SLMC breakaway Athaulla with 3 MPs join PA

by Namini Wijedasa and Franklin Satyapalan

Sri Lanka Muslim Congress breakaway parliamentarian A. L. M Athaulla on Friday joined the United People’s Freedom Alliance along with three other MPs, effectively rejecting an invitation by SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem to contest the elections as a separate Muslim coalition.

It was a decision which Athaulla had kept secret from others in his own party, the Ashraff Congress.

“We didn’t know,” S. Subairdeen, Ashraff Congress leader, commented to The Sunday Island about Athaulla’s decision. “It took us by surprise. Not single member of the high command was informed and there was no consultation even with party general secretary, Dr. A. L. M. Hafrath.”

Athaulla said there had been no necessity to inform the Ashraff Congress because it was only a non-governmental organisation, and not a political party. He will sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the UPFA today, along with former Digamadulla district parliamentarians Anwer Ismail, H. M. M. Harriss and M. B. A. Aziz. They have already handed in their nomination papers for four districts: Batticaloa, Digamadulla, Trincomalee and Vanni.

A statement from Kumaratunga’s office said that the group’s support will lend considerable weight in the eastern province to the UPFA. Athaulla and the others are original inhabitants of the eastern province and command a considerable vote base in those areas.

By contrast, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader Rauff Hakeem hails from Gampola and has been trying to clinch a deal with eastern Muslims in an effort, among other things, to broad-base his own campaign. On Friday morning, the SLMC had been in fevered discussions with the Ashraff Congress and other Muslim leaders, trying to finalise a Grand Muslim Alliance.

Hakeem, who had already pledged support to the UNP, was trying to unite Muslim parties to contest under the SLMC’s tree symbol. The National Unity Alliance (NUA) — led by Ferial Ashraff — had rejected the invitation but other Muslim groups had conducted at least three days of intense discussions.

These talks were between the SLMC, UNP (Muslim MPs), Ashraff Congress, the Muslim Kachchi (led by former presidential candidate Abdul Rasool) and an independent group led by M. Naushad. They had been inspired by calls from the Muslim community of the eastern province, including student’s unions, council of mosques, religious leader and civil society.

“There were certain obstacles,” Athaulla said, explaining his decision not to go with a Grand Muslim Alliance. “They were not finding solutions to our biggest problems. They were merely dragging on discussions without end.”

The SLMC and Ashraff Congress had consistently failed to reach agreement on two points: The latter wanted a secretary general post for Hafrath as well as three slots in Trincomalee, two from Batticaloa and one from Trinco.