It is indisputable that the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP), which added a new dimension to the political landscape of this country, will go down in history as the party that had won the people’s favour in a very short period amidst many challenges. With a vision of a moral and ethical political culture, the SLPP was founded on November 2, 2016.
There were many political issues that led to the formation of this party. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa lost the 2015 Presidential Election and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) fell into the hands of President Maithripala Sirisena. Afterwards, individuals who respected the political agenda of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa were subjected to a certain degree of repression.
The camp loyal to President Rajapaksa raised the need for a suitable avenue for them to do politics. In November 2016, the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna was formed under the leadership of Mahinda Rajapaksa. The proposal to create this party was transformed into the ‘Mahinda Wind’ (Mahinda Sulanga) that went around the country.
Even though the proposal was raised by the public, the important role of organising this force was played by political mastermind Basil Rajapaksa. Plans to build this party were launched during the period when Basil Rajapaksa was imprisoned under various charges. After his release from prison, he shouldered the difficult task of making party a reality. The formalisation of the rural branch network was started by calling a group of 20 from each village with the aim of testing people’s power. Strengthening the organisational network at the grassroots level, branch societies were also built across the country.
The political leadership of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) was able to subtly understand that their political objective could be uniting the force built around Mahinda Rajapaksa again.
Crucial political event
May Day 2017 was the most crucial political event in the party’s progress. The large crowd that gathered was a great driving force for the party. The people gathered on that day witnessed the genesis of a very strong political movement. Certain professionals who were not tied to political parties in Sri Lanka also gathered around this party.
Basil Rajapaksa as the founder of the party held a strong opinion at that time. He stressed that they must contest the Local Government (LG) Election as a single party. Other political parties willing to join hands with the SLPP were also invited. The strength of the party was displayed by achieving a great victory at the LG polls.
The strongest people’s force in this country was around the SLPP, which easily won the Presidential Election and the General Election held subsequently. This political power camp won because of its prudent political decisions. The political leadership of Mahinda Rajapaksa and Basil Rajapaksa as well as other leading members of the party gave impetus for these victories. In the past five years, this party, which was born in the midst of many challenges, has faced many different challenges and overcome them. It is unique that the SLPP was able to move forward without ever being swayed by the accusations made by political opponents.
After the 2018 LG Election, the SLPP Presidential Election campaign was completely based on the Nelum Mawatha party structure. In Sri Lanka’s recent history, it is a special fact that the SLPP planned a Presidential Election based on the party structure. Constituencies, district meetings, national conferences etc. were all built through the party structure.
In the General Election, an opportunity was given to many people who were outside the party structure. Even though some of these groups and personalities have left the SLPP today, the party has been able to maintain a Parliamentary majority, as evidenced by recent voting patterns on many issues in Parliament.
With the unexpected arrival of Covid-19, an economic crisis arose in this country. Sri Lanka had made good progress since Independence, at least until 1970. There was a youth rebellion in this country in 1971. This was followed by the July 1980 strike. Black July riots took place in 1983. Again there was a season of terror in 1988/89.
There was a terrorist uprising for 30 years until 2009, when it was crushed under the able leadership of then President Mahinda Rajapaksa. In 2004, the country faced the Boxing Day Tsunami. Sri Lanka overcame all these. Among all these phenomena, the economy in this country could not withstand any external shocks. No specific individual or single Government could be held responsible for this state of affairs. This is a problem with a long history of 50 or 60 years since Independence 75 years ago.
It was influenced by other economic systems and factors. Not focusing on export development and industrialisation are factors that affected the economy adversely. After the SLPP government came to power, it was possible to move forward for some time. Then the Covid pandemic struck, affecting every segment of the economy. Imports, except for the most essential goods, were halted and there were many expenditure cuts.
All the tasks spearheaded by the SLPP including the organic fertiliser policy were done for the betterment of the people. Development programs and job creation went ahead. Within three months of starting this program, i.e. in March 2020, the country had to be completely shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Remittances of foreign workers stopped, the tourism industry collapsed, Rs 5,000 was given to low-income earners and other select groups, all necessities during quarantine were met, salaries of public servants were maintained and public facilities were maintained. Although the country’s economy suffered a severe collapse due to having to import vaccines worth billions of dollars to save the people from the deadly pandemic, some political opponents blamed the Rajapaksas for the whole situation. In order to fulfil their insular political interests, bankrupt politicians used to spread falsehoods vilifying the Rajapaksas and the SLPP.
An important point to remember is that when former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s rule ended and the country was handed over to the Good Governance Government, there were US$ 8.2 billion in foreign reserves. The Good Governance Government had reduced it to US$ 7.1 by the time President Gotabaya Rajapaksa came to power in November 2019.
However, a shortage of dollars occurred after all avenues of dollar inflows were closed due to Covid from March 2020. At that time, the country faced an economic crisis. There were no funds to import oil used for transport and electricity generation. The latter led to prolonged power cuts. There were long queues for many imported essentials.
The SLPP’s opponents who were analysing this as a good opportunity to topple the nascent Government took advantage of this politically and a battle was launched to force the Members of the Government to resign. In a country where people have been killed for the sake of power, in a country that rebelled for the sake of power, the SLPP did not follow that suffocating political culture. Former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa did not follow that immoral method for hanging on to power because he respected a moral and ethical political culture. He left the post very democratically. The Government was also removed by July last year. After that, the SLPP as a party faced a shock and a setback.
But in a very short time it has started to rise again from the ashes, Phoenix-like. Thousands of people have participated in grassroots meetings to re-strengthen the constituencies and such meetings were organised all over the country. The network of branch societies was strengthened. The National General Convention will be convened on the 15th as the final program in this revival movement. Next year is an election year. It is expected that the anticipated future performance of the party in that election year will be disclosed before the Nation at the General National Convention.
Attorney-at-Law and MP Sagara Kariyawasam, General Secretary of the SLPP, says that anyone who contested from SLPP at the previous elections and is now with other political groups, but is disillusioned with those alternative groups and their sinister agendas, is welcome to rejoin the SLPP at the forthcoming Convention. He has expressed confidence that the SLPP will go from strength to strength over the coming months and once again become the most formidable political force in the country.
(Prepared from a discussion with SLPP MP Sanjiva Edirimanna and translated by Jonathan Frank)