The Executive and the Legislature are on a collision course largely due to the widening differences between Prime Minister Wickremesinghe (left) and President Sirisena
- The present political crisis has been exacerbated at a time when the country is saddled with social and economic consequences
- The President persisted with his tough position and did not have the Cabinet meeting yesterday
Normally, the Ministers get a communiqué from the Presidential Secretariat every Friday convening them for the regular Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. There was no such communication this time, but the Ministers anxiously waited till Monday only to learn that President Maithripala Sirisena seemed serious about his warning that he would not convene the regular Cabinet meetings unless the government annulled the Parliamentary Select Committee probing the Easter Sunday’s terrorist attacks.
Despite the President’s warning, the Government was not ready at all to dissolve the PSC, no matter what. The President, true to his words, did not conduct the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. The Government and the President are adamant in their stands setting the stage for yet another collision course involving the Executive and the Legislature in less than a year. And it would destabilise the country politically further ahead of the presidential elections that should be conducted before December 7.
The PSC was constituted by Parliament to probe the serial bombings by eight local Jihadi terrorists linked to the Islamic State. Its interrogation of a few officers including Inspector General of Police (IGP) and former Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando unearthed information that was indicative of dereliction of duty on the part of the President in taking action to prevent the attack based on specific intelligence provided well in advance.
Come what may, it was widely perceived that the United National Party (UNP) or the Government for that matter, staged managed the proceedings of the PSC to put President Sirisena in a spot for political ends. Acrimony that high between the two at the moment took a turn for the worse afterwards. It has been a phenomenon in politics over the recent years to strangle one another purely for politically motivated reasons. The President has also been doing it on and off.
Incensed by the revelation made before the PSC, the President appeared to have realised that the things would not bode well for him if there were further deliberations. Furious, the President convened an emergency Cabinet meeting last Friday and asked the Government to rescind the PSC forthwith. He had justification for it, though. He said the summoning of intelligence officers would compromise their identity, and it would be serious as far as national security was concerned.
Besides, he said he would not send any serving member to testify before the PSC.
The President persisted with his tough position and did not have the Cabinet meeting yesterday. Also, the Government did not give into the President. Now, the executive President has locked horns with the Cabinet. The Government’s position is that the PSC is a parliamentary body, and that only the House can decide on its future.
Speaker Karu Jayasuriya is well in line with the Government’s position. He stood in the way of the President who vowed that he would not send any serving member to the PSC. The Speaker, in a statement, said that it would amount to be a breach of parliamentary privilege if any official disregarded its summoning.
The crisis spilled over to Parliament in this manner. Now, the Executive and the Legislature are on a collision course. The country witnessed a similar fiasco after President Sirisena brought about a regime on October 26, last year by appointing present Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister in place of Ranil Wickremesinghe.
The Speaker played a pivotal role in paving the way for the UNP to show its majority in the House. The conflict involving the Executive and the Legislature ended at that moment with the premiership being restored to Wickremesinghe.
It will take time to see how the present tug-of-war ends.
The present political crisis has been exacerbated at a time when the country is saddled with social and economic consequences triggered by the terror strikes that gripped the whole nation. Communal tension prevails in the country. Mistrust between the communities is visible even in their normal activities. The country is bound to lose a great deal of foreign exchange revenue this year due to the collapse of tourism sector following the terrorist attack. Otherwise, Sri Lanka received as much as US $ 5 billion from tourism annually. Any loss of foreign exchange would have a painful bearing in the country’s debt servicing this year.
To make matters worse, the country’s situation is slated to deteriorate further in political terms. The Government contemplates parliamentary action- that is to pass a resolution calling for the President to convene the Cabinet. Or else, the Government is trying to empower the Prime Minister to do it through a resolution adopted by Parliament.
This exercise would make matters worse hampering the decision making process of the Government. The international community would also have second thoughts in striking any agreement or transaction with Sri Lanka as legitimacy of the Cabinet remains doubtful in the absence of cooperation between the President and the Cabinet.
Governance has increasingly become difficult under the current circumstances. And, some Government ministers even suggested the Prime Minister privately to get Parliament dissolved and hold snap general elections.
According to informed sources, Wickremesinghe and Mahinda Rajapaksa have exchanged views in this regard.
The end result of the present stalemate would be a snap general election. For that purpose, Parliament has to pass a resolution with a two-thirds majority and refer it to the President. It is impossible without understanding between the government and the opposition as no single party has such a large majority in the House.
Modi’s visit of immense symbolic value
The visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the first after his re-election, is widely seen as a gesture which is more of symbolic value- that is to send a message to the rest of the world that normalcy has returned to Sri Lanka.
He stayed in the country a little more than four hours, and interacted with the President, the Prime Minister, the Opposition Leader and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). Except for his meeting with the President and the subsequent working lunch with the Ministers, he devoted ten minutes each for his meetings with the others.
Modi pats Sajith
Housing and Construction Minister Sajith Premadasa who is also the Deputy Leader of the UNP had been assigned as the Minister in attendance during the visit.
He got an opportunity to talk to Modi while travelling with him in the same vehicle. Alongside, he accompanied Modi to Kochchikade church which was damaged by a terrorist attack. Malcom Cardinal Ranjith praised Premadasa in the presence of Modi for his assistance in rebuilding the church. Modi patted Premadasa at that moment as a gesture of appreciation of his work.
Modi calls Mano Ganesan Sri Lankan Chowkidar
Modi’s referred to himself as Chowkidar when he campaigned for his elections. Chowkidar means the watchman. When Minister Mano Ganesan attended the swearing in ceremony of Modi along with President Sirisena, he causally remarked to the Indian premier, “You should be Chowkidar not only for India, but also for the whole of South Asia,”
This time in Sri Lanka during the lunch hosted by the President for Modi, Ganeshan was also present along with his Cabinet colleagues.
Modi addressed him, “Hello, how are you Sri Lankan Chowkidar,”