man who made no secret of the fact that
he had ambitions for the presidential
chair, SB’s decision to re-join the SLFP
must have been a difficult one. However,
the motives of S.B. Dissanayake in
joining the SLFP is the impact this will
have on the presidential election
Undoubtedly, even if it is not for the
most moral and ethical reasons, SB would
be an asset to any campaign. He surely
gets the job done.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, a street
smart politician, if ever there was one,
feels that the contest is tough enough
to enrol SB’s services. That he
personally visited SB’s Hanguranketha
residence to woo him to the SLFP,
underscores the value placed on the man.
As such, his presence will add fillip to
a UPFA campaign that is already streets
ahead of the joint opposition effort.
SB is expected to bring to the
President’s campaign: crowd-pulling
risqué oratory, tactics bordering on the
daring and a general knack for correctly
reading the public mood
months of intense speculation as to where his
loyalties lay, the United National Party’s (UNP)
National Organiser S.B. Dissanayake finally took the
plunge and crossed over to the Sri Lanka Freedom
Party (SLFP) last week.
Sumanaweera Banda Dissanayake, ‘SB’ to all, is of
course, no stranger to controversy. He is as
colourful and controversial as he ever was, be it as
the Minister of Samurdhi Affairs, Minister of
Sports, General Secretary of the SLFP, or even as a
loud-mouthed opposition parliamentarian, the latter
earning him a jail sentence for contempt of the
will be recalled that when he first crossed over to
the UNP from the Peoples’ Alliance government, after
falling out with President Chandrika Kumaratunga,
the move eventually led to the downfall of
Kumaratunga’s regime, and helped usher in a United
National Front (UNF) administration.
Following this manoeuvre, SB donned on himself the
mantle of political kingmaker, but unfortunately for
him, that UNF government was short-lived, and SB was
confined to the ranks of the opposition once again.
It was here that he fell foul with the highest
courts of law and was jailed.
SB saw himself as a martyr of sorts, following
that escapade, and on being pardoned and released
from jail, he made thinly veiled attacks on the UNP
leadership, even though he was allowed to resume his
role as the National Organiser of the party.
In interviews with the media, SB was not shy to
admit that he harboured presidential ambitions. He
contested the Provincial Council elections this year
as the Chief Ministerial contender from the UNP, and
lost to the lesser known Sarath Ekanayake, but
polled a record number of Preference votes.
It was then that he made noises about wanting to be
the party’s nominee for the presidential election
against President Mahinda Rajapaksa. As events
unfolded, the UNP eventually refrained from
nominating a candidate, and endorsed the candidacy
of General Sarath Fonseka instead.
Many UNPers saw this as a strategic move by
Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was
fighting his own battle within the party to remain
as its leader. A third straight defeat at the
presidential polls would have indeed been disastrous
However, the party’s decision to endorse Fonseka
meant that the prospect of Wickremesinghe contesting
the 2016 presidential polls now becomes a distinct
possibility. And, SB, now a not so young man in a
hurry, was not enamoured with this prospect.
SB did meet with Fonseka, after the latter’s
nomination, and offered his support. He even went on
record heaping praise on Fonseka for his role in
annihilating the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)
calling him the ‘Man of the Match’. But obviously,
after weighing his own prospects, he had second
For a man who made no secret of the fact that he had
ambitions for the presidential chair, the decision
to re-join the SLFP must have been a difficult one.
It is also a decision that would have made other
party seniors in the SLFP more than a little uneasy.
However, the motives of S.B. Dissanayake in
joining the SLFP are not the issue at stake here.
What is more relevant for discussion is the impact
this will have on the presidential election
Undoubtedly, even if it is not for the most moral
and ethical reasons, SB would be an asset to any
campaign. It will be recalled that it was SB who
masterminded the now infamous Wayamba Provincial
election campaign during the Chandrika Kumaratunga
presidency. Therefore, he surely gets the job done.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, a street smart
politician, if ever there was one, feels that the
contest is tough enough to enrol SB’s services. That
he personally visited SB’s Hanguranketha residence
to woo him to the SLFP, underscores the value placed
on the man.
As such, his presence will add fillip to a United
Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA) campaign that is
already streets ahead of the joint opposition
effort. Even now, we have had a glimpse of what SB
can do, because he has been allocated time on State
media to liberally criticise the UNP in general and
Ranil Wickremesinghe in particular, notwithstanding
the fact that Wickremesinghe is not a contestant at
But SB’s re-entry to the SLFP does come at a
price. Many members of the general public,
regardless of their political affiliations, detest
opportunistic politicians who switch loyalties for
personal gain. And most of them would categorise SB
as belonging to this group, especially in view of
his very recent outspoken comments, which were
supportive of General Fonseka and critical of
The negative effect of this is redressed by what
SB is expected to bring to the President’s campaign:
crowd-pulling risqué oratory, tactics bordering on
the daring and a general knack for correctly reading
the public mood.
From a UNP perspective, there is an initial
negative impact for exactly the same reason: SB was
perhaps the party’s only genuine platform
attraction, and now, he is on the other side. For a
party which is anyway struggling to find its feet
among the grassroots, against an immensely popular
President, this could be a crippling blow.
In the long run, however, many UNPers are happy.
The majority of them never considered SB a ‘genuine’
UNPer, given his undisguised ambitions and his
persistent close personal friendship with President
Mahinda Rajapaksa. They also viewed him as a
divisive force within the UNP, given his continued
agitations within the party to oust Wickremesinghe.
Now, with SB out of the way, they feel the path
is clear for Wickremesinghe to forge ahead, perhaps
with Karu Jayasuriya as a stopgap deputy leader
being amenable to pave the way for the younger
Sajith Premadasa to be Wickremesinghe’s deputy.
Ironically, this would be a J.R. Jayewardene-R.
Premadasa like combination, they feel, albeit with
the nephew and son respectively of the previous
generation of UNP leaders.
Yet, very few politicians who know SB will bet that
this is the end of the SB saga; rather, they feel
this is only the beginning.