The crisis of the present Government is nothing but one of its own making
The two incidents have thrown the country into utter confusion
The SLFP led by President Sirisena is in disarray divided over Unity Government
The UNP has temporarily suppressed a rebellion against it with a promise to reorganise the party
The retreat by the politicians into their family life during the Sinhala and Hindu New Year and President Maithripala Sirisena’s absence from the country to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London, had obscured the political mess prevailing in the country.
The February 10 Local Government Elections and the No-Confidence Motion (NCM) presented by the Joint Opposition against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe were the immediate causes that transformed an already simmering conflict in the Government into chaos.
The two incidents have thrown, the country in general and the ruling coalition in particular, into utter confusion.
The two main parties in the ruling coalition, the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) have been bewildered as to whether and how they should continue with their coalition.
The SLFP led by President Maithripala Sirisena is in disarray and divided over the continuation of the so-called National Unity Government with the UNP and a split seems to be imminent.
On the other hand, the UNP leadership has temporarily suppressed a rebellion against it with a promise to reorganise the party.
The President is increasingly being isolated by his coalition partner as well as the members of his own party.
It was against this backdrop that he prorogued the Parliament on April 12, on the eve of the New Year holidays.
The statement by Minister Lakshman Kiriella this week that there was no specific reason for the prorogation of Parliament and it was only a tradition was an insult to the people’s intellect.
Had it been done according to tradition it wouldn’t have been a surprise move. Here, even the top leaders of the two main parties in the ruling coalition were caught off-guard by the President’s move.
There is no doubt that the President prorogued Parliament in order to buy time to decide and prepare for his next move in his desperate attempt to bolster his sagging grip over his party as well as the Government.
This reminds us of two similar incidents where a Prime Minister and a President had prorogued Parliament to save them from an apparent threat of ouster.
It would have been embarrassing for the UNP as the ministries that had been tasked to take action against corruption were held by UNP Ministers
In February 1977 Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike, threatened by a No-Confidence Motion by her one-time coalition partner Lanka Sama Samaja Party with the assistance of the main Opposition UNP, prorogued the National State Assembly (NSA), the then Parliament.
And she dissolved the Assembly on May 18 the same year without reconvening it. President Ranasinghe Premadasa, who had been threatened with an impeachment motion by the dissidents of his party, the former ministers Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake in 1991 also prorogued the Parliament in order to buy time to decide on his next move to scuttle the motion. However, the motion was dismissed by Speaker M.H. Mohamed on the grounds of insufficient signatures in it, when the House was reconvened.
Despite the Local Government Elections in February and the No-Confidence Motion against the Prime Minister being seen as the immediate cause for the present crisis in the government and in its two main parties, the conflicts within the Government has been festering since 2016.
And interestingly the large-scale corruption allegedly committed by the leaders of the former as well as the present administrations seems to be the chief contributing factor for the conflicts within the Government as well as for the present political crisis in the country.
It must be recalled that President Sirisena in an unexpected turn of events in October 2016 launched a scathing attack on the Bribery Commission, Criminal Investigation De
partment (CID) and the Financial Crimes Investigating Division (FCID) of the Police claiming that the three institutions had been politicized.
Later he and Minister Rajitha Senaratne justified his controversial statement by saying that the three institutions were very slow in looking into the high-profile acts of corruption committed by the leaders of the former regime.
However, it would have been an embarrassing situation for the UNP as the ministries that had been tasked to take action against corruption were held by UNP Ministers.
The President again in July last year accused the UNP, this time directly, for delaying and even stalling investigations against the leaders of the previous Government. During a Cabinet meeting, he had reportedly challenged to catch the thieves within three months if the Police and the Attorney General’s Department were brought under him.
Then he was critical of the UNP’s apparent connivance in the Central Bank bond scam and appointed a Presidential Commission of inquiry to probe the highly controversial transaction.
The local council elections became a turning point in the relationship between the SLFP and the UNP and it has apparently marked the beginning of the downfall of the yahapalanaya government
The proceedings of the commission led to the resignation of UNP Assistant Leader Ravi Karunanayake from his ministerial portfolio on August 10, last year which in turn led to Justice and Buddha Sasana Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe stepping down from his post 13 days later.
The President, who went public with allegations of corruption against the UNP during the recent local elections, called for the resignation of the Prime Minister after the humiliating defeat of the election. In fact the local council election defeat of the UNP can be attributed to the bond scam, among others, as 1.5 million out of 5 million voters who voted for the UNP in August 2015 had rejected the party this time while the SLFP and the UPFA had received the same number of votes (1.5 million).
The local council elections became a turning point in the relationship between the SLFP and the UNP and have apparently marked the beginning of the downfall of the Yahapalanaya Government.
While heightening the strife between the two parties in the Government it also gave a huge morale boost to the Mahinda Rajapaksa camp which instilled fear in the minds of many members of SLFP on their survival.
Despite the defeat of the NCM against the Prime Minister on April 4 being a temporary setback for the former President and his loyalists, it has yielded to them by way of dividing the SLFP and further antagonizing the two ruling parties.
A shortsighted UNP demanded the resignation of the SLFP members who voted in favour of the NCM from their posts.
Rajapaksa promptly responded by an open invitation for them to join his camp.
In the face of the political trend created by the local elections in the country, the 16 MPs would happily accept the invitation. Former Minister S.B. Dissanayake, a well-known turncoat had already stated that those who voted for the NCM would form an alliance with the Joint Opposition.
The President seems to have prorogued the Parliament to prevent or delay this crossover.
The crisis of the present Government is nothing but one of its own making.
Had it been honest in its promise to take action against corruption, the Rajapaksa camp would have now been in disarray. But the UNP seems to have wanted to divide the SLFP by not weakening the Rajapaksa faction of the SLFP. Had the Government also prevented the bond fraud or taken the culprits to task at its initial stage and had they been honest in their promise to create one million job opportunities in five years, there wouldn’t have been such an erosion in the UNP vote base.