Sirisena decides to support Gota;

The Sri Lanka Freedom Party will support the candidature of Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his symbol Pohottuwa (Lotus Bud) without conditions, its leader, President Maithripala Sirisena declared last night.

He told Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Nationnal Organiser Basil Rajapaksa that there would be no conditions for the presidential election on November 16. There will, however, be discussions on Memoranda of Understanding to be signed between the two sides. Earlier, the SLPP had repeatedly rejected his requests for it to change the Pohottuwa symbol, among other demands.

After discussions, the MoU between the SLFP and candidate Rajapaksa is to be signed at his residence in Mirihana.

The climb down last night by President Sirisena came after he sought a meeting at the Presidential Secretariat with the three Rajapaksa brothers – Mahinda, Gotabaya and Basil. On Mr Sirisena’s side were Dayasiri Jayasekera, Mahinda Ameraweera, Duminda Dissanayake, Lasantha Alagiyawanna and Faiszer Musthapha.

The SLFP Central Committee which met last night decided that the party should conduct its own political campaign for Gotabaya Rajapaksa with no formal reference to the Pohottuwa symbol.

They authorised President Sirisena to approve amendments they would suggest to the MoUs.

Sirisena’s virtual political surrender to the SLPP without conditions was a double boost for the SLPP. Its candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa received a major victory after the Court of Appeal on Friday unanimously rejected a petition by two civil society activists challenging issues related to his National Identity Card and receipt of Sri Lanka dual citizenship.

The SLFP will now sign two different Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) – one between the SLFP and candidate Rajapaksa and another to join the Sri Lanka People’s Alliance (SLPA). The signing of the second MoU will make provision for the two sides to select candidates for a future election on a common symbol among other matters.

The signing of the second MoU is expected to take place on October 9 ahead of Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s major rally in Anuradhapura. On October 9, all other partner parties of the SLPA are expected to place their signatures.

Senior SLFP sources told the Sunday Times last night that the Court of Appeal decision to reject the petition by two civil society activists influenced President Sirisena’s move to join the SLPP on their own terms for the presidential election. President Sirisena had earlier believed that the court ruling would go against candidate Rajapaksa.

President Sirisena made it known this week that he would contest on behalf of the SLFP. He summoned party organisers countrywide for a meeting where he handed in a questionnaire. He asked whether he should contest, support Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sajith Premadasa or stay neutral. The majority urged him to contest and he was hoping to have the move endorsed by the Central Committee last night. The last minute change of mind was after realising that the prospects of a large volume of votes besides a win were not possible.

The Central Committee gave approval to empower President Sirisena to sign the MoUs with the SLPP last night. He was also authorised to decide on the amendments the party is seeking.

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