ECONOMYNEXT: President Maithripala Sirisena made a U-turn Friday and agreed to accommodate his nemesis Mahinda Rajapaksa in the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) in a move that avoided a formal break up.
Three stalwarts of the UPFA and its main constituent party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) had been due tio break away from the Maithripala camp of the party and join ranks with Rajapaksa later today.
However, President Sirisena who had wind of the major defection, which could have seriously undermined his own hold on both parties, decided to head off the impending crisis by agreeing to accommodate Rajapaksa.
A brief statement from Susil Premajayantha, the general secretary of the UPFA said the president had agreed to make Rajapakse a candidate from the party at the August 17 vote.
The statement did not spell out if Rajapaksa will be accommodated in the UPFA coalition as the leader of a allied party or if he would be considered a candidate from the SLFP.
At a press conference at the Abhayarama temple in Colombo, Rajapaksa loyalists dodged questions on terms of the agreement reached with Sirisena who only a day earlier vowed he will not give nominations to any Rajapaksa, let alone Mahinda.
It was clear that Rajapaksa had also climbed down from his stand on Poya Day when he told confidants that he wanted to be a prime ministerial candidate or else he will not contest.
If the announcement by Rajapaksa loyalists is confirmed by the president, the former president will be just another candidate among thousands who are expected to enter the fray.
Since winning the presidency in january, Sirisena has been trying hard to secure control over the SLFP and the UPFA that he left in November last year to mount the biggest and the most successful challenge against Rajapaksa.
Sirisena has also said that had he lost the January polls, a new Rajapaksa regime would have assassinated him and wiped out his entire family.
He announced at a public rally last month that the police CID alone had received 700 complaints of corruption against Rajapaksa.
Given the relationship between the two men, the SLFP will face the August election with a divided house and it is difficult to expect both Sirisena and Rajapaksa to get on the same platform.
With Rajapaksa entering the fray, it becomes easier for the ruling UNP to carry on a campaign focusing on the former regime which is accused of syphoning millions of dollars from the government in the past decade.
"The UNP need not print new posters," a political sources said. "They can reprint the ones they used (against Rajapaksa) for the presidential election."
The split in the opposition was clear Friday despite the surprise announcement of Rajapaksa being accommodated in the UPFA as not a single Sirisena-loyalist was present at their press conference.
Asked about the notable absence, Rajapaksa loyalist Dullas Allahapperuma said they would join at the "right time".