The Credibility Crisis of New Electoral Alignments

M. S. M. Ayub | 11 September 2022
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In spite of any election being not around the corner and some including the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) arguing against holding elections at this juncture citing economic crisis, several political parties and groups are busy forming new electoral alignments.

The 13 SLPP MPs including SLPP Chairman Professor G.L. Peiris and Dullas Alahapperuma who became “independent” of their party recently launched a new political party naming it “Nidhahas Janatha Sabhawa” (NJS) or Freedom People’s Congress (FPC) on March 2.  The selection of the date, September 2 and the word “Freedom” in the name of the new party indicate their psychological attachments to the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) which was formed by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike on September 2, 1951.   Some members of the group including its leader Dullas Alahapperuma were brought into politics through the SLFP.

The office of the FPC was opened in Koswatta, Nawala. Addressing the first media conference of the group at the office Alahapperuma indicated that they were prompted to form the new political entity by the sidelining of them by the SLPP leadership. He also said that the legislature has been taken control of by an invisible force. He accused by implication Party’s National Organiser Basil Rajapaksa of all these. 

On the same day, the SLFP led by former President Maithripala Sirisena held its 71st anniversary and convention at the National Youth Council premises in Maharagama where the party’s constitution was amended giving its leader wide powers to sack members. Party leader Maithripala Sirisena said that his party will join hands with like-minded political parties to form the next government. 

Cracks in the SLPP-led government did not occur on the basis of policy. It was the arrogance and highhandedness of the SLPP leaders towards these three groups that distanced them from the government 

Two days later, on September 4, fifteen MPs of the eleven small political parties that contested the last Parliamentary election under the SLPP and acted as a separate group since April after being sidelined by the ruling party leaders formed a new alliance. Named by its leaders “Uththara Lanka Sabagaya” (ULS), the new alliance held its inaugural meeting at the National Youth Council in Maharagama on the same day. Addressing the meeting the Chairman of the ULS Wimal Weerawansa who is also the leader of the National Freedom Front (NFF) said that the new alliance was formed to find answers (uththara) to the current socioeconomic issues. The ULS currently has 15 MPs in Parliament. 

Meanwhile, the head office of the Nawa Lanka Nidhahas Pakshaya (NLNP) or New Lanka Freedom Party (NLFP) led by Kumara Welgama was declared open by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga in Battaramulla on September 5. The party was first launched on March 6, 2020, at Pitakotte but was not heard of since. Welgama claimed at the opening ceremony of the new office that his party will follow true Bandaranaike policy. Yet, he is still a Member of Parliament of the main Opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB). 

Of these four new electoral alignments, the first three are breakaway groups of the current ruling coalition and there were altogether 39 MPs under them until Thursday. Of them, Six SLFPers rejoined the government on Thursday, after being offered State Minister posts. Another six SLPP Parliamentarians have also announced they would act independently in Parliament but have not formed their own party or joined any other party yet. 

If these four groups elected to Parliament under SLPP’s Lotus Bud symbol act decisively against the SLPP, the party would lose its Parliamentary majority, as its strength would go down from 145 to 106 in the 225-member Parliament. Even if the three SLFPers, Nimal Siripala de Silva, Mahinda Amaraweera and Chamara Sampath Dassanayake who joined the government weeks ago are added, the SLPP would only be able to count its strength as 109. Chamara Sampath was also appointed as a State Minister on Thursday.

However, the impact that these new groups can make on the results of future elections is not clear. Sometimes it would be negligible, or they would gain some significance in the event of a close fight between the two main contenders. Three main hurdles stand in their way. Firstly, they too do not have any viable solution appealing to the masses to the current socioeconomic mess. They too, as the other Opposition parties do, have to rely on the failures of the government to win popular support. 

Secondly, policies and/or credibility of a political party alone would not matter to the ordinary voter. People prefer to be on the winning side or they are carried away by the “Rella” which is in most cases created by the media hypes as well as by being everywhere during the election campaign. This mindset of the voters is the factor that always makes the JVP to suffer. 

Thirdly, credibility highly matters for a new or small party. The new electoral alignments would most probably fail in this test. The contribution of these groups to the election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the President and installing the SLPP-led government and voting for the 20th Amendment to the Constitution would always haunt them. It is not clear whether Weerawansa can justify now the basis for his comparison of Gotabaya Rajapaksa with Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore and Mahinda Rajapaksa with Mahathir Mohamed of Malaysia. Similarly, Gammanpila portrayed Gotabaya Rajapaksa who later created an unprecedented economic mess as a blend of qualities of Lee Kuan Yew, Mahathir Mohamed and Vladimir Putin. Can they say that their statements did not impact the minds of the voters?  

Cracks in the SLPP-led government did not occur on the basis of policy. It was the arrogance and highhandedness of the SLPP leaders towards these three groups that distanced them from the government. The political future of Alahapperuma who handled the media campaign on behalf of Mahinda Rajapaksa during the three Presidential elections that the latter contested was initially threatened by the Rajapaksa brothers by fielding their nephew Nipuna Ranawaka, in Alahapperuma’s District, Matara as a candidate. Besides, the groups led by Weerawansa and Alahapperuma have strong personal issues with Basil Rajapaksa.  None of the MPs contested under the SLPP would have probably been “independent” had they not been deprived of ministerial portfolios at the end of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s tenure. Also neither would they have found any threat to internal party democracy in the SLPP or human rights violations in the crackdown on the protesters or using the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) against them.  Hence, with an offer of a ministerial portfolio and a degree of recognition, any of the dissident MPs – rare exceptions apart - can be won over by the government. Nine SLFPers have proved it until Thursday. They will find a strong justification for their act in such an event. The majority of them are the people who voted for the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th Amendments to the Constitution which alternately negated each other, in respect of the powers of the President.  Some of them have been regular turncoats who had been on the side of all successive governments since 1990, except for a brief period in between. 

Some supported President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s draft Constitution of 2000 which proposed a ten-year interim administration for Northern and Eastern Provinces during the LTTE’s heyday and even supported the federal agreement between Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government and the LTTE in 2003. Then they unhesitatingly supported President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s policy on the ethnic issue as well.  

These new parties have first to address this credibility crisis as it would haunt them always and everywhere. Despite it being a difficult task, the economic situation sometimes might give them sufficient time and issues to do so.  

M. S. M. Ayub, Columnist.  

This article was originally published on Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka.
Views in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect CGS policy.