For the past twenty-five years, Sri Lanka’s freedom party (SLFP) have enjoyed enormous success in Sri Lanka’s political history. Yet, despite these great achievements under the presidency of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena, the presidency of Sirisena has faced a complicated political scenario in the past few weeks. This complicated process rose due to the swearing-in of a new Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksha on 26th October 2018.
Losing the parliamentary majority severely limited the ability of Sirisena-Mahinda Government to control the parliamentary majority and push through loss without compromising with opposition parties such as the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and the United National Party which comprises over 100 seats in a 225 assembly. The president dissolved the parliament under these circumstances and he has called on for general elections without having a floor test, this has been challenged by the opposition parties and the citizens of the country are confused and waiting for a stable democratic solution.
Looking back at the Sri Lanka’s post independent history, the 1978 Sri Lankan constitution gives the president the right to appoint a Prime Minister but the appointment needs the consent of the parliament, hence the executive powers is wasted by the Sri Lanka constitution in the president. It does not seem fair to say that Sri Lanka has failed to achieve a stable democratic system, hence, one could argue that this situation is a power transition to a power alteration.
Similarly, in 1950’s S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, the founder of Sri Lanka Freedom Party crossed over from the ruling party, the united national party and united the forces of Sangha, Veda, Guru, Govi, Kamkaru. At the elections of 1957, the ruling United National Party won only 8 seats. The alliance between the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and the Mahajana Eksath Perumana for the first time headed by SWRD Bandaranaike won a total no. of 60 seats. “We are friends of all, enemies of none”, the statement should be a reflection for the decision makers of the SLFP who carried the mandate of the party that influences country’s policy for its future. Bandaranaike’s premiership sadly came to an end after the assassination by a Buddhist monk. Later, the assassinated prime minister’s wife Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the world’s first woman prime minister and under her premiership, Sri Lanka became a republic in 1972. After the massive defeat of Sri Lanka freedom party, the Sri Lankan 1972 constitution was replaced by the president J. R. Jayewardene in 1978.
After a 17-years gap, Sri Lanka Freedom Party combined in an alliance named as People’s alliance under the leadership of Chandrika Bandaranaike came into power in 1994. President Chandrika took a much more flexible approach during her tenure from 1995 to 2005. When Mahinda first won presidency in 2005, he won every province in Sri Lanka except northern and eastern provinces in the island country. Since, the end of war, Sri Lankan govt. under the leadership of Mahinda has been punitive. Thereby, Mahinda stepping into the limelight for presidential elections in a closely contested presidential elections with Ranil Wickramsinghe. In fact, during his second tenure from 2010- 2015, former president Mahinda Rajapaksha became more tough minded since the end of 30-year war in Sri Lanka. One could argue Sri Lanka govt. under SLFP presidency have been punitive in the past twenty- five years.
In 2014, Mahinda Rajapaksha announced snap presidential elections as the election date approached, Maithripala Sirisena, the general secretary of SLFP defected from the party and joined the opposition led coalition named United National Front. With Maithripala, over dozens of ministers and members of parliament resigned from the SLFP in order to carry out the mandate announced by Sirisena. January 5, 2015 general elections saw a significant higher turnout and Maithripala became president along with Ranil Wickramsinghe and it was the major defeat for Mahinda Rajapaksha and his United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA). Soon after Sirisena was sworn in as president, he assumed the chairmanship of SLFP.
In contrast to the general elections in 2013, the 2015 general elections saw the UPFA led by Maithripala and the united UNF led by Ranil Wickramsinghe had retained its parliamentary majority until October 26, 2018.
The pragmatic policies implemented by Sirisena and Ranil Wickramsinghe government have gone much further than the policies that the two parties (UPFA and UNF) envisioned. The good governance reform from 2015-2018 have reworked the idea of moderate political, economic and social policies and to accommodate new methods in resolving the ethnic problem through a home grown solution. This president –prime minister’s strategy succeeded for reasons that have nothing to do with ideological or non-nationalism realignment to bring about a reconciliation process among the ethnic communities living in Sri Lanka.
During Sirisena’s last period especially in 2018, there was too much distrust built among the coalition partners of UNP and SLFP. These problems stem from the top, the new party PPJ led by Mahinda, a break-away fraction from the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) played the role of a broker and was building his reputation among the SLFP vote bank. This also led to a situation where the SLFPs to work together with the UNPs in consolidating the coalition government. Further, loss in efficiency due to the widespread distribution of responsibilities among the coalition cabinet members and the loss in the recent council elections led to the collapse of UNP-UNF coalition government.
SLFP has come long way since 1957. A stable party system in Sri Lanka is a crucial element in consolidating democracy. The political development of the SLFP for over six decades had created a strong voter base especially in rural areas of Sri Lanka.
Hence, SLFP’s policies are today inadequate to deliver Sri Lankan citizen’s interests. SLFP policy makers must craft a new strategy to tackle the domestic voter base and the international community in finding a future path to become a formidable party in taking Sri Lanka to the next level of socio-economic growth.
*Srimal Fernando a research scholar at Jindal School of International Affairs (JSIA ) , India and an editor of Diplomatic Society for South Africa and Pooja Singh, a scholar of Masters in Diplomacy, Law, Business at Jindal School of International Affairs, India.