Query response on Sri Lanka: Information on United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) (formation, leaders, member parties, treatment of members, ideology, flag) [a-10172]

24 May 2017

This response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to ACCORD as well as information provided by experts within time constraints and in accordance with ACCORD’s methodological standards and the Common EU Guidelines for processing Country of Origin Information (COI).

This response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status, asylum or other form of international protection.

Please read in full all documents referred to.

Non-English language information is summarised in English. Original language quotations are provided for reference.


The book Political Parties of the World, which was published in its 7th edition in 2009, notes that “[i]n January 2004 the SLFP [Sri Lanka Freedom Party] formed an electoral pact with the Marxist and Sinhala nationalist Janata Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) dubbed the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA)” (Political Parties of the World, 2009, p. 550). In an article which was last modified in April 2017, GlobalSecurity.org, a US-based website covering military and security issues, also writes that ”[i]n January 2004, the SLFP and the JVP formed a political grouping known as the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA)” (GlobalSecurity.org, page last modified 11 April 2017).


The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) describes the UPFA in its final report on the parliamentary elections in October 2015, stating that “[t]he UPFA coalition comprises several parties led by the SLFP. President Sirisena, as SLFP chairman, became leader of the UPFA shortly after the presidential election” (EU EOM, 17 October 2015, p. 7). In an undated description of its member countries, The Commonwealth, an intergovernmental organisation consisting of member states which are mostly territories of the former British Empire, writes that “HE Mr Maithripala Sirisena was elected as the sixth Executive President of Sri Lanka following the Presidential Election of 8 January 2015. Mr Sirisena is Chair of the United People’s Freedom Alliance led by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party” (The Commonwealth, undated).

In a report from February 2017, the Colombo-based Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA) which describes itself as an independent, non-partisan organisation that focuses primarily on issues of governance and conflict resolution, writes about internal power struggles for the leadership of the SLFP and the UPFA following the presidential elections and the subsequent parliamentary elections in 2015:

The political dynamics that followed the January 2015 [presidential] elections are noteworthy. President Sirisena became the leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) soon after the Presidential election – two entities that had till then worked against him during a bitterly contested election. Despite losing the Presidential election, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa continued to enjoy the support of a large part of the party machinery and voter base, enabling him to challenge the leadership of the SLFP and UPFA. Rajapaksa support within the party and country at large contributed to President Sirisena’s decision to give nomination to his predecessor [in the parliamentary election in August 2015, remark ACCORD], a move critiqued by some as providing a political lifeline to the Rajapaksa camp and decisively facilitating the formation of the Joint Opposition [in parliament].” (CPA, February 2017, p. 5)

The Sri Lankan newspaper Daily News also describes the formation of the above mentioned Joint Opposition (JO) in an article from March 2017, noting that “[i]n February 2015, a faction of the SLFP and minor parties of the UPFA Alliance chose to form the Joint Opposition (JO) in support of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa” (Daily News, 3 March 2017).


The BBC reports about the Sri Lankan parliamentary elections in August 2015, writing that “[a]lthough Mr Rajapaksa and Mr Sirisena both belong to the UPFA, the two men are rivals and lead opposing factions in the UPFA” (BBC News, 18 August 2015). The International Crisis Group (ICG) describes the SLFP and UFPA leadership between the presidential and parliamentary elections in August 2015 in similar terms:

“Despite having formal leadership of the SLFP and UPFA, Sirisena’s struggle to gain effective control deepened after passage of the nineteenth amendment. […] Sirisena’s chief obstacle was stronger-than-expected support for Mahinda Rajapaksa within the party. Within weeks of the [presidential] election, supporters began campaigning for Mahinda to be the UPFA candidate for prime minister in the parliamentary elections.’” (ICG, 12 August 2015, p. 10)

According to the global inter-parliamentary institution the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) won 95 seats in the last parliamentary elections in August 2015 and lost against the United National Party (UNP), which won 106 seats (IPU, undated). The EU Election Observation Mission reports that 4,732,664 people voted for the UPFA in the August 2015 parliamentary elections, which represents 42.38 per cent of the votes (EU EOM, 17 October 2015, p. 45). The results of the 2015 parliamentary elections are discussed in an ICG report from May 2017, which notes that the “narrow victory in parliamentary elections of a UNP-led coalition over a grouping led by former President Rajapaksa and including most of Sirisena’s own SLFP” made it possible for Sirisena “to convince the fractured SLFP to form an unprecedented national unity government with its often bitter UNP rival, headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe” (ICG, 16 May 2017, p. 3). In its report from February 2017, the Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA) also writes about the formation of a unity government by the SLFP, which it describes as “the main constituent party of the UPFA”, with the UNP (CPA, February 2017, p. 6). The CPA report further provides the following information:

This historic move was the first time the SLFP and the UNP entered into a coalition to form a government but was also met with opposition by a section of the SLFP/UPFA who continued to stay in opposition (described as the Joint Opposition). This group, with the leadership of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, has successfully managed to dominate the narrative, slow down reforms and continuously challenge President Sirisena’s hold on the SLFP. Despite the continuing challenges, the government has failed to formulate a counter strategy, thus exposing the fragility of the coalition.” (CPA, February 2017, p. 6)

General Secretary

In February 2016, the Sri Lankan news website ColomboPage reports that “General Secretary of United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) and former cabinet minister Prof. Vishwa Warnapala has passed away this morning at the age of 79” (ColomboPage, 27 February 2016). Subsequently, in March 2016, ColomboPage announces that at a “UPFA Executive Committee meeting chaired by President Maithripala Sirisena” it was decided that “Minister of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development Mahinda Amaraweera has been appointed as the General Secretary of the United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA)” (ColomboPage, 8 March 2016). The weekly Sri Lankan broadsheet The Sunday Times also reports on the appointment of a new Secretary General of the UFPA in March 2016:

“Fisheries Minister Mahinda Amaraweera was appointed as the new General Secretary of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) at the Executive Committee meeting today. President Maithripala Sirisena chaired the meeting and the executive committee members from all the constituent parties took part. His appointment replacing the vacancy created following the demise of Prof. Vishva Varnapala who passed away recently.” (The Sunday Times, 8 March 2016)

Member parties

The Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses (IDSA), an Indian think tank for advanced research in international relations, published a report in July 2015 which lists the member parties of the UPFA as follows:

“Constituent parties of the UPFA are: Sri Lanka Freedom Party, Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, All Ceylon Muslim Congress, Ceylon Workers’ Congress, Communist Party of Sri Lanka, Desha Vimukthi Janatha Pakshaya, Eelam People’s Democratic Party, Eelavar Democratic Front, Lanka Sama Samaja Party, Liberal Party of Sri Lanka, Mahajana Eksath Peramuna, National Freedom Front, Sinhalaye Mahasammatha Bhoomiputra Pakshaya, Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal, Up-Country People’s Front, Sri-TELO (Pararajasingham Uthayarasa alias Uthayan Faction). Some of these constituent parties did not support Mahinda Rajapakse’s candidacy, for example, the SLMC and Up Country People’s Front.” (IDSA, 28 July 2015, p. 5)

The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) to the parliamentary election in August 2015 notes that some of the above listed member parties have joined the UNP in the run-up to the parliamentary election (EU EOM, 17 October 2015, p. 7). The EU EOM provides the following information on UPFA member parties in its final report from October 2015:

“The UPFA was significantly weakened because its main coalition partners, the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), the Buddhist Sinhala nationalist party, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and the All Ceylon Muslim Congress (ACMC) joined the UNP coalition prior to the parliamentary elections. The most important partners of the SLFP in the current UPFA coalition are the Ceylon Workers’ Congress, traditionally supported by Sri Lankan Tamils of Indian origin, and the National Freedom Front, the splinter party from the leftist JVP. The leading SLFP party draws its support mainly from the majority Sinhala community.” (EU EOM, 17 October 2015, p. 7)

In a report from August 2015, the ICG notes that “the bulk” of the UPFA members are with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (ICG, 12 August 2015, p. 8). In February 2017 the Sri Lankan internet newspaper ColomboPage reports that “[t]he National Freedom Front (NFF) led by parliamentarian Wimal Weerawansa has formally informed the United People's Freedom Alliance (UPFA) of its withdrawal from the alliance” (ColomboPage, 24 February 2017). In March 2017, the Sri Lankan newspaper Daily News reports that the party Jathika Nidahas Peramuna (JNP) is leaving the UPFA, which “could well be the first step in a grand scheme where other constituent parties such as the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna, the Communist Party and the Lanka Sama Samaja Party all withdraw from the UPFA, leaving the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) remaining in the Alliance”. The article concludes that “[e]ven if the UPFA is shorn of its allies, as long as it retains the support base of the SLFP, it will be a force to reckon with” (Daily News, 2 March 2017).

Treatment of members

Within the time frame available, no information could be found on treatment of UPFA members in the current context. The Sri Lankan news portal News1st reports about protests of councillors affiliated with the Joint Opposition (JO), which the Daily News describes in an article from March 2017 as “a faction of the SLFP and minor parties of the UPFA” (DailyNews, 3 March 2017). The article from News1st notes that tear gas has been used against protestors of the JO in December 2016:

“Tear gas was fired at a group of former provincial councillors, affiliated to the joint opposition, who attempted to proceed towards parliament through the police barricades. The aim of the protesters was to pressure the government to conduct the local government elections as soon as possible.” (News1st, 3 December 2016)

The Sri Lankan news portal Hiru News also reports on the use of tear gas in December 2016, stating that “[p]olice fired tear gas and water cannon at a group representing the Joint Opposition who were staging a protest near the Parliamentary Complex” (Hiru News, 3 December 2016).


In January 2015, the Colombo-based Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV), an independent organisation for monitoring election-related violence, reports on the post-election situation, noting that“[t]here is one casualty from post poll violence and several instances of assault, threat and intimidation” and that “most of the victims in the incidents reported are from the UPFA” (CMEV, 12 January 2015). During the subsequent parliamentary elections, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports the following on pre-election violence in August 2015:

“Over the past month there have been several assaults during campaign-related activities. Some attacks have led to death or grievous injury. […]. Local police confirmed that on August 5, a supporter of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), Mohamed Adhiyas, was attacked with a sharp object, allegedly by a member of the rival UNP. Adhiyas was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. On August 5, supporters of a United National Front (UNF) candidate were attacked by supporters of the UPFA, leading to several injuries.” (HRW, 14 August 2015) 

The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) gives the following overview on treatment of party candidates and their activists in its final report of its election observation mission in October 2015:

The campaign environment was positively assessed by most stakeholders as well as by EU EOM observers. A vibrant campaign was conducted, with activities organised mainly by candidates of the UNP, UPFA and to a lesser extent by the JVP. […] Although the campaign was assessed by stakeholders as largely peaceful, there were incidents involving firearms that resulted in several deaths as well as numerous cases of assault and arson. The major incidents, however, appeared to be isolated and did not lead to an escalation of violence.” (EU EOM, 17 October 2015, p. 2)

“The police played an active role in maintaining campaign rules. They were quick to respond to calls by the Commissioner of Elections to remove illegal posters and address other breaches. In comparison, police activity was more heavy-handed during previous election periods. However, many opposition candidates from the UPFA criticised the police for being slow to take up their complaints.” (EU EOM, 17 October 2015, p. 16)


The Sri Lankan English newspaper Daily News notes in an article from March 2017 that “[i]t is no secret that while the UPFA projects itself as a broad coalition of parties with like-minded ideologies, the vast majority of its support base is derived from the SLFP” (Daily News, 2 March 2017). In an article on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the SLFP, Pradeep Peiris, Director at the Social Scientists Association in Colombo, describes the formation of the SLFP and its ideology, stating that the party, “who clearly appealed to the Sinhala Buddhist countryside could not identify itself either with the right wing ideas of the UNP [United National Party] or extreme Marxist ideas” and that “at the outset, the SLFP was a party of ideas and values and was formed with the intention of tapping into the Sinhala Buddhist rural electorate” (The Sunday Times, 11 September 2016). The same article provides the following insights into the ideological disposition of UPFA member parties:

“The Proportional Representation system influenced the SLFP to broaden its electoral coalition. Thus, Kumaratunga [former chairman of the SLFP], reached out to minority ethnic parties, in addition to its traditional Leftist partners, to form the People’s Alliance regime. Later, her successor, Mahinda Rajapaksa further increased the number of constituent partners in his regime by inviting the Sinhalese Nationalist parties too. He also incited crossovers from many smaller parties across a wide ideological spectrum to strengthen his position within.” (The Sunday Times, 11 September 2016)


The Sri Lankan news portal News1st reports about the parliamentary elections in July 2015 featuring an article with the headline “Mahinda Rajapaksa to contest under betel leaf symbol” (News1st, 6 July 2015). The same month the Sri Lankan daily English-language newspaper The Island also writes about the upcoming parliamentary election, stating that “former President Mahinda Rajapaksa would contest the forthcoming general election under the betel leaf symbol of the UPFA” (The Island, 7 June 2015). An older article from News1st on provincial election results from March 2014 shows a picture of the betel leave symbol which features blue background with a betel leave outlined in white (News1st, 30 March 2014).





References: (all links accessed 24 May 2017)

·      BBC News: Sri Lanka elections: UNP victory as Rajapaksa hopes rebuffed, 18 August 2015

·      CMEV – Center for Monitoring Election Violence: Presidential Election 2015 Post Election Communiqué, 12 January 2015

·      ColomboPage: UPFA General Secretary Prof. Vishwa Warnapala passes away, 27 February 2016

·      ColomboPage: Mahinda Amaraweera appointed as the UPFA General Secretary, 8 March 2016

·      ColomboPage: Wimal Weerawansa's NFF withdraws from UPFA, will function as independent group in parliament, 24 February 2017 http://www.colombopage.com/archive_17A/Feb24_1487912836CH.php

·      CPA – Center for Policy Alternatives: Two Years In Government: A Review of the Pledges made in 2015 through the Lens of Constitutional Reform, Governance and Transitional Justice, February 2017

·      Daily News: Next chapter with Weerawansa, 2 March 2017

·      DailyNews: Time to clean up the UPFA, 3 March 2017

·      EU EOM - European Union Election Observation Mission: Final Report; Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka; Parliamentary Elections 17 August 2015, 17 October 2015 (available at ecoi.net)

·      GlobalSecurity.org: Sri Lanka – Politics, page last modified 11 April 2017

·      Hiru News: Tear gas fired at Joint Opposition’s protest near Parliament roundabout, 3 December 2016

·      HRW - Human Rights Watch: Ensure Safe, Secure, Free Polls, 14 August 2015 (available at ecoi.net)

·      ICG - International Crisis Group: Sri Lanka Between Elections, 12 August 2015 (available at ecoi.net)

·      ICG – International Crisis Group: Sri Lanka’s Transition to Nowhere, 16 May 2017

·      IDSA – Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses: The Rajapakse ‘Coup’ and Upcoming Parliamentary Election in Sri Lanka, 28 July 2015

·      IPU – Inter-Parliamentary Union: Sri Lanka: Parliament: Last Elections, undated

·      News1st: Provincial Council Elections: UPFA wins in Hambantota, 30 March 2014

·      News1st: Mahinda Rajapaksa to contest under betel leaf symbol, 6 July 2015

·      News1st: Tear gas fired at joint opposition members, 3 December 2016

·      Political Parties of the World, 7th edition (Editor: D.J. Sagar), 2009

·      The Commonwealth: Sri Lanka : Sri Lanka : Constitution and politics, undated

·      The Island: Mahinda will contest under betel leaf symbol from UPFA - Gammanpila, 7 June 2015

·      The Sunday Times: Mahinda Amaraweera is the new UPFA General Secretary, 8 March 2016

·      The Sunday Times: SLFP at 65: The crisis of Lanka’s political party system, 11 September 2016