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New Year dawns with Political challenges for the country

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The New Year dawned with people exchanging well wishes, but politically speaking the country is poised to face mounting challenges 

The New Year dawned with people exchanging well wishes. However,    politically speaking, the country is poised to be riddled with more and more challenges in the months to come.   

The United National Party (UNP), with the overt support of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the covert support of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), managed to return to power after its dismissal   from power on October 26, 2018.  Back in power, the UNP has to overcome many a hurdle in the consolidation of its base under trying circumstances. 

The latest challenge came from its own backbenchers whose disgruntlement over the non-receipt of Cabinet portfolios is laid bare before the whole country.  The UNP legislators, including the likes of Chaminda Wijesiri, Lakshman Wijemanne, Hector Appuhamy and Harshana Rajakaruna, voiced their disappointments in public for their exclusion from the Cabinet. 

Most of these MPs were regular givers of press conferences on behalf the party from the beginning.  They may believe that such acts give them the qualification to be Cabinet Ministers.  Some of them called themselves working elephants, not parading elephants. 

The UNP leadership is at a loss because the Cabinet cannot exceed more than 30 Ministers except in the case of a National Government.   To overcome this problem, the UNP is now exploring the possibility of striking a deal with the lone MP elected on the ticket of Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) to form a National Government. 

The Government has consulted the Attorney General in this respect.  The UNP would be able to resolve their internal issue only if a National Government is formed.  Otherwise, the internal crisis would be fermented ahead of vital elections scheduled for this year. 

Most of these MPs were regular givers of press conferences on behalf the party from the beginning.  They may believe that such acts give them the qualification to be Cabinet Ministers

The present Government only enacted the 19th Amendment providing for the restriction of the size of the Cabinet to 30. The argument was that a jumbo Cabinet for a small country like Sri Lanka was a drain on the economy. That a Cabinet of 30 would suffice to govern a country of only 20 million people was the point that the advocates of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution tried to drive home at that time. 

A bulk of members of the present Parliament also voted for it.  Nonetheless, they are not ready to serve them with Cabinet perks.   It has put the UNP or the Government in difficulty, making it practically impossible to accommodate all of them in a limited Cabinet. 

 It has compelled the Government to explore any loophole in the law to be exploited as a way out to increase the size of the Cabinet. Otherwise, it would only widen the chasm within the government.   These MPs also make veiled threats that they would sit independent of the party in Parliament. 

Ravi K fights in Cabinet 

On the one hand, the MPs who were excluded from the Cabinet rebelled against the party in this manner. On the other hand, some MPs who received Cabinet posts are displeased with the subjects and responsibilities assigned to them.

Colombo district MP Ravi Karunanayake desired to be the Finance Minister once again. Instead, he was not given the post following resistance by the MPs from his own party. Finally, he was sworn in as the minister for Power and Energy. Today, he seems to be creating trouble for the government for not being given the Finance Ministry to him. 

Against this backdrop, the first Cabinet of the newly formed Government met with President Maithripala Sirisena in the chair for the New Year yesterday. 

The new Government’s move to raise US $ 1600 million by issuing Sri Lanka Development Bonds  through the state banks was taken up for discussion.  Karunanayake, distraught for not getting the Finance Ministry, objected to the move tooth and nail.   The Government is set to raise money in this manner for debt servicing. According to Cabinet sources, the Ministers asked Karunanayake to put forward an alternative if he is  opposed to the issue of Development Bonds.  

“It was known well in advance that some debts will mature this year. You must have had a plan for their repayment.  If you have appointed competent people, let them do it!” he retorted to the Ministers. 

Kiriella struggles to get back state banks 

In another instance, Public Enterprise Development Minister Lakshman Kiriella was in for a rude shock since some institutions such as the state banks held by him, were placed under the purview of Finance    Minister Mangala Samaraweera. He was openly critical of the President for stripping him of these vital institutions.  In fact, he viewed it as a revengeful act by the President since he played a leading role in unseating the 50-day government installed on October 26, 2018.  Kiriella raised the matter with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Afterwards, Wickremesinghe wrote to the President.

The President had taken note of Kirella’s disillusionment when he attended yesterday’s Cabinet meeting.    

“I heard that   I had been accused of taking revenge on you. There is nothing like that,” he told Kiriella.

The President agreed to sort out the matter shortly. 

On the one hand, the MPs who were excluded from the Cabinet rebelled against the party in this manner. On the other hand, some MPs who received Cabinet posts are displeased with the subjects and responsibilities assigned to them

Attempt to induce UPFA MP thwarted 

Another move to lure MPs to the Government through the offer of cash inducements is currently underway. It is reportedly linked to the move to enact the new Constitution with the approval of two-thirds in Parliament. 

TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran told the media recently that the new Constitution would be placed before Parliament soon.  

This has set the cat among the pigeons. The United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), which is opposed to the new Constitution, panicked over this move and ventured out to preempt moves by some elements to win over its MPs.

In the event of a new Constitution placed before the House, the government will have the support of nearly 130 MPs inclusive of those of the TNA and the JVP.  It runs short of only 20 MPs to muster the two-thirds, it means.   

According to political sources, a colossal sum of money has been offered to one UPFA MP representing the Anuradhapura district. The UPFA believes that this is a plan to rope in MPs for the enactment of the new Constitution.  

In the event of a new Constitution placed before the House, the government will have the support of nearly 130 MPs inclusive of those of the TNA and the JVP.  It runs short of only 20 MPs to muster the two-thirds, it means

Anuradhapura district UPFA leader S.M. Chandrasena had to make a great deal of persuasion to stop this MP from crossing over to the other side.  Alongside, the National University Teachers’ Association (NUTA), which is the academic wing of the UPFA, got active on this and   requested the MPs in writing not to raise their hands in support of the new Constitution, come what may. 

In fact, a team of UPFA MPs who are uncomfortable with Opposition Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa is planning to join hands with the Government. The President’s refusal to swear them in the Cabinet is a deterrent for their intended plan. 

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