Lankan parties go hammer and tongs against each other ahead of polls...

Lankan parties go hammer and tongs against each other ahead of polls  

Colombo Correspondent,
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena

Sri Lankan political parties are going hammer and tongs against each other ahead of the crucial local bodies’ elections slated for February 10.

The no-holds barred competition which has been seeing some bizarre acts on the part of politicians of every hue, stems from the fact that both the Sri Lankan political class and the voters at large, see the forthcoming polls as a referendum on the performance of the constituents of the National Unity government as well as those in the opposition.

The first shot was fired by President Maithripala Sirisena who heads the official wing of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP). In a desperate attempt to show the voters and his principal detractor, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, that he is not afraid of exposing the corrupt in his own National Unity government, Sirisena released the report of the Presidential Commission which inquired into the 2015 Central Bank bonds scam.

The report said that the son-in-law of the then Central Bank Governor, Arjuna Mahendran, who in turn was a protégé of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, had looted the bank of LKR 11,450 million while Wickremesinghe looked on nonchalantly believing in the empty assurances of rectitude given by Mahendran.

Sirisena also accused certain members of Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) of blocking a parliamentary debate on the bond scam report, hinting that they too had had a hand in the pillage.

Even as he put Prime Minister Wickremesinghe and his UNP on the mat, Sirisena trained his guns on his principal rival, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and said that similar scams had taken place between 2008 and 2014 when Rajapaksa was Sri Lankan President. Sirisena said that the Attorney General has been instructed to take legal action against those involved in 2015 scam as well as those involved in scams between 2008 and 2014.

Sirisena’s gambit in opening two fronts – one against alliance partner UNP and the other against the Joint Opposition led by Rajapaksa — was to defeat both in the elections to the 341 local bodies in the island and emerge as the numero uno in Sri Lankan politics.

But this is unquestionably a tall order for Sirisena as he is currently seen as being the weakest of the three parties in the fray – SLFP, UNP and Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP). Sirisena has to show both the UNP and the SLPP in poor light so that the SLFP faction he presides over, emerges as the lone shining star which will propel him to a second term as Sri Lankan President in January 2020.

In a specific challenge to the SLPP, Sirisena appealed to those who are in it to cross over to the SLFP as the SLPP is “nothing but a filthy drain of the corrupt.”

However, the UNP and the SLPP are unfazed by Sirisena’s gladiatorial posturing. Confident that it has support of the SLFPers at the grassroots level, and also among the majority Sinhala-Buddhist community, the SLPP has only shown disdain for Sirisena’s pronouncements. Its leaders said that Sirisena’s brave words are only meant to hide his weakness.

On its part, the SLPP has been going to town on the bond scam which not only afflicts the UNP but also the SLFP under Sirisena, who, as the Executive President in 2015, had miserably failed to prevent the scam. What Sirisena is doing now is too little too late, the SLPP says.

The UNP has been the most restrained among the three contenders, preferring to attack the opposition led by Rajapaksa rather than take on alliance partner SLFP.

For the UNP, the enemy number one is the SLPP led by Rajapaksa. Training his guns at Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said on Monday, that the Presidential Commission against fraud and corruption (known as PRECIFAC) had recommended that Rajapaksa be deprived of “civic rights for life” for the corruption and misrule he and his cohorts had allegedly indulged in during his Presidency from 2005 to 2014.

Wickremesinghe asked those who are in the SLPP, “Would it make sense to be in SLPP when its leader has been stripped off his civic rights, which means he can never stand for elections nor vote in his life?”

Wickremesinghe had set up a special CID team to probe financial frauds committed during Rajapaksa’s Presidency and is now well on the way to instituting a Special High Court to fast track trials of corruption and fraud cases.

While Wickremesinghe is going soft on Sirisena’s SLFP, his party men have been attacking the President. UNP leader Palitha Range Bandara has ridiculed Sirisena for trying to get SLPP MPs to cross over to his side and dreaming of forming a united SLFP government (the SLPP is but a chip of the old SLFP block).

Range Bandara said that even if the SLFP and SLPP came together in parliament, the combine will not be able to form a government because 13 SLFP MPs are ready to cross over to the UNP making the UNP’s strength go up from 106 to 113 in the House of 225.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said that he is not afraid of letting parliament debate the bond scam report before the local bodies elections. There is nothing new or mysterious in the report to be worried about he said. He further said that he would ask the Speaker to have the debate on February 8, two days before the local elections.

But the Elections Commissioner, Mahinda Deshapriya, pointed out that all propaganda should cease two days before polling (February 10) and therefore either the debate should be held earlier than February 8 or the election should be postponed beyond February 10.

The Prime Minister on Tuesday announced that the Speaker has agreed to have the debate on February 6, well before the pre-election “silent period”.

All parties in parliament are expected to state their positions on the bond scam and other corrupt acts with an eye on the February 10 elections because the latter will determine the fate of all Sri Lankan parties.