Rebels in Sri Lanka's ruling party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) have asked former party leader and Sri Lankan President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, to lead them in their struggle against Mahinda Rajapaksa who now heads the party and the government.
Dissident leader, former minister Mangala Samaraweera, on Wednesday appealed to Kumaratunga to "guide" his struggle against the "dictatorial, extremist and fascist policies" of Rajapaksa.
Speaking in parliament after forming his own group, the SLFP (Mahajana Wing), Samaraweera asked Kumaratunga to come out of political retirement and "guide the party in the right direction."
Kumaratunga is currently in the UK, and is expected to come back to Sri Lankan soon. She is alienated from Rajapaksa, and could well take over the leadership of the rebel SLFP (MW).
Samaraweera said that the other leaders of the SLFP, its rank and file, and its sympathisers in the general population, should also join the planned mass struggle to restore the SLFP's traditional character, which he said, was "centrist and democratic."
He recalled that the SLFP's founder, SWRD Bandaranaike, had broken away from the United National Party (UNP) in September 1951 on the issue of one-man rule or rule by a coterie. That issue now plagues the SLFP (under Mahinda Rajapaksa), he said.
Samaraweera made a special mention of the "marginalised and disillusioned" members of the SLFP – leaders of stature who were being ignored and sidelined by the Rajapaksa Brothers.
He charged that the four Rajapaksa brothers had been taking all the decisions pertaining to the party and the country, arrogating to themselves "70%" of the budgeted funds, and using them in arbitrary manner.
On the Rajapaksa "quartet" he further said: " They are an entity with executive powers, that is extremely vindictive, spiteful and petty. This is a group which is drunk with power and has no qualms about abusing and exploiting their executive and state powers."
Samaraweera said that he was not afraid of imprisonment or bullets and that he would not "retreat" from his mission. He said he was planning a mass movement.
Samaraweera, who had earlier been relieved of the Foreign, Ports and Aviation Ministries, said that the Rajapaksa government had brought rural development to a "standstill"; encouraged kidnappings for ransom; suppressed the media and hounded outspoken MPs. It treated the Tamil and Muslim minorities in a such a way that it showed the world that racism had become "official policy".
"Today we are fast becoming an internationally isolated and cornered pariah nation.World opinion of Sri Lanka is that we are on the verge of becoming a failed state that abuses human rights and suppresses the media," Samaraweera said.
It is not clear as to how successful the SLFP rebels will be in their mission to oust or correct Rajapaksa. Right now, the group consists only of two members, namely, Samaraweera and his former ministerial colleague, Sripathi Sooriyarachchi. But it is certain that the rebels pose a serious challenge.
Samaraweera has been a fighter and a hard worker with excellent organisational abilities. He is a liberal in the Western sense, though he could play the regional, caste and the Buddhist card also to gain power.
Right now he has the support of the opposition UNP, and perhaps even the grudging support of the Sinhala nationalist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna(JVP) .The JVP has been at odds with its old ally Rajapaksa for some time. The 22 member Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has welcomed his defection.
Above all, the SLFP (MW) gives disgruntled SLFP leaders, MPs and the rank and file, an acceptable rallying point. Previously, they did not have any. They could not countenance opting out of politics or joining the UNP or JVP.Now they have a legitimate political refuge and a political bridgehead, in case they need one.
Rising prices, bad governance and a stalemate in the war, are alienating the Rajapaksa regime from the masses, even in the Sinhala-Buddhist south Sri Lanka. In this context, the SLFP(MW) has the potential to grow as an alternative group for the traditional SLFP supporter.