The Diana Gamage ‘defection’: Sajith burnt by the ideological fire he started?


At this stage, it is not clear whether leader of the SJB Sajith Premadasa is aware of the schizophrenic political loyalties of his national list MP.

On October 22, 2020 eight MPs belonging to the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) alliance, the main opposition party in Sri Lanka, voted in favor of the government sponsored 20 Amendment Bill.

There have been instances where MPs of the opposition had supported the government. Sometimes, such defections are notified to respective party hierarchy in advance, sometimes parties allow M’s the right to dissent on matters of conscience. At other times, the defections come as a surprise.

By all accounts, this defection came as a surprise to the SJB leadership. Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) has already called for explanations from the four members who voted in favor of the amendment and there are calls for SJB to take disciplinary action against national list MP Diana Gamage. Gamage’s is highlighted here because she has been transparent about what motivated her to break the party line on this issue in an interview with the Sunday Morning .

Gamage says that she voted in favor of the amendment because she felt that the president was hamstrung by the existing constitution in making decisions to defend the nation.

Is Diana Gamage referring to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who has been ruling the country by executive order since the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic or is she talking about someone else? Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been ruling the country as if the country is under martial law by deploying military personnel wherever and whenever he could, declaring curfews, restricting the movement of the people and peoples’ ability to gather in numbers and disregarding long established budgetary procedures now going on close to six months, if not more.

Diana Gamage says opposition MPs should consider extending the “right” amount of support to the government when needed. Gamage doesn’t define what this mythical “right” amount is or how one could separate the right time and right issue from the wrong time and wrong issue.  

Diana Gamage also says she is the Deputy Secretary and her husband the Deputy Chairman of the SJB. The original name of the party the Gamage’s established was called Ape Jathika Peramuna and later an agreement was made between the Gamages and the Sajith Premadasa faction to change it to SJB. SJB was recognized as a separate political party by the election commissioner on February 11, 2020.

The official website of the SJB does not mention the names of office bearers or the party structure. Wikipedia entry identifies Sajith Premadasa as the founder cum leader and Ranjith Maddumabandara as the Secretary but does not mention a chairperson, vice chairperson or an assistant secretary.

Then again the Wikipedia entry also says that the ideology of the SJB is conservatism, liberal conservatism and economic liberalism. The entry also makes a note on the intra party demarcations as Sinhala nationalism, Indian Tamil interests and Muslim minority politics. If you are confused about those descriptions, I don’t think you are alone. Obviously SJB is a party that aims to be all things to all people.

Gamage seems unconcerned by the prospect of SBJ disciplining her for her vote and says SBJ leader Sajith Premadasa was aware of her decision to support the amendment. She also says that she will support the government in everything it does but will also critique when needed.

Gamage also says she is frequently in touch with the president and that the president is aware that she supports him fully but she will not leave the party she founded.

At this stage, it is not clear whether leader of the SJB Sajith Premadasa is aware of the schizophrenic political loyalties of his national list MP. What is clear is that Sajith Premadasa has a serious problem of an MP in his caucus who while sitting amongst them is supporting the political enemy and thereby undermining his leadership and the credibility of the SJB. The intentions of the other eight rebel MPs are not discussed here because they have not declared their reasonings to the public.

Obviously, the SJB cannot tolerate a national list MP who openly flouts the party’s leadership and speaks on party matters without a mandate to do so. If Sajith Premadasa doesn’t nip this issue in the bud, he will find his position as the leader of the SJB untenable. Once he has finished dousing the Gamage fire, Premadasa better attend to the ideological fire he has set himself by declaring that his party believes in conservatism, liberal conservatism and economic liberalism.

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