A charade: National Government

14 February 2019 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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The UNP led by Ranil Wickremesinghe is facing the prospect of Provincial Council elections, which it is likely to lose if they are held now

Politics in this country is a disappointment for multiple reasons. However, at times, things further degenerate into an in-your-face insult to the basic intellect of its people. 

The latest shenanigan of this kind is the government’s on-going ploy to form a ‘National Government’, farcically enough, by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the only Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) member in Parliament (Ali Zahir Mowlana, the Digamadulla District Parliamentarian is the only SLMC MP who contested and won the election on the SLMC ticket. The others, including leader Rauff Hakeem ran from the UNP ticket).

Early this month, Leader of the House and Minister of Public Enterprise, Lakshman Kiriella, submitted a motion to form the National Government and by virtue of that to increase the Cabinet of Ministers from the current 30 to 48 and the number of Ministers who are not Cabinet Ministers and the number of Deputy Ministers to 45.


  • Ultimately the joke was on the Government
  • The UNP is facing the prospect of Provincial Council elections
  • the current leader of the UNP has to keep all his MPs satiated
  • However, J.R. carried both the carrot and stick

Like every other sham, this one was also sugar-coated in the salutary “objective of obtaining the participation of all political parties sincerely committed to the exercise of re-building the country.”

But, there were not many fools to buy that baloney. Even the right thinking UNP MPs were disgusted at the disingenuous move and its inevitable fallout as they face elections next year.

Winning the cake

President Maithripala Sirisena fired the first salvo during his Independence Day speech, expressing his disapproval: “I see the proposal about a national government in the media. It is necessary to ask how is it to claim the formation of a national government by joining with a political party which has only a single Member of Parliament. I only see that as an attempt to increase the number of ministers and increase in the facilities of the ministers and MPs. From what I have seen in the media, I strongly disagree with the idea of a proposed national government,” he said.

Over sanctimonious local pundits have decried him for allegedly taking a partisan swipe during a National event– however, to give him his due, the president did the right thing by calling what the UNP ploy really was: a farce.

Ultimately the joke was on the Government. The motion to form a National Government was to be debated on February 7, but was discretely postponed. A group of UNP backbenchers did not attend Parliament, despite the prior notice to be present on Feb 7. Now, Minister Kiriella says that the UNP would form a National Government in March.

Since its triumph over the constitutional coup, the UNP has shown a spectacular ability to squander the sympathy and the political capital of the coup victory. The latest gimmick, however, wins the cake.

The UNP ploy to exploit a constitutional provision of the 19th Amendment through a disingenuous MoU with the sole SLMC MP is no less egregious than the constitutional coup that the civil society in this country fought and prevailed over. President Maithripala Sirisena capriciously sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and dissolved Parliament ostensibly in order to exploit a constitutional lacuna, which his advisers said, there exists. The president finally had to make a humiliating climb down and swear in Wickremesinghe as the prime minister.

The outcome of the UNP’s ploy may not be much different. Yet, its fallout could well be far more devastating in the next General Elections.

The UNP is facing the prospect of Provincial Council elections, which it is likely to lose if they are held now. Such an outcome would also diminish its chances at the Presidential Election, which it could probably win with the help of minority votes. However, short-sighted political gimmicks would further distance the UNP from the voters.

However, the UNP also has a different problem. The Green Party itself and its Government are kept together not so much by the statesmanship, but by a network of patronage

However, the UNP also has a different problem. The Green Party itself and its Government are kept together not so much by the statesmanship, but by a network of patronage.

The backbench UNP MPs who supported their leader against the Constitutional coup and a previous No- Confidence Motion expect him to reciprocate. However the Constitutional limits on the number of Cabinet and non-cabinet ministers as stipulated by the 19th Amendment has precluded him from returning the favour by appointing them to Cabinet and Non cabinet posts, and extending millions of rupees worth in perks to the Ministers and their staff.

The prime minister, who is fending off both internal and external challenges, seemed to have little recourse other than to yield to the demands of his Parliamentarians. As it turned out, this led to the creation of ludicrous cabinet portfolios such as the Ministry of Highway and Higher education.

Party democracy 

Recently, Commerce Minister Rishad Bathiudeen had threatened to resign unless additional subjects were assigned to him. He has asked for the Ministry of Disaster Management. Needless to say the two subject areas have no relationship and a blunder as such would make things worse at a time of national emergency. Another, deputy minister Range Bandara has clamoured for a ministerial portfolio.

Patronage networks that late president J.R. Jayewardene cultivated to win over the loyalty of his MPs and Ministers have grown undisturbed over the decades. However, J.R. carried both the carrot and stick; he obtained undated resignation letters from his Ministers. His egoistic miscalculations brought doom to this country. But for one thing, J.R kept his MPs in line.

Whereas the current leader of the UNP has to keep all his MPs satiated, so that they would not rebel.

Internal party democracy is good, but not when it is being abused to extract personal concessions at the expense of the country and the overall governance.

Like it or not, the current dilemma in Parliamentary politics highlights the necessary evil of the Executive Presidency- at least until, a better representative and functional electoral system is introduced.

In the absence of the Executive Presidency, horse-trading and pole vaulting would create persistent political instability as MPs and Ministers, not just from smaller parties, but also of the two main parties sell their vote to the highest bidder and the perkiest ministry.

And, voters would keep electing the same again and again. All that is proof of not just the cheapness of the elected, but also of the elector.

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