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Maithripala Blue or Green or what?

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Sometime late last year Maithripala Sirisena effectively left the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).   As predicted, he was installed as the leader of the party he ‘left’ the moment he was elected President.  He became the leader of a party whose entire membership almost campaigned against him.  It certainly didn’t make for ideal leader-follower relations.

The confusion was exacerbated by the fact that not only did he appoint the leader of a party with a (relatively) paltry parliamentary presence  as Prime Minister but a cabinet dominated by that party, the United National Party (UNP).  Worse, he has since played a patently second-fiddle role to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in affairs of the state. 

This naturally made for a jittery minority Government notwithstanding its much celebrated ‘national’ status with the induction of some SLFPers into the cabinet.  It also created an ineffective Opposition Leader.  Nimal Siripala Silva’s party leader is (still, even after the 19th Amendment) the most powerful citizen of the country and yet, it’s ‘the other guys’ who call the shots; this even though the Opposition Leader has greater sway in Parliament. 

Where could the ‘opposition’ go under these circumstances except to the camp of the defeated?  It is safe to say that Mahinda Rajapaksa in defeat and under severe attack on all fronts still has far greater political clout than the Opposition Leader.  With talks between the President and his predecessor not yielding (yet) the desired party unity, it is clear that the SLFP is on a bad wicket right now. 

Mahinda Rajapaksa has very few options.  It is natural to demand the maximum and settle for less. That’s how one should understand him asking to be named as the SLFP’s Prime Ministerial candidate.  On the other hand, if Sirisena is not interested (and he doesn’t seem to be either) what is the ‘less’ that he could settle for in a general election? 

If he contests on the SLFP ticket he would be just one more MP.  There’s no guarantee that the SLFP would win.  But whether the SLFP wins or not it remains to be seen what kind of support Mahinda can obtain from the SLFPers returned by the electorate and how this support compares to Maithripals’s weight as party leader and Executive President.  If he contests separately and secures a seat then it is unlikely that he could claim the premiership unless the SLFP and (let’s call it) ‘The Mahinda Faction’ can together form a government.  Against the ‘Maithripala Factor’ will come into play.  There are too many ‘ifs’ in these scenarios.  These include the ‘if’ of him wanting to be just another MP after being the all powerful Executive President. 

Perhaps the problem with Mahinda and his backers right now is that they are trapped in a parliamentary mindset.  If they dwell on the fact that Prabhakaran’s political signature had greater relevance than that of the first four Executive Presidents in the country (in effect of course) they might consider other options.  Mahinda could remain aloof. He could offer some supportive statements to the SLFP or be silent.   He can wait for the demand to come to him.  With Maithripala playing Elephant now, playing Lion later and at times operating as though he is just that guy bringing in drinks for weary players, and with Ranil and the UNP doing what they’ve always done (minoritarian politics alienating the majority, helping the filthy rich and playing slave to US interests), demand is most likely to grow even if attempts are made to trip him with investigation, litigation and incarceration.  

For now, though, it all depends on Maithripala Sirisena.  If he is as blue as the leader of the SLFP ought to be, then he has to find a way of dealing with the ‘Mahinda Factor’.  Either Mahinda has to be taken out of the political equation (a tough ask given the (deliberate?) sloth regarding prosecution on the part of the UNP) or else Maithripala has to find a way of accommodating him with a larger coalition led by the SLFP.  We are in the early days of groups and personalities fighting for positional advantage and therefore prediction is not useful. 

What can be predicted is that if Maithripala Sirisena cannot unite the SLFP or if he is not interested in doing so, he is essentially paving the way for a UNP victory at the next election.  That would make him an indisputable ‘Green’, an UNPer that is.  De-facto, if you want to be precise about it.   As things stand, with minimal effort on his part to resolve what could be called the ‘SLFP’s Mahinda Dilemma’ he is looking more green than blue. 

It is simple.  If Sirisena is not doing his utmost to ensure an SLFP victory at the next general election then he is not fit to be the leader of the party.  One would have to conclude that he is playing into the hands of the UNP, ‘working for the enemy’ as far as the SLFP is concerned.  If that is the case, the honorable thing would be to state the fact, resign from the party and join the UNP or else say ‘I am neutral, no longer interested in party politics and will retire when my term ends’.  There’s no sign of his doing any of the above which leads us to question the man’s integrity. 

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