‘National List’ poser for all parties:
SLFP purge heralds UPFA break-up
If there was any politician who foresaw the results of the
Parliamentary election on Monday, he was none other than President
Within hours of polling closure at 4 pm on August 17, President
Sirisena, in his capacity as the SLFP Chairman, acted swiftly to remove
13 members from the Central Committee, the apex decision making body of
the party, with immediate effect. He knew the party might have to enter
into a reform-phase soon after the election and he needed to consolidate
his power in the party before any such process.
Before the Parliamentary election, the balance of power within the
SLFP’s decision-making bodies were very much in favour of former
President Mahinda Rajapaksa as most of the members who served in such
committees were appointed by him.
President Sirisena was aware of the fact that he needed to make his
own appointments before embarking on post-election internal reforms. As
he made the move after the polling was closed, the mini-purge of pro-Rajapaksa
elements in the Central Committee did not make any impact on the final
outcome of the election.
One of the key moves by President Sirisena soon after the elections
was the appointment of former President Chandrika Bandaranaike
Kumaratunga to the party’s Central Committee. It was a clear indication
that the President was intent on cleaning up the party as former
President Kumaratunga was hostile to Rajapaksa and a staunch advocate of
The outcome of the Parliamentary election also underscored the need
for immediate reforms as the results sent shockwaves through the rank
and file of the SLFP. Although the UPFA coalition managed to obtain 95
seats, it was quite evident that coalition partners of the UPFA had
penetrated into the vote base of the SLFP.
For instance, the National Freedom Front, led by Wimal Weerawansa,
obtained parliamentary seats in Colombo, Matara, Anuradhapura, Kalutara
and Moneragala districts. Had the NFF contested alone, it would not have
been able to secure a single seat in Parliament. Therefore, it was quite
evident that minor stakeholders of the UPFA had capitalized on the
voter-base of the SLFP, depriving the SLFP candidates of their
Parliamentary seats. This development was disadvantageous and
detrimental to candidates representing the SLFP, the major stakeholder
of the UPFA Coalition.
For instance, among the Colombo District MPs-elect of the UPFA, there
is only one actual SLFP member - none other than UPFA General Secretary
Susil Premajayantha who came third in Colombo’s preferential votes list
under the UPFA symbol. The other six members elected from the Colombo
district are either members of minor parries of the UPFA or SLFP
candidates who were originally cross-overs from other parties.
Although the UPFA seems like a formidable opposition coalition at
this juncture with 95 seats in Parliament, its main party, the SLFP, has
lost its strength in an unprecedented way.
This was a key concern of President Sirisena when he summoned all
SLFP MPs-elect to Colombo on Thursday, two days after the election.
Significantly, he did not invite any member from other constituent
parties of the UPFA. All elected MPs of the SLFP, except Kurunegala
district MP-elect Mahinda Rajapaksa, attended the meeting convened by
Addressing the meeting, the President made his position clear on
future political activity in collaboration with the UPFA. He stressed
the need for protecting party discipline and not criticising the party’s
decisions in outside fora. The President said firmly, that ‘stern
action’ would be taken against any member who engaged in such
activities, irrespective of his or her position in the party. This
warning showed that President Sirisena was closely observing
developments within the party, especially during the Parliamentary
He also emphasized that the Parliamentary group of the party should
only meet under the auspices of the party Chairman or former Opposition
Leader Nimal Siripala de Silva. He said in no uncertain terms that
“others” should not attempt to convene any group meeting for SLFP MPs.
Although the President did not refer to former President Mahinda
Rajapaksa by name, it was clear to everyone that he was alluding to the
conduct of his predecessor.
At this point, former Western Province Chief Minister and Gampaha
District MP-elect Prasanna Ranatunga said a meeting, chaired by former
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, was scheduled to take place at his
residence in Colombo. Interestingly, Ranatunga, a vociferous supporter
of Rajapaksa during the Presidential election, distanced himself from
the meeting, saying he was just ‘facilitating’ the meeting and he was
not involved in organizing it.
Rajapaksa’s meeting dodged
The meeting held at Prasanna Ranatunga’s house was attended by those
UPFA MPs who had openly backed former President Rajapaksa’s un-official
Prime Ministerial bid. However, a sizable proportion of SLFP MPs who
earlier supported Rajapaksa dodged the meeting citing various reasons.
Speaking to his most loyal associates, Rajapaksa said he did not wish
to be the Opposition Leader of the new Parliament. He later added a
caveat saying the UPFA MP group should make a decision on the new
Opposition Leader. He then changed his position again saying he was
willing to accept the Opposition Leader’s post on the condition that
such an appointment does not lead to the division in the party and
majority of the UPFA parliamentarians do not have any objection over his
“I will raise my voice on issues concerning national security while
being in the opposition,” he said.
However, the members who attended the meeting insisted that Rajapaksa
should be appointed as the Opposition Leader - the same position he held
13 years back. They also went on to sign a letter addressed to President
Maithripala Sirisena seeking his approval to appoint Rajapaksa as the
Opposition Leader. They also signed a similar letter addressed to the
Speaker of Parliament requesting Rajapaksa’s appointment as the
Opposition Leader during the first sitting of the new Parliament. During
the discussion, the former President instructed his loyalists to desist
from confronting the new hierarchy of the SLFP and the UPFA at this
At the time the meeting took place, the power struggle surrounding
the national list of the UPFA was at its peak and the pro-Rajapaksa
group had plans to present a separate national list to the Elections
Following Rajapaksa’s instructions, their resistance died down and
they withdrew their decision to present a separate national list,
countering new UPFA General Secretary Professor Vishwa Warnapala.
CBK leads national govt talks
The SLFP Central Committee too was scheduled to meet on Thursday
under the auspices of President Maithripala Sirisena at the party
headquarters. Although the Colombo District Court earlier issued an
enjoining order preventing the Central Committee from meeting before
August 24 without the party Chairman’s approval, the court order didn’t
stand in the way of this Central Committee meeting as it was convened by
the party Chairman according to powers vested in him by the SLFP
The highlight of the meeting was the participation of former
President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga who attended a Central
Committee meeting after 10 years. She was warmly welcomed by party
colleagues and officials as she entered the meeting room to participate
in the affairs of the party’s supreme decision making body.
The main objective of the Central Committee meeting was to discuss
the way forward of the party in the aftermath of the election defeat.
The possibility of forming a national government with the UNP was widely
discussed as the UNP, as an individual party, did not have absolute
majority in Parliament. The Central Committee members said they had no
issue with supporting a government led by President Maithripala Sirisena,
who is also the SLFP Chairman.
After taking viewpoints expressed by the Central Committee members
into consideration, a six-member committee was appointed to discuss the
formation of a national government in detail. The committee headed by
former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga also comprised Nimal
Siripala de Silva, Dr. Sarath Amunugama, Susil Premajayantha, Mahinda
Samarasinghe and S.B. Dissanayake. The committee was tasked with
reaching a consensus for the formation of a national government that
will pave the way for solving the major issues faced by the country.
Premajayantha’s inclusion in the committee is of great significance
as he was a key supporter of former President Rajapaksa in the recent
past. Due to his pro-Rajapaksa leanings, Premajayantha was sacked as the
UPFA General Secretary by President Sirisena just a few days before the
election. However, as a result of his pro-Rajapaksa leanings,
Premajayantha, a tail-ender in the UPFA preferential votes list in 2010,
managed to become third in the UPFA list this year, obtaining more than
100,000 votes. However, it was clear that Premajayantha had joined the
national government bandwagon just a few days after the election.
Meanwhile, three Central Committee members, Dulles Alahapperuma,
Kumara Welgama and Pavithra Wanniarachchi vehemently opposed the
formation of a national government on the grounds that the UPFA did not
have a mandate to form a national government with the UNP. They were of
the view that the party should function as the main opposition party in
President to rectify ‘distortion’
In addition to the formation of a national government, the Central
Committee also discussed the reasons that led to the election defeat of
the party. At this point, a senior Central Committee member and a former
Parliamentarian said the party could have prevented its defeat, had it
appointed a Prime Ministerial candidate who could unite the party.
Internal divisions within the party were cited as the main reason for
the failure of the UPFA’s election campaign. Some Central Committee
members said some candidates, who were not supportive of Rajapaksa, were
not allowed to carry out their election campaigns freely. “Groups were
deployed to various parts of the country to jeer at them during election
meetings,” a senior Central Committee member said.
After this matter was raised, President Sirisena took a decision to
accommodate some of the defeated candidates in the national list on the
basis that they were defeated not by the opposition, but by a group
within their own party.
“Some of our candidates were not able to carry out their elections
campaigns due to pressure from pro-Rajapaksa candidates. They openly
urged UPFA supporters not to vote for candidates supporting President
Maithripala Sirisena. They lost the election as there was a
hate-campaign against them, internally. The President has rectified that
distortion when appointing national list members,” a senior spokesman of
the party said.
As a result of President Sirisena’s intervention, five defeated
candidates of the UPFA, Vijith Wijithamuni Zoysa, S.B. Dissanayake,
Mahinda Samarasinghe, Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena and Thilanga Sumathipala
were included in the national list which was presented to the Elections
Commissioner on Friday afternoon. Other national list members included
Sarath Amunugama, Dilan Perera, A. Ramanathan, M.L.A.M. Hisbulla, Malith
Jayathilake, Faizer Mustapha and A.H.M. Fowzie.
Several former MPs, who were previously named as national list
candidates of the UPFA, lost their seats following the decision to
accommodate defeated candidates in the national list. They included
D.E.W. Gunasekera, Tissa Vitarana, Prof. G.L. Peiris, Prof. Rajiva
Wijesinha, Tissa Attanayake, J. Sri Ranga, Reginald Cooray, Jeewan
Kumaratunga, Tiran Alles and Prabha Ganeshan. The majority of them had
been active supporters of former President Rajapaksa and his comeback
Premajayantha prepares anti-MR list
Ironically, the CC member who prepared this seemingly anti-Rajapaksa
UPFA national list was former UPFA General Secretary Susil Premajayantha.
Premajayantha’s role was revealed when new UPFA General Secretary Prof.
Vishwa Warnapala informed the Colombo District Court that he had no
objection to former General Secretary Premajayantha getting involved in
preparing the national list of the UPFA. Warnapala had to inform the
court about this development as it had earlier issued an enjoining order
preventing Premajayantha from functioning as the General Secretary of
The large majority of national list members appointed to Parliament
by the UPFA are SLFP members. It is evident that nominees of the
constituent parties of the UPFA have been deliberately left out. Apart
from Leftist leaders such as D.E.W. Gunasekera and Tissa Vitarana, two
members from the National Freedom Front (Piyasiri Wijenaike and M.F.
Muzammil) and the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna representative (Somaweera
Chandrasiri) have also been ignored.
By leaving them out, the President gave an indication that he was not
willing to proceed with the UPFA in the future. The UPFA elections
operations office in the SLFP headquarters was also closed down last
week and there is speculation that President Sirisena might dissolve the
UPFA on August 24. That would compel present constituent parties of the
UPFA to function as independent and stand-alone entities in Parliament.
“I am not aware as to why we were denied the national list slots.
However, it is a political decision taken by the President,” LSSP Leader
Prof. Tissa Vitarana told the Sunday Observer.
Asked about the agreement the LSSP and CP reached with the UPFA prior
to the elections, Prof Vitharana said it was not an official document,
but was an ‘understanding’. When asked what future steps would be taken
in this regard, he observed that a party meeting would be convened
shortly to decide on the future course of action.
“As far as we are concerned we have always worked to help the SLFP.
That was our policy. Now we have to re-examine our policies, because the
SLFP has got together with the UNP to set up a so-called national
government. We are unaware of the terms of that agreement,” he added.
Asked his opinion on including defeated candidates via the National
List, he said “The people have rejected them and if they are being
included then it means the SLFP leadership does not accord with the
wishes of the people”.
D.E.W. Gunasekara commenting on his deprivation of a national list
slot, said they had had no say over the process. “We were asked to
submit our party’s names for the national list and we did so. That was
the practice for a long time now. Giving us national list slots was a
tradition since 1994. It has been violated this time,” he said.
MEP Vice Chairman Somaweera Chandrasiri said decisions with regard to
the UPFA national list have been made in an arbitrary manner. “The
Executive Committee of the UPFA did not meet prior to the finalization
of the national list. The names were not discussed with other parties of
the UPFA It was a list prepared at the sole the discretion of the acting
General Secretary without discussing with other stakeholders. We hope to
bring this issue to light.
National Freedom Front (NFF) Leader Wimal Weerawansa, commenting on
the national list issue said the “national list scam” was similar to the
so-called bond scam. “The President, who did not support victory for the
UPFA, has now claimed the national list. He had filled it at his own
discretion. This is an uncivilized political move. We are looking at it
with shame and abhorrence. The people will make a decision on that move.
The President has belittled and challenged the sovereign power of the
people by appointing defeated candidates through the national list.
People defeated them for a reason. The purpose of a national list is not
to accommodate them back,” he said.
However, the President’s intentions are very clear. The President, at
this point, wants to strengthen the SLFP, without allowing other
constituent parties of the UPFA to cash in on the SLFP’s strength. In
his letter sent to former President Rajapaksa four days before the
election, President Sirisena said Rajapaksa had become a prisoner of
minor parties of the UPFA.
Meanwhile, the SLFP hierarchy has so far sacked four members from the
Executive Committee of the UPFA. The ’sacked’ members include Kumara
Welgama, S.B. Chandrasena, Pavithra Wanniarachchi and T.B. Ekanayake.
All of them were vociferous campaigners for Mahinda Rajapaksa during the
The sacked Executive Committee members received their letters on
Friday and they were signed by the General Secretaries of the SLFP and
the UPFA. By removing Rajapaksa loyalists from the UPFA list, President
Sirisena will consolidate his power in the UPFA decision-making bodies
too. As a result, any decision made by him over the future of the UPFA
will be supported by the coalition’s Executive Committee.
Krishantha Cooray makes way
The United National Party, which won the election with 106 seats for
its ‘UNFGG’ coalition, managed to stick to its original list when
appointing the party’s national list. The UNP was entitled to 13
national list slots and UNP General Secretary Kabir Hashim told the
Sunday Observer that it was a “daunting task” to select 13 candidates
from the list submitted to the Elections Department.
To make the General Secretary’s task easy, the party’s media unit
head and Working Committee member Krishantha Cooray voluntarily stepped
down from the list, saying he did not wish to be appointed on the
national list. In his withdrawal letter, he told the party leadership
that he did not need a parliamentary seat to serve the UNP.
The JVP too ran into a problem when appointing national list members
as the party decided to appoint Matara district candidate Sunil
Handunnetti as a national list member. This decision irked Chrishmal
Warnasuriya who was a leading member of the JVP’s original national
He claimed that the party had decided to appoint Handunnetti as a
national list MP without discussing the matter with members of the
original national list. He accused the JVP of breaching the trust placed
in them by the people.
In a statement posted on his Facebook page yesterday, Warnasuriya
addressed party leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake and said that he was
caught in a difficult position as a result of the decision made by the
“I sincerely hope that you had a REASON for doing what you just did.
I am deeply perplexed as none have been explained to me!
However, now that you have taken this step, I will expect you to
appreciate that I too will have to EXPLAIN all of this to the many who
supported us, and who are now inquiring of me - WHY?” Warnasuriya asked
in his Face Book statement.
Sunil Handunnetti, who was picked over Warnasuriya in the list,
served as a Parliamentarian continuously for 15 years. Although many
believed that the JVP would be able to secure a seat from the Matara
district, the party did not receive sufficient votes as there was a
close race between the two mainstream parties.