SLFP plunges into crisis with Maithri’s speech, Mahinda’s brinkmanship
UPFA defies President’s order; holds emergency meeting at Darley Road
Court issues injunction against holding SLFP CC meet in party leader’s absence
Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed to lead UPFA election operations committee
Susil says President Sirisena agreed to give Rajapaksa the appointment
Mahinda sits at head table during UPFA leaders meet
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa chairs the crisis SLFP meeting yesterday along with senior and loyal supporters from the party and UPFA
By Dharisha Bastians
The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) was plunged into crisis yesterday, after President Maithripala Sirisena denounced his predecessor’s candidacy on the UPFA ticket and Rajapaksa loyalists renewed attempts to wrest control of the alliance.
A high-stakes game of political chess between Presidents incumbent and former continued yesterday with Mahinda Rajapaksa securing an appointment as head of the UPFA Elections Operations Committee only one day after President Sirisena strongly opposed his candidacy.
Rajapaksa loyalists held an emergency meeting at the SLFP Darley Road Headquarters that had previously been cancelled by President Maithripala Sirisena, issuing a direct challenge to the President’s authority.
Hours later, SLFP member Prasanna Solongaarachchi filed a motion in court to prevent the SLFP Central Committee being convened without approval from the party leader. The Colombo District Court issued an injunction preventing the Central Committee from convening without the permission from SLFP Chairman, President Siriena.
Earlier yesterday President Sirisena wrote to SLFP General Secretary Anura Priyadarshana Yapa, ordering him to cancel the Central Committee meeting that had been convened without his permission.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, who attended the UPFA meeting last morning, was seated at the head of the table, flanked by the General Secretaries of the SLFP and the UPFA, Anura Priyadarshana Yapa and Susil Premajayantha.
A letter dated 3 July, appointing Rajapaksa as leader of the UPFA election campaign was also released to the media by Secretary Premajayantha. He said the decision had been made with President Sirisena’s concurrence the same day he had agreed to grant Rajapaksa the nomination on the UPFA ticket.
The meeting followed President Sirisena’s shocking speech at the Presidential Secretariat on Tuesday, where he predicted Rajapaksa’s defeat and claimed he had tried to block the former President’s candidacy.
A meeting of the SLFP Central Committee called last evening by General Secretary Yapa has also been cancelled by the President.
Moves are afoot to sideline Sirisena from the UPFA and the SLFP after party seniors said his remarks had badly damaged their chances at the August election.
Sirisena flayed former President Rajapaksa as Sri Lanka’s only sitting president to have contested the presidency and lost his seat, and ridiculed him for now seeking power through Parliament.
“All other presidents served two terms and left office with their dignity intact. Now he has set the record as the only sitting president to be defeated at an election,” Sirisena said.
Tuesday’s speech was President Sirisena’s first public admission that he was fighting Rajapaksa for internal control of the SLFP and the UPFA.
“He removed presidential term limits and set himself up to contest for life, depriving all others in the UPFA the chance to contest. Now what is he trying to do? He wants to deprive SLFP seniors of the opportunity to become Prime Minister by claiming that title for himself,” the President charged.
Sources said his loyalists had met with former President Rajapaksa at his Mirihana residence last morning to determine how to respond to the President’s fiery assault on Tuesday.
Premajayantha however told reporters there were no moves to oust President Sirisena as UPFA leader. “Even if President Sirisena says Mahinda Rajapaksa is going to lose, our position is that he is going to win,” Premajayantha told the media outside the SLFP Headquarters.
SLFP General Secretary Anura Yapa also spoke to media after the meeting, saying the party’s sole aim was to defeat the UNP at the forthcoming election. “Today the SLFP is united,” Yapa said.
The SLFP General Secretary said the party would be making a decision about President Sirisena’s statement on Tuesday at the Central Committee meeting later last evening. “I don’t want to speak of these things publicly,” Yapa asserted.
Former UPFA Matara District MP and staunch Rajapaksa loyalist Dulles Alahapperuma criticised the President’s remarks on Tuesday saying it was the first time in the history of world politics that the leader of one party had declared he had dissolved parliament in order to rescue the leader of another. “I was shocked by the President’s statement,” Alahapperuma said.