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Chandrika protests ouster from party

india Updated: Jul 01, 2006 17:28 IST

Former Sri Lankan President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga has strongly protested against her ouster from the Presidency of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and being made its "Patron" without any powers.

In a letter to the party General Secretary Maithripala Sirisena from overseas, she complained that the change had been brought about in a most undemocratic manner flouting all the conventions set in the 54-year history of the party.

She had also not been told about the details of her new role as Patron.

The amendment for the change over, was not discussed in a proper political forum, she complained.

Also, she was not told about the agenda of the meetings fixed for Jun 28 and 29. No allowance was given to the fact that she was on a long sojourn abroad when the dates were fixed. 

The ouster must have been a cruel blow for Kumaratunga because it happened to take place on her 61st birthday. She was also away in London.

Brother too protests

In a letter to Rajapaksa, her brother Anura Bandaranaike said that he had no choice but to support his sister because she had done so much for the party.

She had brought the SLFP to power after it had been 17 long years in the opposition, and had kept it in power for 11 years, winning 11 out of 13 elections, including two Presidential elections, he pointed out.

And she had lost her father, her husband and an eye to terrorists, Bandaranaike said hinting that Rajapaksa and the party had forgotten all this.


In two meetings of the SLFP's Executive and Central committees over June 28 and 29, it was decided to amend the party's constitution and make the current Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the President of the SLFP also, ousting the incumbent President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

The amendment said that if a SLFP member was the President of Sri Lanka, he or she would automatically become the President of the party also.

Carried out at the instance of President Rajapaksa, the amendment was almost unanimously endorsed.

But two key party leaders, Tourism Minister and Kumaratunga's younger brother, Anura Bandaranaike, and Commerce Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, opposed it and walked out.  However, both have said that they will still support Rajapaksa.    

Rajapaksa justifies change

Justifying the change, Rajapaksa said that combining the two offices in one person would be beneficial for the party.

He said that it was impossible from him to function effectively if the office of the Sri Lankan President and the Presidency of the SLFP were not combined in one person.

The change would benefit not only him but also anyone else in the party who might become the President of Sri Lanka, he added.

Historic change

The Bandaranaike family had founded the SLFP and led it from its inception in 1952 without a break till June 2006.

The party was founded by SWRD Bandaranaike in1952 and he was its President till his assassination in 1959. The mantle then fell on his wife, Sirimavo, who was President till 1994. Sirimavo Bandaranaike's successor was her daughter, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.   

As one newspaper edit put it on Saturday, the SLFP is the only to party to have been led by a single family for over half century.

Mahinda Rajapaksa is the first non-Bandaranaike to be President of the SLFP.

Democratic change

Newspapers in Colombo have welcomed the change over as a sign of democratic development. The demise of family rule has been hailed.

The change over is also seen as a shift from the landed aristocracy to the common man.

The Bandaranaikes represent the feudal aristocracy of Sri Lanka, and Rajapaksa is seen as a common man, though he too comes from a wealthy family.

Many also see the shift as a long over due geographic one. Power has now moved from the more developed Central and Western parts of the island, to the relatively disadvantaged south.

The Bandaranaikes are "Kandyans" from the Western province, while Rajapaksa is not a Kandyan and is from the deep south.

Traditionally, the Kandyans have been the leaders of Sri Lanka.