By Shamindra Ferdinando
Former Kalutara District MP Rohitha Abeygunawardena yesterday said that the decision had been taken after carefully studying the ground realities. The former MP acknowledged the impact their action could have on the SLFP. The PM went ahead with his anticipated move in spite of strong attempts by the SLFP to discourage them obtaining SLPP membership.
A smiling Abeygunawardena said that he too along with many other former lawmakers would take SLPP membership today (Nov 11). The Island raised the issue at a special media briefing called by SLPP Chairman Prof. G. L. Peiris at the Prime Minister’s Office at Flower Road yesterday about an hour before former MPs were to take SLPP membership.
Asked by The Island whether the move could undermine the SLFP and cause further political turmoil, Abeygunawardena explained discussions were continuing to reach a consensus with the SLFP as regards the party/coalition, symbol and other matters.
Responding to another query of The Island, Abeygunawardena acknowledged that they had to move fast as nominations just a week away.
Abeygunawardena said that he too was on his way to PM Rajapaksa’s Wijerama Residence to take his SLPP membership. Asked whether the entire SLFP Group in the Joint Opposition would take SLPP membership, Abeygunawardena said that many would join the newest party.
Referring to the tough electoral contest in the Kalutara District represented by him at the eighth parliament, The Island sought an explanation as to how the SLPP’s move could affect the SLFP at the January 5 parliamentary polls, Abeygunawardena briefly explained the circumstances leading to SLPP emerging victorious at the Local Government polls in Feb 2018. Therefore, the fact that the SLPP had been placed well at the last countrywide polls, too, should be taken into consideration, the former MP said.
Reiterating the SLPP’s readiness to work with any party, Abeygunawardena speculated about them having an understanding with the SLMC. Abeygunawardena discussed the possibility of change of alliances with the possibility of some key UNPers switching allegiance to the SLPP ahead of nominations.
Abeygunawardena emphasized they were keen not to field candidates likely to switch allegiance for personal benefit.
Asked by The Island what would be the status of the government in case they won the highest number of seats, Abeygunawardena expressed confidence of a clear majority for them. As it was most likely to be one-party government, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in April 2015 would apply in respect of the number of cabinet ministers.
In terms of the 19th Amendment, there can be only 30 cabinet and 40 State and Deputy Ministers.
At the onset of the briefing, Prof. Peiris said that they were confident of securing a two-thirds majority as the people wanted a stable government. He said they intended to form a strong and a sensitive government.
The media on Saturday (Nov 10), too, raised former UPFA lawmakers taking SLPP membership at a media conference at the same venue. The government panel comprising Dinesh Gunawardena, Susil Premjayanth, Wimal Weerawansa, Dayasiri Jayasekera, Udaya Gammanpila and CB Ratnayake side-stepped a query on former MP Namal Rajapaksa issuing a twitter message on Saturday declaring his intention to obtain SLPP membership on the following day.
SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam yesterday late afternoon told The Island that PM Rajapaksa received his membership from Chairman of the party Prof. Peiris and the former MPs received theirs from PM Rajapaksa in two batches. Altogether over 40 received membership.
At the time of the dissolution, the Joint Opposition comprised UNP 106 (including members of other political parties who contested on the UNP ticket), Joint Opposition 54 lawmakers, the SLFP 24, TNA 16, SB led group 15, JVP 6, CWC 2, SLMC 1 and EPDP 1.
Kariyawasam, whose father Albert Kariyawasam represented the SLFP in parliament from 1960 to 1977 said that former MP Namal Rajapaksa, too, took the membership Sunday though some speculated it was Saturday.