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Mahinda ends Bandaranaike era in SLFP

The Bandaranaikes have lost yet another key political position - the Presidency of the party they founded, reports PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Jun 30, 2006 17:27 IST

In the political history of Sri Lanka, the era of the Bandaranaikes seems to have ended.

They have been pushed out of the Sri Lankan Presidency as well as the leadership of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), which they founded and continuously led for 54 years.

Last year, a determined bid by Anura Bandaranaike to succeed his elder sister, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, as the Sri Lankan President, had failed.

The Presidency went to Mahinda Rajapaksa, a rival politician from the deep south of the island.

And now, less than a year later, the Bandaranaikes have lost yet another key political position, the Presidency of the SLFP.

On Thursday, a legal coup saw power in the SLFP going into the hands of the current Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa.

And by a political extension, it went into the hands of the Rajapaksa family, members of which, like the Bandaranaikes before, hold key positions in the government and the party.

 "Tangalle triumphs over Attanagalle" declared The Island  daily on Friday.

Tangalle is the fiefdom of the Rajapaksas, and Attanagalle is the fiefdom of the Bandaranaikes.  

Party constitution changed

On Thursday, Rajapaksa got the SLFP Central Committee to amend the constitution to make the President of the country, President of the party also, automatically. 

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.

Thus, President Rajapaksa became the President of the SLFP, replacing Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, a scion of the Bandaranaike family and the President of Sri Lanka from 1994 to 2005.

Justifying the change, Rajapaksa said that it was impossible from him to function politically, if the office of the Sri Lankan President and the Presidency of the SLFP were not combined in one person.

He said that the change would benefit not only him but also anyone else in the party who might become the President of Sri Lanka.

To mollify the Bandaranaikes and their followers, Rajapaksa said that he and the party owed a great deal to them. The amendment was not aimed at dethroning or sidelining Chandrika Kumaratunga, he assured.

Chandrika loyalists boycott meet

Rajapaksa's move was opposed by Kumaratunga loyalists like her younger brother and Tourism Minister Anura Bandaranaike, and Commerce Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle.

They, along with Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, did not attend Thursday's meeting.

Historic change

The Bandaranaike family had founded the SLFP and led it from its inception in the mid 1950s without a break.

With Thursday's change over, the SLFP got a non-Bandaranaike as its President for the first time in its history.

The party was founded and led by SWRD Bandaranaike in the mid 1950s. After his assassination by a Buddhist monk in the late 1950s, his wife Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the party chief. She led it till 1993-94 when her daughter Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga took over. 

Bandaranaikes hurt

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.

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.

And she had lost her father, her husband and an eye to terrorists coming from the ranks of the Buddhist monks, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the LTTE respectively.

Before walking out of the meeting, Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle said that it was not proper to change the leadership when the incumbent President was away from the country and when the country was facing bigger problems.

However, barring these few leaders, none of the others opposed the amendment.

Supporters of the amendment included most of Kumaratunga's "loyalists" and senior leaders like Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake ,who were themselves candidates for the party Presidency.

Rajapaksa mentioned the hurt that the amendment could have caused to people like Ratnasiri Wickramanayake and said that the change was not against them but was in the interest of the best interests of the party.