SLFP still grappling with ‘Rajapaksa factor’

Monday, 29 June 2015 00:03 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • SLFP committee of 6 to meet with President Sirisena today
  • Final decision on nomination for former Prez on Tuesday? 
  • “Mahinda to contest by hook or by crook”: Welgama 
  • Wimal to follow Mahinda all the way

By Dharisha Bastians 

Forty-eight hours after President Maithripala Sirisena dissolved Parliament paving the way for fresh elections, the question of whether he will grant his predecessor a nomination continues to dominate in political circles. 

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party chaired by President Sirisena will have swift decisions to make ahead of a 13 July deadline for nominations, regarding a spot for former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the party’s nominations list.

Former Transport Minister and Rajapaksa loyalist Kumara Welgama insisted yesterday that President Rajapaksa would definitely contest the 17 August Parliamentary election. He said a decision would be made by Tuesday as to which party the former President would be contesting under. 

“The people only want Mahinda Rajapaksa to come back. They are not interested in what party or which symbol he contests under,” Welgama told the BBC in an interview yesterday.

Frantic negotiations continue even after a top-secret pow-wow between President Sirisena and Mahinda Rajapaksa at Wijerama Mawatha about what role the former Head of State will play in the SLFP’s polls campaign. 

The Mahinda faction has already made plans to contest separately in case the former President is not granted a nomination on the SLFP ticket, with copies of his proposed polls manifesto leaking last week. 

If the SLFP gives the former President a nomination, it is still unclear how the National Freedom Front (NFF) led by Wimal Weerawansa and the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) led by Dinesh Gunewardane who are strong critics of the Sirisena administration will wrangle nominations on the SLFP/UPFA ticket. 

Yesterday Weerawansa claimed his party would contest the elections under whichever party or alliance was fielding Mahinda Rajapaksa. 

Weerawansa told a news conference yesterday that the pro-Mahinda faction had a plan A and a plan B ready. 

“The decision on whether Mahinda Rajapaksa will contest from the UPFA has to be made by its General Secretary,” the staunch Rajapaksa ally claimed, even as speculation was rampant that Susil Premajayantha could join the Mahinda faction this week. 

“Either way, Mahinda Rajapaksa will contest the elections,” Weerawansa pledged. 

Meanwhile, a rejuvenated UNP appointed a high-level team comprising former party Chairman Malik Samarawickrema, Leadership Council Chairman Karu Jayasuriya, General Secretary Kabir Hashim and lawyers Nissanka Nanayakkara and Daya Pelpola to oversee its polls campaign. 

President Sirisena, as SLFP Chairman, appointed a committee to oversee the party’s election campaign, headed by Minister S.B. Dissanayake and comprising Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Mahinda Amaraweera and Rajitha Senaratne on Friday night.

The election to choose Sri Lanka’s 15th Parliament will be held on 17 August, according to the proclamation issued by President Sirisena, dissolving Parliament at midnight on Friday.

Elections Commissioner Mahinda Deshapriya said the election campaign period would be one of the shortest ever, with nominations closing on 13 July. Applications for postal voting will close on 14 July, the Elections Chief said at a news conference on Saturday. 

The key election will be observed by several international observer missions and thousands of local polls monitors.

The European Union and the Commonwealth election observer groups are expected to arrive in Sri Lanka over the next few weeks to observe the Parliamentary polls. 

Local polls monitoring body PAFFREL said it would invite over 50 international observers to observe the 17 August election, including for the first time, US election observers.