SLFP to see blue with May Day rivalry | Daily News

SLFP to see blue with May Day rivalry

With Avurudu celebrations over leading to the rapid approach of May Day, all signs show the political divide within the SLFP growing wider, raising key issues of policy and unity in the leadership of the party, and thereby the policy and direction of the consensual government of national unity, too.

Mahinda Rajapaksa’s announcement of attending the Joint Opposition (JO) rally at Kirilapone in Colombo, while the SLFP May Day rally in Galle, chaired by President Maithripala Sirisena, pushes aside the doubts that MR kept showing his relations with the JO were more of a balancing act, to make the SLFP led by President Sirisena make important political and other concessions to bring him to the SLFP fold. His acceptance of the invitation Dinesh Gunawardena, to participate in the Kirilapone rally, shows the political dilly-dallying on SLFP unity is over from the JO side. The next moves of ensuring party unity have been placed with the SLFP/UPFA group led by President Sirisena and with the Government of National Unity.

It is indeed strange that MR’s decision to attend the Kirilapone rally has been given as not receiving an invitation from the SLFP to attend its own rally at Galle. This is the first time one hears of leading members of political parties given invitations to attend important political rallies of the party; certainly not for an annual event such as May Day. It is a cheap excuse, from a former party leader, who organized and participated in May Day rallies from the time he entered politics.

The SLFP’s plight today, apart from the divisions that came with the defeat of MR in January 2015, is in large measure a direct result of failure to enforce party discipline, becoming evident with no action taken against those, including MR, who participated in JO’s Hyde Park rally in March this year. The pre-rally warnings about disciplinary action being taken against those who participate at Hyde Park, and the subsequent excuses for no action because there was no criticism of President Sirisena there, showed in large measure the weakness within the party.

This has not been made any better with the repeated statements by ministers from the SLFP in the UNP-SLFP government, about their determination to strengthen SLFP unity, and also being critical of the UNP, the initial larger partner in the ruling alliance. The offering of more positions in government to pro-MR people, with the further expansion of the Cabinet, has also not helped to curb the rise of the breakaway group in the party.

Leadership strength

The situation now calls for the strongest leadership of the SLFP by President Sirisena, not giving in to the shabby blue types who are around him, holding high office in governance, but to move with determination to keep the broader SLFP supporters among the public, especially in the rural areas, and among the Sinhala majority – the clear target of the MR strategies – to be with him and the party that shares power in the country with the UNP.

The President has now given an assurance that Local Government polls will be held early next year. He is acting to ease the burdens on the people through the necessary budget reforms, especially the increase in VAT. The announcement that this will not apply to water, electricity, medicine and medical services, retail foodstuffs and other essentials is an important move to pre-empt moves by MR and the JO to use any cost of living rise through VAT, and other budgetary policies, a major part of their anti-government propaganda on May Day.

While necessary to win public support at this crucial stage of the SLFP’s unity crisis, and facing the challenge posed by MR and the JO, this is likely to have a negative impact on the relations the government is seeking to build with the IMF and other international monetary and aid organizations, which look for definite signs of economic reform, moving away from the populist but hugely wasteful policies of the Rajapaksa Regime, which has pushed Sri Lanka into the present economic crisis.

Task for Prime Minister

What emerges from this situation is the increased burden placed on Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP, to take the necessary measures to bring about economic progress; at least until the SLFP is able to resolve its internal issues and make a serious contribution to the policies of progress promised to the people, in the two elections in 2015 – Presidential and General.

This brings the country to the stage of a new Political Resolution, to give effect to the promises and expectations in the campaign to elect the government of national consensus, and ensure it continues on the path of progress and not that of division and political rivalry, making little or no contribution to the needs of national development today.

The Prime Minister’s recent announcement that an Economic and Development Master Plan will be announced in June, and thereafter all activities of the country would be spearheaded based on it, shows the new focus of government on economic development, in keeping with the tasks of strengthening peace and national reconciliation.

Stating the Chinese grant of 500 million Yuan would be invested for the purposes of essential development, the Prime Minister has stressed we must have financial discipline and move to a budget deficit target of 3.5 per cent by 2020. The related moves will help generate the promised one million jobs and bring about a much better and closer relationship with the world market and economy.

The JO and MR sought to take credit for the new relations with China, stating that while the government was critical of earlier relations with that country (under the MR Regime) it had now gone back to have good relations with Beijing.

The Prime Minister has given the lie on this thinking by showing that infrastructure projects about which the MR Regime was so boastful were useless, without good links to a programme of economic development. He gave as examples the Hambantota harbour and Mattala Airport (both carrying the Rajapaksa name) which were major infrastructure projects without any economic planning for progress, and therefore a burden on the country. The issue of the huge debt burden to China, taking generations to pay back, is never mentioned by the Rajapaksas and the JO.

EU and fisheries

Amidst the SLFP crisis and the strains on the economy, there is the good news that the EU ban imposed on Sri Lankan fish exports has been lifted. This is a major achievement, showing the success of good governance, which will restore a major source of export income to the country, and also help the fishing community.

It is important to record that the ban which took place in 2015, was announced in October 2014 by the EU, despite Sri Lanka being its second biggest importer in this sector. The ban came due to the failure of the then government to “tackle the commercial benefits from illegal fishing. Sri Lanka received a “yellow card”, a stern warning, in November 2012, as the country was not complying with international rules on illegal fishing and had inadequate control systems.

This is a clear example of the failure of the Rajapaksa Regime to act in keeping with international law and the ethics of international trade, leading to a major economic loss to the country. The Government of Consensus has very good reason to take all credit on this new progress in a major area of livelihood and export earnings. This is also a good sign that the GSP Plus facility would also be restored by the EU, helping the garment industry to get back to even more than the strength it had in the past.

Crime and corruption

There is also the good news of progress in the Thajudeen murder case, with the former Crime - Officer in Charge (OIC) of the Narahenpita Police, arrested yesterday for concealing evidence in this case being remanded till May 5. No doubt there will also be other arrests of personnel who initially ruled that the Thajudeen death was an accident.

The public will be looking for speedy action on revelations from the Panama Papers, and other issues of crime and corruption of the Rajapaksa days, which appear pushed behind amidst the political divide in the SLFP. The Government should not allow the JO to make political capital of the Panama Papers, and the older issues of corruption. It is time to move ahead in the fight against crime and corruption, bringing people to be supportive of the government, and defeat the divisive strategies of the MR and the JO.

The rival meetings in Colombo and Galle on May Day, will the SLFP see the blue of discontent instead of the red of unity. Yet, the battle for unity will be the stuff of future politics in that part.


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