament. Ultimately, Kumaratunga gave in to their demand, though she believed Wickremesinghe should be allowed to continue, till January, 2005.
President Maithripala Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe, though they had reservations regarding certain matters, acted swiftly to consolidate UNP’s victory at the Aug. 17 general election. The UPFA’s defeat, as well as the UNP’s failure to achieve a simple majority, facilitated President Maithripala Sirisena’s strategy meant to protect the January 8 revolution. Had the UNP-led United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG) achieved a simple majority at the Aug. 17 polls, President Maithripala Sirisena would have been placed in an extremely difficult situation. Such a scenario would have prompted the UNP to engineer crossovers from the SLFP.
In accordance with the agreement between President Maithripala Sirisena and Premier Wickremesinghe, the UNP and the SLFP agreed on a moratorium on crossovers. Although the Mano-Malik agreement envisaged a moratorium on crossovers, Rajapaksa and Wickremesinghe dropped that particular clause when they finalised the Oct 23, 2006, agreement.
In the wake of the Oct, 2006 MoU, Wickremesinghe wanted to support the government, while being in the Opposition. However, many UNP members felt that they should accept cabinet portfolios. Within months, the SLFP and UNP quit the agreement, making way for Rajapaksa to engineer crossover of nearly 20 UNPers. The largest single crossover of elected members from one party to another took place in January, 2007.
At the April 2, 2004, general election, the UPFA secured 105 seats, including 13 National List slots. The UNP had 82 seats, including 11 National List slots. The Illankai Thamil Arasu Kadchi (22), JHU (9), SLMC (5), Upcountry People’s Front (1) and EPDP (1) shared the remaining seats. Rajapaksa had no option but either to sustain his MoU with the UNP, or engineer large scale defections in the wake of the JVP sabotage his administration. The JVP could have easily, under Rajapaksa, as its parliamentary team comprised 39 members, including three National List members. As the UPFA’s 105 member parliamentary group included the JVPers, Rajapaksa couldn’t afford to antagonize the Marxist group. The JVP group, in parliament, was led by Wimal Weerawansa.
In his memoirs, the then SLFP General Secretary recalled a secret JVP operation to deprive Mahinda Rajapaksa of premiership. The JVP operation was meant to appoint Lakshman Kadirgamar as the Prime Minister, at Mahinda Rajapaksa’s expense. On behalf of the JVP, its General Secretary, Tilvin Silva, in a letter, dated April 5, 2004, stated that in case Kadirgamar couldn’t be named the Prime Minister because of him not being a Sinhala Buddhist, the SLFP should choose either Anura Bandaranaike or Maithripala Sirisena. There hadn’t been a previous instance of such an unfair demand being made of a political party regarding the appointment of a Prime Minister. Maithripala Sirisena had politely told Kumaratunga that there was no better person than Mahinda Rajapaksa to be the new Prime Minister, hence he was sworn in on April 12, 2004. To Kumaratunga’s credit, she accepted Maithripala Sirisena’s position when told of ground realities.
The JVP project went awry due to Maithripala Sirisena’s objections.
Had Maithripala Sirisena failed in his bid, Mahinda wouldn’t have had the opportunity to give leadership to Sri Lanka’s successive war against terrorism, two years later. Under his resolute The JVP operation was not only meant to deprive Mahinda Rajapaksa of premiership but deny him being the UPFA’s presidential candidate the following year.
At the height of the war, in May, 2008, Rajapaksa engineered crossover of a ten-member group of JVPers, including Weerawansa. Weerawansa had the backing of Nandana Gunatilleke, one-time JVP presidential candidate. Incidentally, Gunatilleke suffered a humiliating defeat at the recently concluded Aug 17 parliamentary polls. Gunatilleke contested on the UNP ticket after having switched allegiance to Wickremesinghe and Maithripala Sirisena in the run-up to the last presidential poll.
At the recently concluded poll, the JVP expected to achieve much better results than at the last general election, in April, 2010. The JVP managed to secure just four seats at the last election. That, too, was obtained on the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) ticket in the wake of the January 2010 presidential polls. Unsuccessful presidential candidate Gen Sarath Fonseka gave leadership to the DNA.
The JVP seriously believed that it could do much better. Even the writer felt that securing 10 to 12 seats, at the Aug. 17 polls, wasn’t beyond the JVP’s means. But the JVP ended up with just six seats, including two National List slots. The Aug. 17 result crushed new JVP leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake’s dream of becoming a third political force in the country. The bottom line is that the JVP would never be able to do better than at the April 2, 2004, election when it secured 39 seats, including three National List slots. Their agreement, leading to the April 2, 2004, election, was reached, in January, 2004. The SLFP-JVP agreement had been built on previous PA-JVP parivasa project a few years before. The agreement had been reached in the wake of a group of the then PA members, including SLFP General Secretary, S.B.Dissanayake, Prof. G. L. Peiris et al. Parivasa government lasted for just couple of months. A UNP bid to impeach Kumaratunga, on charges of abuse of power, violation of the Constitution, as well as acting in contravention to financial regulations, went awry due to the Parivasa agreement, finalised on Sept.5, 2001. The UNP couldn’t go ahead with the project without the support of the JVP’s 10-member parliamentary group. The short-lived Parivasa pact paved the way for general election, in Dec, 2001. But the PA-JVP combination couldn’t prevent its defeat in the hands of Ranil Wickremesinghe.
The Parivasa agreement, and the January, 2004, electoral pact, with the SLFP, could be easily described as key JVP achievements. There couldn’t be any dispute over that. But the party couldn’t sustain progress. The JVP suffered a humiliating defeat when the size of its parliamentary group dropped from 39, in April, 2004, to just four, in April, 2010. The JVP suffered another setback when one of the four members, switched his allegiance to hardliner Kumar Gunaratnam. Gunaratnam made his move public in April 2012. The formation of the Front Line Socialist Party (FSP), further dented the JVP. The FSP suffered humiliation when it transpired Gunaratnam had obtained Australian citizenship. Both Gunaratnam and Australian High Commission here acknowledged that the JVPer carried an Australian passport, bearing the name Noel Mudalige. The FSP never explain its leader having to obtain an Australian passport and change his ethnicity. Although the FSP contested the Aug. 17 polls, it couldn’t even poll 100,000 votes countrywide.
Anura Kumara Dissanayake succeeded JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe in early February 2014. At the time of the leadership change, the JVP parliamentary group comprised just three members, namely Dissanayake, Vijitha Herath and Sunil Handunetti.
In April, 2015, Somawansa Amarasinghe quit the party. Although, he formed his own political outfit, he couldn’t make progress. Amarasinghe outfit is likely to suffer a natural death. No major political party is likely to find Somawansa Amarasinghe useful. The JVP’s fate, too, is likely to be the same in the event of President Maithripala Sirisena ensuring the implementation of the second SLFP-UNP agreement.