The policy statement scheduled to be made by President Maithripala Sirisena today only fulfils a tradition. Had it been like the one made by the head of the state in the past the Opposition would have made a big fuss about it, on the basis that a vote on it would then be a must and therefore the Opposition would attempt to topple the government by defeating it. However, the policy statements of governments set up after the first Republican Constitution of 1972 are not do-or-die events.
Today’s policy statement would be unique because of the fact that it would be made by a President who is the leader of a political party explaining the policies, programmes and plans of a government mainly consisting of members of a rival party. Though he might call the government as “his” government, going by the tradition, it cannot be the policy statement of his party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), but it would be the policy statement of the United National Party (UNP), the main constituent of the government.
The two parties, when they started their joint political journey in January 2015 as the alternative to the deposed Mahinda Rajapaksa government, promised the country to implement a common political, economic and social programme, instilling high hopes in the minds of the people of this country. However, the past three years saw no nationwide development programme implemented by the two parties, leave alone it being a common programme.
True, the government had boasted of some programmes, such as the anti-corruption drive and winning the international community but it has proved that the two parties were not in unison on those issues. Also President Sirisena would not be able to boast this time about a government formed by the two main rival parties in the country, as he did when he delivered his previous policy statement in September, 2015, because of the fact that the very same two parties are now at each others throats.
Eradication of corruption was a main promise given to the people by President Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at the 2015 presidential and parliamentary elections and it was a major issue stressed in the President’s previous policy statement as well. Yet, the issue later became a bone of contention between the two parties with the Prime Minister’s party being accused of conniving with the accused of one of the biggest cases of fraud in Sri Lanka’s history -- the Central Bank bond scam. Three ministers were compelled to resign from their posts, after they were accused of being hand-in-glove with those involved in high profile frauds, despite two of them having been reabsorbed into the Cabinet later.
The two parties were also attacking each other at the recently concluded local government elections with the President accusing his partner in governance of aiding and abetting in the Central Bank bond scam. In fact the bickering between the two parties contributed in a big way to the humiliating election defeat suffered by the two parties in governance. The President had even wanted to remove the Prime Minister after the elections while the UNP was wanting to form the government of its own. Finally, admitting that they have no option other than to put up with each other, they settled their issues at least for the moment. It is against this backdrop that the President is delivering his policy statement on behalf of the government in which the UNP has the upper hand.
So many other differences between the two parties too emerged during the past three years with the President using his executive powers to scrap the institutions formed by the UNP-led government and to revoke some of the decisions taken by the government.
Thus the policy statement made by the President in 2015 had proved futile. One should expect the President, the Prime Minister and the government as a whole to have learned a lesson from the past. It is the fervent hope of the people that today’s policy statement would be one which is pragmatic and result-oriented and the government leaders would collectively work to see it implemented, instead of being at loggerheads with each other.