COLOMBO: Dimming hopes of a reconciliation between the Sri Lanka Freedom Party’s (SLFP) ruling faction led by President Maithripala Sirisena and the Joint Opposition faction led by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, the newly-formed party of the Rajapaksa group has gone ahead with paying deposits for separate nominations to contest the upcoming local government elections.

The Sirisena faction of the SLFP also said that they have made nomination lists separately, but stated that the SLFP-Sirisena group was “not in a hurry” to file the nominations. The exact date of the polls is to be announced soon and is largely expected to be in January 2018.

Sources said that President Sirisena was reluctant to merge with the Rajapaksa faction —the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) — in order to contest the local government polls as one unit.

However, he has prevented a move supported by the coalition partner, the United National Party (UNP), to arrest Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the all-powerful former defence secretary and brother of Mr Rajapaksa.

Analysts point out that an arrest of the former defence secretary would have greatly helped the Rajapaksa faction and increased anti-government sentiments by hard-line Sinhala nationalists.

President Sirisena meanwhile has denied that he has averted the arrest due to pressure by the country’s Buddhist clergy hierarchy.

The president is inundated with calls from within his party, the SLFP, to break ties with the UNP and contest the upcoming election by incorporating the political faction members supporting former president Rajapaksa.

President Sirisena is also the head of the SLFP, which is a key component of the ruling alliance, but is now torn into two factions with a considerable number supporting Mr Raja­paksa, the previous chief of the SLFP. Most members are urging Mr Sirisena to contest the local government elections as a united SLFP.

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2017