Will SLPP and SJB eclipse SLFP and UNP? | Daily News


Will SLPP and SJB eclipse SLFP and UNP?

With just six days to close nominations for the general elections, two new political parties are all set to eclipse the two major national political parties that were in the limelight, dominating the entire political sphere since independence in 1948.

Already, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) leaders started to sign nomination papers for filing on next Thursday (March 19) and few independent groups have paid their deposits to fight in the April 25 elections. Most charismatic leader in the fray, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, who received appeals from the supporters in many districts to contest from their areas, kept his promise given to the people of Kurunegala and signed nomination papers at his residence in Wijerama Mawatha, Colombo 7 on March 11 to contest the upcoming General Elections from Kurunegala District.

Newly established parties

Once-dominant two national parties, Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and United National Party (UNP) are yet to decide to contest under their own symbols or join alliances lead by newly established parties. UNP leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe and (former?) UNP deputy leaders Sajith Premadasa, who is the leader of Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) are yet to announce their candidature and districts. Wickremesinghe, who came top in Colombo district at the last general elections in August 2015 when he was the Prime Minister, is yet to announce if he would contest from Colombo district or take the safe route to Parliament through the national list.

Sajith Premadasa, who contested from Hambantota district last time, is likely to shift to Colombo, as chances of him coming top in the Southern district, which is a stronghold of Rajapaksas is rather dim. He would prefer to shift the Colombo, which once lead by his late father Ranasinghe Premadasa. However, even if Ranil refrains from contesting, Sajith will have a formidable opponent from UNP, Ravi Karunanayake, unless the impending arrest and court case on Central Bank Bond issue adversely affect Ravi’s vote base.

The serious differences have arisen between SJB and UNP blocking the path to a compromise in order to contest as a single force. The likely scenario is the two parties would contest as separate entities, thus fighting to be the leading party in the opposition, rather than coming to power.

Similarly, there are differences between the SLPP and SLFP. However, while the SJB and UNP differences are mainly due to the leadership struggle between Sajith and Ranil, the differences between the SLPP and SLFP are largely confined to lower ranks, while there seems to be an understanding between the SLPP leader Mahinda Rajapaksa and SLFP leader Maithripala Sirisena. Furthermore, the two parties have already entered into an alliance, in which Mahinda is the leader and Maitripala is the Chairman of the alliance.

The SLFP has already acknowledged that the SLPP is the major stakeholder of the alliance. Furthermore, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s leadership has been accepted unreservedly by all the parties in the SLPP alliance.

Of the UNP MPs in the last parliament, more than two thirds have joined the SJB and will contest under its banner. If the UNP contests as a separate party under its elephant symbol, it will not be easy for the party to win more seats than the SJB.

Most political analysts are of the view that SLPP would easily get the majority seats in parliament and SJB is likely to be the second largest party, pushing the UNP to third place. Similarly, the SLFP will have to be satisfied with far less seats than the victorious SLPP.

Thus the UNP and SLFP, the two national political parties that ruled the country either as a single party or as the leading partner of an alliance for more than three decades each would end up as minor parties.

The SLFP was relegated to be a minor partner in the 2015 government, and within five years the UNP too is faced with the danger of reducing itself to be a minor party in opposition.

The decline of SLFP began when Maithripala Sirisena took over the SLFP leadership after the January 8, 2015 Presidential elections. The party became a minor partner in the UNP-dominant government in 2015 and it could never recover the position as one of the two national parties in the country.

February 2019 local government elections marked the emergence of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna as the top national political party, thus relegating the SLFP to the position of a minor party. De-facto SLPP Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa’s charisma alone was sufficient to ensure SLPP’s acceptance by the masses at the election.

Mahinda Rajapaksa took a leaf out of S W R D Bandaranaike’s 1956 record book that proved a leader could outplay a traditional national party under a new political force acceptable to the people. SLPP candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resounding victory on November 16, 2019, established the SLPP as a national party.

Leadership struggle

The UNP’s position as the alternate national party is faced with imminent decline to be a minor party due to its leadership struggle. The nominations for Parliamentary Elections have already been called, but the UNP is yet to come to an agreement. While Wickremesinghe loyalists want to contest as the UNP under the elephant symbol, Premadasa faction prefers a new symbol to be decided by the SJB, the new alliance formally launched by Sajith Premadasa, challenging Wickremesinghe’s leadership.

If the SJB and UNP contest as separate parties, the SJB and its allies under the leadership of UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa is most likely to be the main opposition party, thus pushing Wickremesinghe’s UNP, a mere shadow of the Grand Old Party formed in 1947, to be a minor party in the opposition.

Such a scenario would mark the end of the chapter in which two national parties that ruled the country since independence.

Ranil Wickremesinghe, the UNP leader for the last three decades saddled the Central Committee and Executive Committee with his loyalists and succeeded in thwarting all the democratic and undemocratic attempts to oust him from the leadership.

The UNP is fighting a losing battle today to prevent the party from disintegration due to Ranil-Sajith fight in the ugly shadow of the corrupt label registered after the recent Central Bank Bond Scam. Whether Sajith’s SJB and Ranil’s UNP contest as an alliance or as separate parties, the former is likely to be the main opposition party pushing the grand old party of Senanayakes, Jayawardenes and Wickremesinghes to be a minor party in the Opposition.

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