[Minister Maithripala Sirisena]
Amid fears of crossovers, the General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the major party of the ruling coalition, Minister Maithripala Sirisena last week has declined to accept the premiership offer made by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and is likely to quit the government.
According to President office sources, on hearing that Minister of Health Maithripala Sirisena was unhappy with the government and in fact was in regular touch with the like-minded people in the SLFP, President Rajapaksa has made this offer after inviting him for an exclusive dinner at the Temple Trees last week.
“But Minister Sirisena has firmly rejected the offer to become the 21st Prime Minister of the country and assured the President that he would consider the offer after the snap presidential poll. The President’s office has now been informed that he, along with 20 other SLFPers have decided to quit the party and work with the opposition to defeat President Rajapaksa at the poll,” the sources said on condition of anonymity.
“The President’s office has been informed that Minister Maithripala Srisena is likely to be named as the common opposition candidate at the presidential poll. Ministers such as Milroy Fernando, Reginold Cooray, Rajitha Senaratne, Nimal Sripala de Silva and Navin Dissanayaka are some of the people who are tipped to crossover along with Minister Sirisena,” the sources said.
President Rajapaksa has also been informed by the state intelligence officials that Minister Sirisena has been in constant meeting with former President Chandrika Kumaratunga and with the key members of the main opposition United National Party (UNP).
“President Chandrika is trying to regroup the disgruntled SLFP elements within and outside the Rajapaksa government in order to ensure his defeat at the future polls,” the sources said.
The state intelligence has also warned the President that any move Mithripala takes either to work against or to refrain from the electoral activities would undermine the already waning popularity of the government at the grassroots level.
Since becoming the President in November 2005, President Rajapaksa has visibly sidelined the old guards of the SLFP and has been giving prominence to the family members and crossed-over members from the UNP and the JVP. This has resulted in causing resentment among the SLFP stalwarts, who have virtually been pushed to take a backseat in the day-to-day running of the government.
Although the next presidential poll is due in November 2016, President Rajapaksa, who is on his second term in office, has controversially amended the constitution in such a manner that it would enable him to contest the poll more than two times.
The ruling UPFA won the recently held local government elections but, its popularity has drastically fell to an unprecedented level, with the UNP almost doubling its vote percentage.
Having joined the SLFP in 1979 at the age of 29, Sirisena first entered the parliament in 1989 and went on to become a cabinet minister. In October 2008, he escaped unhurt a suicide bomb attack in the outskirts of Colombo by the Tamil Tiger rebels, who were militarily defeated in May 2009.
Speaking at a weekly post-cabinet press conference, government’s spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella has openly sought to downplay the widespread rumours of Minister Maithripala Sirisena was going to quit the government in order to join the opposition.
“These stories are being circulated by the opposition parties in order to destabilise the Government before the election. It is nothing unusual to hear such rumours when there is a decisive election around the corner, but there is nothing to be alarmed about,” Minister Rambukwella said, without denying the stories.
By Political Correspondent