Opposition braces for
hard times as UPFA juggernaut rolls on…
Vasudeva Nanayakkara’s explanation that they
are against the amendment but voted for it because
they wanted to ‘protect’ the government - which had
the required number of MPs anyway - is ridiculous
and an insult to the people they represent.
Nanayakkara, Tissa Vitarana and DEW Gunasekara have
now lost any semblance of credibility and will be
treated with the same disdain that Upeksha
Swarnamali, for instance would generate. If there
was one opposition party that emerged from the melee
with its credentials intact, it was the Janatha
was a week of political drama and deception but in
the final analysis, there were no surprises.
The ruling United Peoples’ Freedom Alliance (UPFA)
ensured the passage of the 18th Amendment to the
Constitution, ultimately with relative ease.
It was an anti-climactic end that saw the
opposition yielding to the inevitable with a minimum
The impact of the 18th Amendment on governance and
democracy has been debated over the past few weeks
in ample measure.
We would in these columns, however, propose to
examine the effects of these changes on the
Clearly, the opposition was badly battered and
bruised in the political deals that were struck in
the lead up to the 18th Amendment being presented to
Parliament as ‘urgent legislation’ and the worst hit
was the main opposition party, the United National
It was obvious that the power brokers in the Sri
Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the main party in the
ruling coalition, were keen to strike while the iron
was hot: they successfully exploited the now
internecine leadership dispute in the UNP to the
maximum, driving home the advantage by engineering
the defection of some novices in Parliament and the
veteran Lakshman Seneviratne, deputy general
secretary of the party until he left the UNP. Of
course, some defections left a bad taste.
Seneviratne, for instance represents Mahiyangana,
once a ‘hardcore’ UNP electorate where his father,
the late Captain C P J Seneviratne, a former
minister in the J R Jayewardene government was an
Seneviratne (Jnr), during his many struggles with
the party leadership had repeatedly pledged that he
would never join the government and that if he
couldn’t survive in the UNP he would go back to his
electorate and do farming instead. He did return to
his electorate last week, but that was in a
helicopter by courtesy of the government!
Another defection that angered and disappointed
many was that of Upeksha Swarnamali, the actress
more renowned for her role as ‘Paba’ than for her
Swarnamali won the respect and admiration for her
bold stand to support General Sarath Fonseka at the
last presidential election when other artistes were
endorsing the President in droves.
As a result, she was offered nomination by the UNP
in the hotly-contested Gampaha district, where she
won, elbowing out district leader Sarathchandra
Rajakaruna in the process.
Last Wednesday, Swarnamali was dressed in black
and joined the UNP protest on the Parliament lawn.
From there, she drove to Temple Trees and pledged
support to the government.
This episode of ‘Paba’ would have been a bitter
lesson for the UNP for parachuting glamour
candidates at the expense of veterans who have
toiled long and hard for the party.
Overall, the defection of another half a dozen MPs
from its ranks has left the UNP depleted and
In addition another 11 MPs who contested on the UNP
ticket as recently as April have switched allegiance
to the government.
They include the eight MPs from the Sri Lanka
Muslim Congress (SLMC) as well as the Democratic
People’s Front’s Prabha Ganesan from the Colombo
district, the National Workers’ Front’s P Digambaram
from the Nuwara Eliya district and J. Sri Ranga from
the Citizens Front, also representing the Nuwara
There are several lessons to be learnt from the
latter defections, which significantly are all from
MPs representing minority communities and interests.
It is debatable whether most of these MPs would be
able to win a parliamentary seat on their own steam
without the endorsement of the UNP; hence whether it
is worthwhile to offer them nomination on the UNP
ticket, sacrificing party loyalists is a moot point.
Also, it highlights the fact that at times the
UNP has to resort to endorsing these candidates only
because it has not promoted its own minority
community leaders at the regional level.
Many were also disappointed with the UNP’s decision
to boycott the parliamentary debate on the 18th
Amendment. Here was an opportunity to present the
case against the government and get free airtime on
the national networks and the headlines in the next
day’s newspapers and the main opposition party gives
it a miss - and this kind of thinking is difficult
to fathom, even loyal UNP supporters complain.
Also disappointing-if not downright
disgusting-was the capitulation of the leftist
alliance within the UPFA with a strength of five MPs
and headed by Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Tissa Vitarana
and D E W Gunasekara.
It will be recalled that it was the decision by
these MPs not to support an extension of the
executive presidency that led to the government and
President Rajapaksa to propose an executive
premiership in the first instance. However, the UPFA
played its cards well, got the required numbers and
then left the leftist parties to decide on their
Even if the passage of the 18th Amendment was a
fait accompli, many expected the leftist alliance to
register their protest either by voting against the
amendment or at the very least by abstaining.
Vasudeva Nanayakkara’s explanation that they are
against the amendment but voted for it because they
wanted to ‘protect’ the government - which had the
required number of MPs anyway - is ridiculous and an
insult to the people they represent.
Nanayakkara, Vitarana and Gunasekara have now
lost any semblance of credibility and will be
treated with the same disdain that Upeksha
Swarnamali, for instance would generate.
If there was one opposition party that emerged from
the melee with its credentials intact, it was the
Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP).
The party mobilised the masses on the streets for
what it was worth and its speakers gave a stirring
performance along with its allied Democratic
National Alliance in Parliament.
None of the JVP’s MPs defected and the party’s
standing in the eyes of the electorate would no
doubt rise, even if the numbers of its rank and file
are not of the same magnitude as those of the UNP.
Hard times then are ahead for the collective
The Rajapaksa-UPFA juggernaut is rolling and the
passage of the 18th Amendment will ensure that it
It is imperative that the opposition solves its
leadership squabbles and gets its act together as
quickly as possible-because, within the revised
constitutional framework it now has to operate in,
it may well be now or never.