Ahead of the court ruling, the UNP opted to move a vote of confidence in Parliament for its leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to become the Prime Minister.
The political gridlock takes a turn for the worse each passing day pending the ruling by the Supreme Court on Fundamental Rights Applications filed in regards to dissolution of Parliament. It is even compounded by the fact that the Court of Appeal has restrained Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his Cabinet from functioning.
Against this backdrop, President Maithripala Sirisena convened a meeting of the Government members, including Rajapaksa, on Monday to take stock of the current crisis and to decide on the way forward. The Cabinet Ministers opined that a huge volume of work remained incomplete at their ministries since they had no way of dispensing with them under the current circumstances triggered by the restraining order
- If the court rules to the effect that the dissolution of Parliament by the President is alright, it will be a political bonus for the Government which is agitating for a General Election
- The faction led by Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) commonly called ‘Pohottuwa group’ stands for relinquishing office in the Government to reorganise the party if the Court rules out dissolution
They said that there were vital functions to be discharged only with their signatures, but nothing could be done due to the restraining order. As such President Sirisena said that he would engage the Supreme Court through the Attorney General to give the ruling as early as possible. The Government is truly engulfed in a crisis. It is at a loss how to break the impasse. Let alone, it decided to work out its next strategy only after the Court ruling is given.
Pending the court ruling, the Government decided to be ready to face any eventuality. If the court rules to the effect that the dissolution of Parliament by the President is alright, it will be a political bonus for the Government which is agitating for a General Election. Otherwise, the Government or the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) has to give mind to what should be done. If that is the case, the Government decided at the meeting that it would honour the verdict by the country’s highest court and work out the next political strategy depending on the circumstances.
The UPFA is divided on this matter and harbours two schools of thought. The faction led by Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) commonly called ‘Pohottuwa group’ stands for relinquishing office in the Government to reorganise the party if the Court rules out dissolution. Nevertheless, the other group, primarily consisting of the UPFA allies, opines that fresh attempts should be made to strengthen the government and proceed without allowing the UNP to take over power.
For the second time in a week, the UPFA gave serious thought to the present predicament when it met again with the President on Tuesday evening at the Presidential Secretariat. The meeting lasted for an hour.
Come what may, the President instructed all the alliance partners to remain as a well-knit group to face future elections. He said the year 2019 would be an election year, and therefore all the political forces, opposed to the United National Party (UNP), should firm up. Citing that any discord among these parties and group would not augur well for the future, he asked them to meet at least once a week to sort out issues cropping up on and off.
At the meeting, the MPs such as Wimal Weerawansa and Vasudeva Nanayakkara interpreted the Constitution to drive home their point that dissolution of Parliament could be referred to approval of people by referendum in case the Supreme Court rules otherwise.
According to the Constitution, the President can refer to the people by referendum any matter which is of national importance in his opinion. These two Ministers referred to this particular clause in the Constitution. The President did not give a direct reply to them. Instead, he asked a public opinion to be created in this respect.
Besides, at this meeting, he was, once again, critical of UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe. In his latest tirade against the UNP leadership, he said that Wickremesinghe did not allow him to do anything during the last three and half years. He said Wickremesinghe was so enraged by the release of the report on the Central Bank’s bond fraud that he behaved like a mad man.
Subsequent to the release of the report, the President said certain investigative officers were threatened and some even tried to flee the country in fear. Kalutara district MP Vidura Wickramanayake chipped in at this point and asked as to why the President, as the Head of State, did not retort Wickremesinghe.“Mr. Wickremesinghe was the Prime Minister. But, you are the President. You could have retorted him with more vigour if he tried to undermine your work,” he told the President. Afterwards, the President responded saying that he had to restrain himself on such occasions.
Parties brace for elections
Whatever the court ruling might be, both the UNP and the SLPP are preparing for elections by reviving their organisational mechanisms at grassroots level. SLPP convened all its electoral organisers for a meeting on Tuesday in Colombo to weigh the present status of politics and gear up for any election at any given time. Likewise, the UNP is conducting its electoral organisations’ meetings (Bala Mandala) countrywide in an apparent move to position the party to face elections.
Ahead of the court ruling, the UNP opted to move a vote of confidence in Parliament for its leader Ranil Wickremesinghe to become the Prime Minister. The UNP moved such a motion yesterday despite the tough stand taken by the President not to reappoint Wickremesinghe to the post, no matter what.
In general, the idea for a change in the party leadership has gained ground at present. Be that as it may, the UNP believes Wickremesinghe should be appointed as the Prime Minister this time. For that purpose, it is wooing the support of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to obtain the required majority of 113 MPs. It involves a political cost for the UNP. The TNA, at least a section of it, insists that the UNP should commit to address some of their key grievances as a condition for their support.
The acceptance of these demands such as the merger of the north and the east and the release of the LTTE suspects would cost the UNP dearly in doing politics in the Sinhala majority areas of the country. As a result, UNP Chairman of the Kegalle district MP Kabir Hashim was at pain at a political meeting in Ruwanwella on Tuesday to assure people that no such agreement was reached with the TNA for its support in Parliament.
No smooth sailing for UNP
All the parties position themselves for elections next year in this manner. Even if the Supreme Court rules out dissolution, the political parties will be compelled at one point to go for a parliamentary election by passing a resolution in Parliament with a two-third of the votes. For that purpose, there is clear- cut constitutional provision.
In case, the UNP forms a new Government using its parliamentary majority ensured by the TNA’s support, it won’t be as strong as it used to be prior to October 26, 2018. It is bound to be a minority Government. First and foremost, the UPFA will not team up with the UNP again to form a national Unity Government. Alongside, the UNP will have to work under the President who is even more hostile to it under the latest developments.
The President would assert himself in full measure when such a Government discharges its duties, using powers vested upon him as the Head of State. By all accounts, it will not be smooth sailing for the UNP to administrate a Government. Finally, the circumstances would prevail upon all the parties, willingly or unwilling, to opt for a general elections at an agreed time. Already, discussions are underway in this direction. It will happen probably during the first half of next year.