ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s main opposition United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) disintegrated further with another key coalition partner formally quitting Sunday, a day before nominations opened for August general elections.
The JHU, or the Heritage Party, of Buddhist monks announced Sunday that they were leaving the UPFA which was formed in 2004 to topple the then United National Front (UNF) government led by the United National Party (UNP).
JHU national organiser Patali Champika Ranawaka told reporters in Colombo that they were breaking ranks with the UPFA, which is still nominally led by President Maithripala Sirisena and face elections on their own.
"Our executive committee decided to leave the UPFA and work to build the future of our people…," Ranawaka said. "We invite all reasonable people to unite and ensure that [power, hungry, corrupt politicians are not allowed to plunder the country for another five years."
The UNP too said it will no longer have and dealings with the UPFA, whose support was crucial for Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to remain in power heading a minority government.
However, the UNP had accused a UPFA faction that backed former president Mahinda Rajapaksa of sabotaging the government’s legislative program and watering down the 19th amendment which sought to grant more powers to parliament.
"We will no longer have any dealings with the UPFA and we will work only with the SLFP (Sri Lanka Freedom Party)," UNP spokesman and Plantations Minister Lakshman Kiriella told a public rally in Kandy Sunday.
It was becoming clearer that President Sirisena has lost the UPFA to Rajapaksa who managed to convince the party’s general secretary, Susil Premajayantha, to issues a statement suggesting that Sirisena endorsed Rajapaksa’s nomination.
Sources close to Sirisena said giving nominations to Rajapaksa was subject to a host of conditions which the Rajapaksa loyalists did not disclose to the media on Friday.
With Sirisena making it clear that ultra nationalists such as Wimal Weerawansa and Dinesh Gunawardena will not be accommodated on the UPFA list, the Rajapaksa loyalists implemented their fall back plan to hijack the UPFA.
The political manoeuvring has the potential to end up in court with the UPFA secretary restrained from signing any nominations. Given that the vote cannot be postponed unless there is a natural calamity such as a tsunami, both sides will have to find alternate parties to field their candidates.
In view of a court battle, the Rajapaksa loyalists were already contemplating fielding candidates under another political party while President Sirisena will also field the remaining Sri Lanka Freedom Party loyalists under another alliance.
The JHU has not formally announced, but it is likely to change its name to keep in tune with Sirisen’a pledge to ensure good governance. That could clear trhe way for a JHU – SLFP alliance that will challenge Rajapaksa loyalists as well as the UNP.
Despite the back-stabbing and political chicanery, the crisis in the opposition is seen as a boost to the UNP. However the UNP is also plagued with the controversial bond deal and allegations of corruption appear to stick to the party.
Forty eight hours into an announcement that he endorsed Rajapaksa’s candidature, President Sirisena has not spoken about it, leaving analysts to suspect that he was looking for a face-saving way to acknowledge that he has lost the UPFA.