Two meetings held this week between President Maithripala Sirisena’s SLFP and former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s new party the Sri Lanka Podu Jana Peramuna (SLPP) has members pulling in opposite directions, concerning the decision for the two parties to unite and form a caretaker government. Although discussions were reportedly held last week with the participation of Sirisena and Rajapaksa, the two meetings held this week between the hierarchical members of the two parties, in the absence of President Sirisena who was overseas, saw some opposition towards taking the talks to the next level and towards some concrete action, sources said.
The talks last week between Sirisena and Rajapapaksa had been reportedly initiated with much expectation with the sole emphasis being to look at cementing ties between the two parties in order to form a new government by appointing Rajapaksa as Prime Minister.
However, political sources say that some SLFP members have strongly opposed a move to form a caretaker government with the Joint Opposition (JO) of Rajapaksa while some JO members also feel that this would be detrimental to the image of Rajapaksa’s SLPP. Some in Rajapaksa’s clan are still rankling with the recent revelation by the former President while in India that his actual preference for the 2020 presidency as candidate is son Namal Rajapaksa. Namal being below the age of contesting which is 35 years, would need another candidate for the presidency and hence the former Defence secretary and Rajapaksa brother Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the former President told a newspaper in India earning the wrath of some of his political stalwarts.
Kumara Welgama, a close confidante of the former President and a member of his government, who last month reacted harshly to Rajapaksa’s presidential plans for his son, protesting against what he termed as family bandysim which he maintained was the reason for Rajapaksa’s defeat in the 2015 Presidential election, has reportedly opposed to the SLFP tying up with the SLPP.
Sources said that two meetings on October 9th and 11th had resulted in similar sentiments being aired by SLFP members during the meeting headed by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has been a noticeable absentee at the meeting.
There is staunch opposition by some Rajapaksa loyalists who believe that a tie up would harm Rajapaksa’s political popularity which was evident in the February 11 local government elections which was won by the SLPP.
“The need to have a tie up with the SLPP of Mahinda Rajapaksa is direly felt by President Sirisena who cannot get along with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and he (Sirisena) is desperate for a tie up with SLPP prior to the 2020 Presidential elections. The SLPP for its part has no such desperation. We want to take further time to finalise the ways and means of such an union,” a source from the SLPP said.
It is the belief among the Rajapaksas that their supporters in rural areas were strongly opposed to both President Maithripala Sirisena and Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe and that a tie up without detailed considerations could politically harm the former President.
Sources say that despite the former President’s general political calculation that it would be an opportune moment to capitalize on President Sirisena’s overall isolation, Rajapaksa would not go against the wishes of his brothers and close advisors and thus isolate himself to a point of no return.
Several members of the Rajapaksa clan had reportedly warned of the irony of a caretaker government with President Sirisena, who had betrayed Rajapaksa and destabilized the SLFP by contesting on the UNP ticket and affiliating the SLFP and UNP in a coalition government which has remained disunited for much of the past three years.
Meanwhile son of the former President, Namal Rajapaksa has stated that he would take the membership of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) when Mahinda Rajapaksa accepted the formal leadership of that party at its convention later this year. Political sources say that while Rajapaksa will continue to meet President Sirisena for further meetings to discuss the possibilities of forming an SLPP – SLFP government, that no major decision would likely to be taken unless the SLPP gets a consensus by its members. The SLPP is currently headed by Prof. G. L. Peiris, a close Rajapaksa ally who acts as a proxy for party leadership. The actual decisions of teaming up with Sirisena and what to demand for in such a tie up would be fully confirmed in the weeks to come, sources said. Many loyal to the former President are expected take up membership of the SLPP, including SLFP members who left the party. A key demand by the SLPP would be for President Sirisena to publicly disassociate himself and the SLFP from the UNP and only after that eventuality, finalise a tie up with Rajapaksa’s SLPP, sources said.