UDPATE: It seems official. According to Mahinda’s press release, “With effect from today, I will be handing over the leadership of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) to President Maithripala Sirisena.” You can read the whole English press release here.
— Mahinda Rajapaksa (@PresRajapaksa) January 16, 2015
Mahinda lost the Presidential election, but the general election is only a few months away. If he held control of the SLFP, it would have been entirely possible for him to become Prime Minister. If the current spate of reforms continues, Prime Minister could be the most powerful position in the country. It puts the new government under a lot of pressure, but Mahinda just seems to be giving up. Why?
Note that it’s not a done deal. Early, there were reports of Mahinda agreeing to relinquish chairmanship of the SLFP and meeting Maithripala. Ada Derana said that he had, but it was an unsourced story. What was confirmed is that Basil Rajapaksa is stepping down as national organizer.
Now, via Twitter and a press release, Mahinda has announced that he’s stepping down. Why?
Because He Has To
The reason most politicians do anything is because they have to. In this case he may have already lost control of the SLFP. He lost an election, which always smells bad, he has no more perks to give out, plus Mahinda in control of the party actually means no one else in the party can rise. Mahinda’s vision for the future has been him and his brothers until they get old, then Namal and his. This leaves little for anyone else in the party to aspire to, which is why he lost his power in the first place.
Mahinda also re-wrote the SLFP constitution to make the highest elected member of the party the leader. He did this to get Chandrika out of leadership, but now it makes Maithripala the obvious leader. It could be a legal battle and Mahinda doesn’t have control of all the levers anymore. More importantly, it’s a battle where the rank and file of the SLFP has little to gain. If they side with Maithripala they could get positions and power back. If they side with Mahinda they can look forward to a fight and then being his bitch and Namal’s after that. It’s a tough negotiating position.
Because He Wants To Cut A Deal
Sri Lanka has a sad precedent of prosecuting and disenfranchising leaders that fall out of power. In Mahinda’s case, however, there may actually be a case. If reports of him trying to call in the military and stage a coup on election night are true, that is a crime against the country and the Constitution.
Beyond that, Mahinda governed like he’d always be in power. That meant he didn’t really cover his tracks. There has definitely been corruption on another scale in his government, and it hasn’t been hidden well. If the JHU is serious about investigating everything, that means Mahinda has pressure from his entire family and hundreds of hangers-on to get some relief.
Because He’s A Nice Guy
I dunno, always possible. Maybe he’s genuinely interested in Maithripala’s reforms.
I really really hope Mahinda steps down as leader of the SLFP. With him there you’ll get a divided government that will struggle to implement the reforms this country so desperately needs. I also really hope that the SLFP has the sense to enact reforms that are in its best interests, far more than servility to the Rajapaksas ever was. Let’s see what’s confirmed. Mahinda has said he’s ready to hand over the SLFP, but I’ll believe it when I see President Sirisena officially in charge.
UPDATE: It seems done. I believe it.