Ex-Minister G.L. Peiris wants Rajapaksa to lead new party

November 07, 2016 11:32 pm | Updated December 02, 2016 02:15 pm IST - COLOMBO:

Sri Lanka’s former Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris.

Sri Lanka’s former Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris.

Amid speculation about former President Mahinda Rajapaksa floating a new party, his colleague and former Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris has decided to invite Mr. Rajapaksa to lead a new political organisation he chairs.

“We will do our best to persuade him, to lead our party” Mr. Peiris said on Monday. “Until now he [Mr. Rajapaksa] has not given us any commitment, but we are very hopeful that he will accept it,” he told The Hindu , a day after he was suspended from the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

Suspended from SLFP Though not in Parliament currently, the former Cabinet Minister has been an active politician in the Joint Opposition, a grouping of pro-Rajapaksa political actors.

Last week, Mr. Peiris assumed charge as chairman of the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (Sri Lanka People’s Front), a newly-registered political party. Soon after, the SLFP stripped him of membership citing his role in a new party.

However, Mr. Peiris believes his suspension will be revoked. Recalling President Maithripala Sirisena’s defection from the party ahead of the January 2015 presidential polls — in which Mr. Rajapaksa was unseated — Mr. Peiris said: “President Sirisena’s party membership was also suspended at that time. But it was revoked later, even though he had contested against the candidate that the SLFP nominated. So both situations have to be treated alike and not disparately.”

Terming his suspension “a violation of principles of equality and fairness”, he said: “The person concerned should have an opportunity to be heard.”

The SLFP is currently divided between the Sirisena-led faction, in coalition government with the United National Party, and the Rajapaksa-led group which, along with other supportive political parties, formed the Joint Opposition.

The Sri Lanka People’s Front, Mr. Peiris said, would work closely with the Joint Opposition in the coming days. His invitation to Mr. Rajapaksa comes amid apparent tensions within the ruling coalition, though top leaders in the UNP and SLFP have denied any danger of a split.

While there are no indications of Mr. Rajapaksa garnering more support within the SLFP, political analysts in Colombo observe that Mr. Rajapaksa was unlikely to leave the SLFP. The party is central to his political image in Sri Lanka’s Sinhala-majority south, particularly in the rural electorate where he continues to have considerable support.

Mr. Rajapaksa himself has made no official announcement in this regard, but he does not seem to have ruled out another bid for power either. Speaking to popular Tamil daily Veerakesari on Mr. Peiris’s new political party, he said anyone had the right to form or head a new party. “Tomorrow I too could start a party and become its leader,” he was quoted as saying.

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