The president needs to stand firm to safeguard the coalition that put him in the chair
Mahinda Rajapaksa-backed joint opposition yesterday submitted a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to the speaker. The motion against Wickremesinghe, according newspapers, contains charges of economic mismanagement by him during the last three years.
Among the topmost charges against Wickremesinghe is the alleged scandal in the Central Bank bond issues in 2015 and 2016. He is also charged of failing to tackle the anti-Muslim riots in the central district of Kandy, when he was the Law and Order Minister.
The opposition claims that even some members of the United National Party would sign the motion. According to legal sources, although there is no constitutional provision to oust Wickremesinghe from the post of Prime Minister through a no-confidence motion, the success of the motion would be a severe blow to his political standing and legitimacy.
Given the current state of parliament and the possibility that the Tamil National Alliance and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna abstaining in the event of a vote, Wickremesinghe appears to be safe.
Unfortunately, Wickremesinghe bashing today has become a pastime and will continue whatever the outcome. This is largely due to some of the people surrounding him, who often make him look a loner and an authoritarian. As a result, the substantial gains that this government has realized in the last three years have been forgotten or lost.
Importance of Wickremesinghe
Wickremesinghe is among just a handful in this country never resorted to racial slogans, never touted Sinhala Buddhist nationalism. He is progressive in his economic and political outlook and even when he is under pressure, a man who believes that the law must take precedence over personal loyalties, a respecter of the rights of all ethnicities and even to a fault.
His earlier prime ministerial tenure compared to this term was more on a positive path to progress, both economic and political. Given the magnitude of the lives lost and the years lost in an unending conflict, his Ceasefire Agreement in 2001 with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), though politically shaky, helped to significantly weaken the LTTE.
Very few people still give him the credit for his Machiavellian move. Wickremesinghe, despite some weaknesses, is the best leader we have, who can change the game, if given the space to deliver and Wickremesinghe works within the mandate and will win the confidence of all parties.
Therefore, it is important that the people he places his trust on to deliver his mandate don’t let him down, diminishing his value and undermining his position in parliament as the prime minister. They owe it to him because he stands by his officials, come what may.
The Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) predominated by loyalties to the previous president seems to be hell bent on either challenging his mandate or shoot holes in the effort he has taken to bring the country and the economy to an even keel, without realising what these initiatives are and what favourable outcomes it will bring to the country. The no-confidence motion on Wickremesinghe therefore can only create further uncertainty.
Today one of the biggest challenges we have is improving our country’s competitiveness. Wickremesinghe clearly understands what competitiveness is and believes in a conducive business environment where every entrepreneur, big or small, has the ability to move up the business hierarchy on his or her own merit.
He knows what is necessary, to improve our skills, including attracting foreign direct investment at a minimum of 20 percent of gross domestic product in order to maintain 8 percent plus the growth target that the country needs.
Wickremesinghe in the last three years has made a huge effort to rebuild international confidence amongst international leaders and investors, both locally and internationally, particularly with the US and European Union (where are our major markets remain).
Through our well-orchestrated foreign policy, the ‘Yahapalanaya’ has and continues to succeed in this direction. He has largely restored the independence of the judiciary and the public service, which has helped to generate a positive climate in the country. The results of his efforts will come slowly but surely because he is not a man who looks for quick wins.
Therefore, given his profile, this is the last chance we have to support a leader who knows how to create real wealth for our country and usher in an era of prosperity. Wickremesinghe is perhaps the last of the old brigade who has the capacity to help Sri Lanka to realize its full potential but he certainly needs to tone down his pro-Western and cosmopolitan outlook and clean up his team if he is to get the support of the SLFP.
Because the SLFP vote base is still overwhelmingly Sinhala and populist, Wickremesinghe is certainly a visionary and a decisive leader, the time is up for him and the president to deliver or face the wrath of the public for not delivering on their promises.
Therefore, Maithripala Sirisena and Wickremesinghe should discuss how to continue with the unity government in the next 15 months, instead of getting bogged down in partisan politics, especially now, given that the Sri Lankan economy grew only by 3.3 percent during the third quarter of 2017 (3Q17) compared to the corresponding quarter of last year, with continued contraction in the agriculture sector and slower growth in the business sector.
(Dinesh Weerakkody is a thought leader)