Maithri makes way for Mahinda

Saturday, 4 July 2015 02:21 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • All quiet on Sirisena front as MR camp comes out all guns blazing
  • UPFA General Secretary issues press release announcing nomination minutes before press briefing at Abhayaramaya
  • Radio silence from President’s Office regarding U-turn on nomination
  • Wimal says MR and MS reached ‘historic agreement’ to save the party
  • President has discarded his 8 Jan  mandate, joined us: Vasu
  • Sudden shift caused by potential defection of SLFP stalwarts to Mahinda camp?
  • Susil denies Basil’s presence at Thursday night meeting


By Dharisha Bastians

The pro-Rajapaksa faction of the United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance claimed a major victory with the announcement yesterday that Mahinda Rajapaksa would receive a nomination on the coalition ticket, but there was radio silence from the President’s Office about the decision.

At about 3.30 p.m. yesterday, UPFA General Secretary Susil Premajayantha issued a press statement announcing the decision to grant the former President a nomination on the party ticket.

“Based on the UPFA party leaders’ meeting chaired by President Maithripala Sirisena on 2 July, as discussed it has been decided to grant former President Mahinda Rajapaksa a nomination for the forthcoming parliamentary elections,” the release which was signed by Premajayantha said.

There is still no official reaction to the announcement by the UPFA General Secretary from President Sirisena’s office or his aides at the time of going to press. The Sri Lanka Freedom Party Central Committee is yet to make a final decision on the nomination for the ex-President, Daily FT learns. President Sirisena also holds the title of UPFA Chairman and could still exercise his powers to withhold the nomination, highly placed sources told Daily FT.

But pro-Rajapaksa UPFA leaders, holding a press briefing at the Abhayaramaya Temple in Narahenpita shortly after Premajayantha released the statement, hailed President Sirisena for his decision. In an interesting twist, the Abhayarama press briefing was originally scheduled for 11.00 a.m. but was postponed at the last minute till 4.00 p.m..

UPFA leaders addressing the briefing told reporters that the postponement had taken place at the behest of the SLFP, which wanted time to issue the statement announcing its decision about Rajapaksa’s nomination.

“Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena have reached a historic agreement today,” National Freedom Front Leader Wimal Weerawansa told journalists at the temple premises, which has now become headquarters for the pro-Rajapaksa cabal of the UPFA.

Weerawansa noted that the disagreements between the two rivals in the January presidential race had been "personal ones".

"Today for the sake of the party and the country, they have put aside their differences," Weerawansa said.

"President Sirisena has realised that Mahinda Rajapaksa is a key factor in Sri Lankan politics," said Mahajana Eksath Peramuna Leader Dinesh Gunawardena,

Former Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris said the decision to grant Rajapaksa nominations on the UPFA ticket marked an important milestone in the campaign that began with the Nugegoda rally in February.

"This decision virtually guarantees the victory of the UPFA led by the SLFP at the forthcoming elections," Peiris told reporters at the news conference.

"We would like to thank the SLFP Leader Maithripala Sirisena for authorising the General Secretary to issue this statement," Peiris said.

The UPFA party leaders claimed that Sirisena had decided to extract himself from the Maithri-Ranil Government and go forward to create a Maithri-Mahinda Government in the future.

"Yes, President Sirisena has discarded the mandate he was given in January," UPFA MP and New Left Front Leader Vasudeva Nanayakkara told BBC Sinhala after the press briefing yesterday.

"We consider it a great victory now that he has got on board with our mandate," Nanayakkara chuckled.

The announcement follows a secret meeting held at Premajayantha's residence on Thursday night, attended by several Rajapaksa loyalists, including Basil Rajapaksa. Premajayantha claimed yesterday that the meeting had been a private one, and denied Basil Rajapaksa's presence, even though private television cameras stationed outside the UPFA General Secretary's home captured the former Minister being driven away.

Also at Thursday night's private meeting were MEP Leader Dinesh Gunawardena and former Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamaege. Aluthgamage was ducking the cameras as he left the UPFA General Secretary's residence. Premajayantha reacted angrily to repeated questions about Basil Rajapaksa's presence at the meeting and threatened the journalist saying he would refuse to give the media organisation any further statements and restrict them to press briefings and press releases only.

Daily FT learns that the decision to grant the former President a nomination from the UPFA was precipitated by the fact that a majority of the constituent parties represented in the alliance's executive committee had endorsed the move.

The SLFP, led by President Sirisena and the JHU, which joined his campaign for the presidency in January, alone stood against granting the nomination at Thursday night's meeting of UPFA leaders at the Presidential Secretariat.

The meeting ended inconclusively on Thursday night, Nanayakkara said, after President Sirisena ruled out the possibility of giving Mahinda Rajapaksa a nomination. However, the President's change of heart yesterday, came amid speculation that at least two SLFP stawarts were tipped to join the Rajapaksa faction that day.

Government Spokesman Rajitha Senaratne told reporters last night that it had only been agreed to grant the former President a nomination, but he would not be declared the UPFA's prime ministerial candidate, or the leader of the electoral campaign.

Senaratne, Arjuna Ranatunga and other SLFP members who crossed over to support Sirisena's bid for the presidency in January have been pluntged into the centre of the crisis. As SLFP members who opposed the Rajapaksa re-election, the MPs will find it difficult to go back and face their electorates if the ex-President is also on the ticket. This group is in discussions to break from the UPFA and contest independently, Daily FT learns.