Double six of Maithri and the SLFP | Sunday Observer

Double six of Maithri and the SLFP

Sixty six years ago, on September 2, 1951, Solomon West Ridgeway Dias Bandaranaike formed the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, accepting the name for the party proposed by Crown Counsel H Sri Nissanka. That was the lead news in all newspapers on September 3, 1951, and most of the political commentators described the SLFP as the alternate party to the ruling United National Party (UNP).

The news that did not find a place in any of the newspapers was the birth of Pallewatte Gamaralalage Maithripala Yapa Sirisena in a small hamlet called, Yagoda in the Gampaha district, as nobody could predict that the boy born on the same day as the SLFP would become the leader of the nation, 65 years later.

Both, the SLFP and Maithripala came up surmounting many hardships. The new party formed by the most eloquent leader and UNP Minister Bandaranaike who resigned from the party failed miserably at the first election it faced. In the 1952 General Elections that was held when the young Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake, who succeeded his father Don Stephen Senanayake, wanted a fresh mandate from the people, the SLFP could win only nine seats out of the total of 95. The UNP increased its strength from 48 to 54 and formed a government.

However, the SLFP did not have to wait long, as the UNP government faced many setbacks starting with the hartal of 1953, after which Dudley resigned and Sir John Kotalawala, who succeeded him made many a blunder and dissolved the House in December 1955, calling for early elections. In the 1956 elections, the SLFP-led Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP) swept into power with 51 of its 60 candidates winning their electorates.

Although Bandaranaike was in power only for a short period of three and a half years, the SLFP victory in 1956 made a revolutionary transformation in the country. The upsurge of the majority middle class power base in the country initiated in 1956, could not be reversed thereafter. The elitist structures in the bureaucracy, military, police, judiciary and education underwent rapid changes and even during the period of J. R. Jayewardene’s open economy of 1977-88 that could not be reversed.

The UNP, known for its elitist-capitalist inclinations, gradually changed to a grassroots level party, realizing the necessity to win over the rural and urban middle class vote bloc that supported Bandaranaike in 1956.

Another factor that remains until today since 1951 is that the UNP and the SLFP are two national parties and one of them has to give leadership to any political front to form a government.

The SLFP was formed with a split of the governing UNP in 1951 and thereafter, the party has gone through several splits. However, none of the splinter groups could provide a solid national alternative.

After the assassination of Bandaranaike in September 1959, Wijayananda Dahanayake became Prime Minister. He left the SLFP three months later to form the Lanka Prajathanthrawadi Pakshaya (LPP) but could not retain his Galle seat in the March 1960 General Elections. Interestingly, no splinter group had enough backing to do well in the election. The MEP partner, Sinhala Maha Sabha leader I. M. R. A. Iriyagolla ran 40 candidates but could manage to win only his seat.

The SLFP was swept into power in the July 1960 elections under the leadership of Mrs Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Her deputy leader C.P de Silva was the next to split the party in 1964.

He led a dissident group and voted against the government to defeat it by a single vote. Although C.P de Silva was the Leader of the House in the 1965-70 government of Dudley, it was J. R. Jayewardene who held the de facto deputy leadership of the government.

The next group to leave the SLFP included Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s son-in-law Vijaya Kumaratunga, his wife Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Ossie Abeygunasekera and T.B. Illangaratne, and they formed the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party in 1984. But Chandrika had to come back to the SLFP in 1993 to become its leader.

There was a consolidation of power by the Rajapaksa allies until late 2014, when the then SLFP General Secretary, Maithripala Sirisena decided to leave the government to become the ‘common candidate’ of the Opposition for the January 2015 Presidential Election, and won it, defeating Rajapaksa.

In accordance with SLFP constitutional provision, Maithripala took over the party and consolidated his position. The most significant democratic constitutional achievement of his government is the 19th Amendment to curtail the powers of his own Executive Presidency and hand them over to Parliament.

Together with the SLFP, Maithripala too celebrates his 66th birthday today. His parents were pioneers of the farming frontiers of newly independent Sri Lanka. He had been raised in a farming colony, and spoke authentic Sinhalese and quoted from Buddhist teachings with a natural flair, the language and religion of most Sri Lankans.

As he declared at the media briefing last Wednesday, he is totally dedicated and committed to build the SLFP as a clean, unstained, uncorrupt and principled party that provides leadership to the nation through honest and dedicated politicians. “Although it is not an easy task as not only the body politics but also the entire social fabric is diseased with corrupt practices, I am absolutely determined to fulfil this uphill task.”

There is ample evidence in support of his anti-corruption crusade. He has established a Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID) under a Deputy Inspector General of Police in order to investigate financial fraud. In May 2015, a Presidential Commission on Fraud & Corruption was created to investigate reports of corruption. The investigations have so far resulted in a reshuffle of a key Cabinet Ministry and later, the resignation of a Minister.

The government’s Anti-Corruption Committee established an operational arm with the Anti-Corruption Secretariat (ACS). Four other coordinators were appointed as Deputy Directors, representing the Attorney General’s office, the Police, the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC), and one other representative.

President Sirisena said, the message he wants to project to the nation on the 66th Anniversary of the SLFP is, “The people in the country yearn for unstained politicians and my determination is to ensure that the SLFP is a party that provides such politicians to make the people’s dream a reality.”