Sacking friends

Many shook their heads in disbelief when they heard on Tuesday that President Maithripala Sirisena had sacked some of his close allies from the SLFP for contesting next month’s election from the UNP. They asked how come he could do so because those candidates including Rajitha Senaratne, Arjuna Ranatunga and Hirunika Premachandra had risked their political future and left the Rajapaksa government to back him in the presidential race. Their expulsion is therefore viewed in some quarters as an act of betrayal.

But, we believe President Sirisena has made an adroit move. He has made a virtue of necessity and craftily killed two birds with one stone. He has, in fact, helped his loyalists, paradoxical as it may sound. They were contesting the upcoming election as UNP candidates while retaining SLFP membership. They ran the risk of falling between two stools with the supporters of neither party voting for them in sufficient numbers. The SLFPers hate them and the UNPers don’t trust them. Now that they have been sacked from the SLFP they might be able to win the UNP voters’ sympathy.

President Sirisena would have further riled the SLFP old guard loyal to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa if he had tried to protect Rajitha, Arjuna, Hirunika and others. He is anticipating trouble at the next SLFP Central Committee meeting to be held before or after the August 17 election. His opponents are busy sharpening their poniards and scimitars, so to speak, in view of that meeting where a showdown is expected. He has apparently made a pre-emptive move.

President Sirisena, however, will have to face a very hostile SLFP CC. For, the SLFP does not want to lose the upcoming election and he will have a lot of explaining to do as regards his recent address to the nation, which, SLFP seniors say, demoralised the party’s rank and file beyond measure. He stands accused of settling personal scores and trying to queer Rajapaksa’s pitch at the expense of the party.

President Sirisena’s retreat-and-attack tactics reminds us of the mounted Parthian archers who would suddenly turn back while retreating at a full gallop and shoot at the enemies in hot pursuit. The pursuers were taken unawares and not many of them survived. On July 14 we saw President Sirisena’s Parthian shot which sent Rajapaksa’s prime ministerial campaign into a tailspin. The Rajapaksa loyalists, still reeling from the President’s diatribe, have a sense of foreboding that there may be another ‘address to the nation’ within the next two weeks or so.

Whatever the tactical or strategic objectives of the expulsion of a group of his loyalists may be it is a supreme irony that President Sirisena has had to cite, as the reason for his decision, the fact that they are contesting the August 17 general election on the UNP ticket in violation of the SLFP’s Constitution.

One is intrigued. President Sirisena himself did what the SLFP dissidents are blamed for, didn’t he? He contested the last presidential election on the New Democratic Front ticket and took over the leadership of the SLFP after winning the presidency. He has proved that decamping to contest an election as a candidate of another party is no disqualification to be a member of the SLFP; in his case, defection, in fact, qualified him to be the SLFP leader! Those who are baying for the blood of Rajitha et al should be asked whether they have any moral right to demand the expulsion of SLFP dissidents after having offered the leadership of their party on a platter to President Sirisena.


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