President Maithripala Sirisena was elected 15 January 2015 on the then Opposition UNP coalition ticket after having left his party, the SLFP, betraying his then President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The long winding road of politics which has no lasting friend or foe seems to have come round full circle. Now Sirisena is readying to unite back again with Rajapaksa. This time to oust Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and go about creating a coalition government ruled by Sirisena’s SLFP and Rajapaksa’s SLPP.
After Rajapaksa, who headed the SLFP was defeated in the Presidential election, Sirisena although having contested from the Presidency from the UNP took over the SLFP back again after Rajapaksa stepped down from the party leadership declaring he had no objection for Sirisena to lead the SLFP. Today, the 2015 union between the UNP and the SLFP is in abject disarray. The SLFP blames the UNP (which was overall incharge of economic affairs of the country), for financial mismanagement and almost all other governance ills such as the lack of concrete development projects that benefit the people.
With the current financial crisis in the country caused by the Sri Lankan rupee consistently depreciating against the US dollar in the past few weeks, President Sirisena who aspires to be the Presidential candidate from the SLFP in 2020 is desperate to save his political skin. Hence, Ranil Wickremesinghe, head of the UNP who was appointed PM by the President in 2015 is now very likely to soon lose his position in the backdrop of discussions between President Maithripala Sirisena and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, that was initiated last week.
Political sources confirm that the grand modus operandi would be for the SLFP and the SLPP, to unite and obtain a majority in parliament (along with support from some minority parties). In this scenario it is very likely they will call for a no confidence motion against the PM, political insiders revealed.In the next meetings between Sirisena and the Rajapaksa group which is expected shortly, further discussions are to be held on appointing the former President as the PM and forming a government anew.
Meanwhile, whereas the no confidence motion brought against the PM earlier this year was defeated by Wickremesinghe, the situation may not be the same this time around, sources said.
The last no confidence motion against the PM was soon after the disastrous performance of the SLFP and the UNP at the February 10 local government election this year which Rajapaksa’s new party, the SLPP won. Wickremesinghe’s successful defeating of the no confidence motion at that time was due to the SLFP not voting against the PM because of Sirisena’s reluctance at the time to out rightly support the Rajapaksas who brought forth the motion.
A uniting of the SLFP and the SLPP would be a game changer for both Sirisena and Rajapaksa as it was when Sirisena teamed up with Rajapaksa’s rival UNP in 2015. As it stands Sirisena is no match for Rajapaksa’s populism which will assist in a victory for any Presidential candidate of Rajapaksa’s choice for the SLPP come 2020, whether it is the former President’s brother the former powerful Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa or a non-Rajapaksa family member from the party.In this context if the SLFP and SLPP unite to make Sirisena the joint 2020 Presidential candidate, there is little doubt Sirisena would win on Rajapaksa’s strength (something he is not expected to do if he contests from the SLFP). However, for Rajapaksa too, having his erstwhile former confidante back in his pocket is distinctly better than in Wickremesinghe’s UNP dominated coalition government.
Considering that a tie up between the SLFP and the SLPP was being discussed from earlier this year, the current economic state of the country would propel President Sirisena to make an immediate move before the country sinks to any further crisis, sources close to him say.
“President Sirisena is keen that he does not carry the stigma of the financial inefficiency of the UNP which was in charge of economic affairs of the country,” a source said.
Currently, under the leadership of President Sirisena, the National Economic Council (NEC) formed by him is in consultation with the Finance Ministry as well as the Central bank on initiating short-term measures to improve foreign exchange inflow in dealing with the current foreign exchange crisis.
Talks are to continue with the SLPP to look at ways the new tie up between the SLFP and the SLPP could handle the financial situation.
Pushing the SLFP and the SLPP together has been the ardent wish of most of the SLFP members who are Rajapaksa loyalists and especially the 16 members who left the SLFP this year to support the former President.
A series of meetings between the SLFP and the SLPP are to be held in the weeks to come, sources say, especially to discuss how a collaboration could be fixed prior to the next local election, the Provincial Council polls which are long overdue and which is one of the factors used by the Rajapaksas to attack the coalition government for being ‘non democratic.’
“The situation which existed earlier this year has changed. Then Basil Rajapaksa was opposed to affiliations of any nature with Sirisena. Now it is a necessity for both Rajapaksa and Sirisena. If they unite their collective political strength will be formidable,” one political source said.
Sources say that Basil Rajapaksa had been present at the meeting last week between President Sirisena and Mahinda Rajapaksa which signifies that in the larger context of the Rajapaksa circle, the linking between the two parties are agreed upon.
For Rajapaksa who last month was quoted in the Indian press as saying in India that his son Namal Rajapaksa was too young to be Presidential candidate, a tie up between his party and the SLFP and the SLPP sacrificing a Rajapaksa Presidential candidate to having President Sirisena as the SLFP-SLPP 2020 Presidential candidate would be a comparatively smaller sacrifice in laying a solid foundation for the SLPP and the Rajapaksas to solidify their political might. However, the immediate issue for the SLFP is to have a tie up with the SLPP to see to the governance of the country till 2020 and looking at the possibility of appointing Rajapaksa as PM.
Even in the case of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa (the former Defemce Secretary brother whom Rajapaksa is reluctant to bestow the Presidency candidature on), the chances are that the SLFP and SLPP will agree on a governance model, whether it be prior to 2020 or after, where the former Defence Secretary will have a key role to play. Given that Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s economic vision for the country which was launched earlier this year had the support of many in the business community it is likely that his advice on stabilizing the economy would be approach seriously, sources said.
Overall, the weeks to come would indicate important changes that would lay the foundation for Sri Lanka’s immediate political future, bringing the country very much back to where it left off in 2015.
“If in 2015 idealists envisaged that the two political rivals very much different in ideology, the UNP and the SLFP could see eye to eye and establish an idealistic unity government, having got rid of the UNP’s arch enemy, Mahinda Rajapaksa, then it is irony indeed that once again the man who facilitated Mahinda’s exit, Sirisena, emerges as the very person to bring him back,” one analyst quipped.
While how the next rounds of discussions between the UNP and the SLFP would fare is yet to be seen. However, unless there is an ingenious attempt by the UNP to salvage the economic situation, it is likely that the SLFP and the SLPP will lay the basis for a political takeover and ushering in of a new Mahinda Rajapaksa inclusive government, sooner than later.