Pohottuwa operations turn fractious as polls race heats up | Sunday Observer

Pohottuwa operations turn fractious as polls race heats up

With less than a month to polling day local government election races are heating up and new political fault lines have emerged within the pro-Rajapaksa Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), a party led by Prof. G.L. Peiris, the Sunday Observer learns.

The SLPP which is contesting under the ‘Pohottuwa’ or lotus bud symbol is viewed as having broad support from former President Rajapaksa and his extended family, which ruled Sri Lanka for nearly a decade. However, in recent weeks, rifts have emerged within the brand new political party, with disgruntled insiders claiming that the Rajapaksas were using the SLPP as a political vehicle, even though none of the family members were willing to officially take membership.

Former President Rajapaksa who campaigns for the SLPP at election rallies ahead of the February 10 local government elections, has recently brought his youngest son Rohitha Rajapaksa into the fray, SLPP insiders grumble. The former President’s rally appearances are stage managed by his youngest son, sparking fears within the SLPP that even after years of accusations of nepotism and family bandyism, the Rajapaksa family members are a package deal.

SLPP frontliners have expressed fears in private that the over-involvement by the former President’s sons could jeopardize the fledgling political party and taint its election hopes.Whispers of rifts within the Rajapaksa family itself have also surfaced according to SLFP insiders.

Former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s departure from Sri Lanka ahead of the local government polls has raised eyebrows given that he will not be involved in a key election for the pro-Rajapaksa faction now represented by the SLPP next month. The former President and his immediate family were displeased with Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s ‘Viyath Maga’ movement, which was largely seen as a launching pad to test the waters for a presidential run by the former Defence Secretary in 2020, the Sunday Observer learns from sources close to the former first family. However, the Rajapaksas have not allowed the rifts to spill out in the public domain in order to contain the fallout and ensure they can hedge bets on at least one family member in the 2020 election, the sources explained.

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s decision to leave the country in the wake of an important election is significant in this context, these sources said.The three-way race to capture a majority of local councils across the island has already piqued significant political interest with the pro-Rajapaksa SLPP, largely seen as a proxy movement for the former President being put to the electoral test for the first time.

UPFA Kurunegala District MP Mahinda Rajapaksa who remains to this day a member of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), has attended several SLPP or ‘Pohottuwa’ rallies over the past week.The former President’s decision to remain a member of the SLFP and openly campaign for the SLPP led by his brother Basil Rajapaksa and Pieris, has drawn the ire of senior SLFP members. By his actions, Mahinda Rajapaksa was doing a great disservice to the SLFP, which is the party that got him the presidency, said one SLFP Minister in the National Unity Government who spoke on condition of anonymity. The SLFP Minister accused former President Rajapaksa of trying to split the SLFP vote by supporting a third party at the polls. The move was a clear breach of party discipline on the part of Mahinda Rajapaksa and several other SLFP members, the irate Minister added. 

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