Former Sri Lankan President and short-lived Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on Sunday severed his 50-year-long association with the left of centre Sri Lanka Freedom Party and joined a new party, the Sri Lanka People’s Party(SLPP), floated by his supporters to provide him with a new political platform.
His decision has closely followed a failed constitutional coup in which President Maithrapala Sirisena ousted United National Party leader Ranil Wickremasinghe from the post of Prime Ministership and appointed him in that place.
His move to join the newly formed Sri Lanka People’s Party has left the SLFP on the verge of collapse, with only a rump remaining with Sirisena.
The SLFP is one of the two national parties, the other being UNP, that has shaped Sri Lanka’s politics for half a century. Founded by iconic Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike and Rjapakse’s father Don Alwin Rajapakse, it remained under the control of Bandaranaike family with Sirimavo taking over after the assassination of her husband. Thereafter, her daughter Chandra Bandaranaike Kumaratunga took over the party in the 1990s.
It was Mahinda who wrested the control of the SLFP when Chandrika nominated him as a Presidential candidate after the end of her term in 2005. From then on he ruled for 10 years until he lost to Maithrapala Sirisena who contesteed as a candidate of the breakaway SLFP faction backed by the UNP in 2015.
Rajapakse who sat in the opposition, became a force after his faction scored a spectacular victory in the local body elections earlier this year in which the Sri Lanka People’s Party made its maiden foray.
Sirisena sacked Ranil as Prime Minister following a growing rift and appointed Rajapaksa in his place. But that proved short-lived as he could not add to his support of 95 members in the 225-member Parliament despite engineering crossovers of seven UNP members. To avoid a defeat on the floor of Parliament which will be a loss of face, the President dissolved Parliament and announced snap polls on Jan 5.
Rajapaksa by cutting ties with Sirisena, has gone with the public mood of revulsion against him. Now, Rajapaksa will contest as a Sri Lanka People’s Party candidate in the next election.