For a parliamentarian, the biggest concern is to get re-elected to Parliament over and over again until he or she retires from politics.
When President Maithripala Sirisena finally succumbed to pressure and reappointed United National Party (UNP) Leader Ranil Wickremesimnghe as the Prime Minister, the dust looked settled as far as the political crisis was concerned. Instead, it was a relative lull. The crisis is not yet over as the UNP is struggling to finalise the list of Cabinet Ministers.
It is true by all means that the path is cleared for the UNP to form the Government. Be that as it may, it would not be a smooth sailing for the UNP to run the Government under a President who is now even more hostile towards it. Also, this UNP-led Government would not in anyway be as strong as it used to be before October 26.
Before October 26, the UNP –led unity Government enjoyed a clear cut majority in Parliament. In fact, it fell short of a few seats only to muster the two-thirds. Today, it is bound to lead a Government that has to depend on the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in the opposition for crucial support as and when the situation demands.
The UNP faces some electoral compulsions in counting on the TNA to run the Government. Giving into the demands put forward by the TNA will be an unpopular move in the Sinhala majority electorates of the country. The release of the LTTE suspects commonly called ‘Tamil political prisoners’ and the evolution of a constitutional package are among the TNA’s demands for it to support the UNP while being in the opposition during this trying time. Yet, for the UNP, it involves a political cost to implement these demands. Against the backdrop, some UNP MPs such as Patali Champika Ranawaka insist that it should win over at least ten MPs from the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) to clinch the simple majority of 113 in the House.
It is nothing new that the MPs cross the floor of the House to join another party. It happened both during the last and the present Parliament.
The three UPFA MPs- Gamini Wijith Wijeyamuni Zoysa, Lakshman Seneviratne and Indika Bandaranayake- crossed the floor of the House on Tuesday to join hands with the UNP. The wide perception is that such crossovers are triggered by horse trading. The MPs are lured to switch allegiance from one party to another through the offer of cash inducements. One cannot rule it out. In fact, it has marred South Asian politics today, let alone Sri Lanka.
All in all, it is not the sole reason that compelled parliamentarians to break ranks with their parties and join another in politics. For them, there are other reasons as well. For a parliamentarian, the biggest concern is to get re-elected to Parliament over and over again until they retire from politics. According to the present electoral system of proportional representation, an electoral district returns a certain quota of members to Parliament. Then, each political party and independent group in the fray have to fight for a limited number of slots. When the political situation in the country develops or unfolds, some serving parliamentarians get well entrenched in politics and are able to consolidate their electoral holds. Alongside, there are others who are pushed to the margin triggering concerns about their inability to be re-elected from their present political party of choice. Under such circumstances, these MPs who sense their imminent defeat tend to look for opportunities in another party. Accordingly, crossovers are sometimes a phenomena triggered by such concerns.
As for the latest crossovers, it appeared to be the most plausible reason. MP Gamini Wijitha Wijeyamuni Zoysa contested the election from the Moneragala district last time. He could not get elected, but was later nominated to Parliament on the National List of the UPFA. It is difficult for him to get elected from that side next time either. As a result, it would have compelled him to look for an opportunity with the UNP this time. The same goes for Seneviratne and Bandaranayake.
The UNP faces some electoral compulsions in counting on the TNA to run the Government. Giving into the demands put forward by the TNA will be an unpopular move in the Sinhala majority electorates of the country
However, the UNP is at a loss on how to accommodate these crossovers in the Cabinet. According to the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, the size of the Cabinet has to be restricted to 30 except in the case of a national government. During the last Cabinet prior to October 26, there were 32 UNPers holding Cabinet posts. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has proposed to give Cabinet posts to MPs Ravi Karunanayake and Palitha Range Bandara. It means four UNP MPs who served in the previous Cabinet should opt out to accommodate these MPs and to restrict the number of Ministers to 30.
According to UNP sources, the party initially expected its senior MPs such as Gamini Jayawickrama Perera and D.M. Swaminathan to stay away this time. But, neither of them stepped down. So, UNP MP Malik Samarawickrama, at the UNP parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday, offered to remain without a portfolio this time. Along with him, MPs Mano Ganeshan and Rishad Bathiudeen agreed to do so. Let alone, the UNP insisted that they should remain in the Cabinet as vital stakeholders of the Government.
UNP Deputy Leader Sajith Premadasa sounded a warning against giving Cabinet posts to those tainted with allegations of corruption and frauds. “Our party has gained a bit now. We have to improve on it. We should not fall back again by appointing fraudsters to the Cabinet posts,” he said.
Ravi K insistent on Finance Ministry MP Karunanayake is adamant that he should be appointed as the Finance Minister. It is reported that he boycotted some meetings as a mark of protest over some MPs’ reluctance to give him the post. Most MPs don’t mind him being given a Cabinet portfolio, but not the Finance Ministry. It has created an impasse in the appointment of the Cabinet Ministers.
Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), headed by President Sirisena, had its Central Committee meeting on Tuesday evening. It is the first such meeting after the party severed its ties with the unity government.
Tension at SLFP CC meeting There was tension at the meeting after some MPs such as Dayasiri Jayasekara proposed to take disciplinary action against those who teamed up with the UNP regardless of the party’s decision to remain in the opposition.
MPs Duminda Dissanayake, Mahinda Amaraweera and Mahinda Samarasinghe confronted it saying there was no basis for such action. “If we take such action against them, we will have to institute disciplinary action against those who obtained the membership of Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP),” they said.
This created dissension within the SLFP with one section making the allegation against the other that it was clearing the path for the UNP to lure the SLFPers. After such tension, the SLFP, however, discussed the need to revive the party. For this purpose, a membership drive will be launched lasting one month, early next year.
Political crisis a loss for SLPP on the one hand, and a gain on the other
Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) is also to undertake a re-organization campaign early next year. Its population was a bit on the wane after it was forced out of power through parliamentary and judicial actions. In one aspect, the party lost a bit in terms of its popularity. At the same time, it also made gains from this whole exercise. First, its leader Mahinda Rajapaksa managed to become the Opposition Leader in Parliament. Also, it denied the UNP two-thirds majority in the House.
As the main opposition, it will also get substantial representation in the Constitutional Council that makes vital appointments in the Government sector and the judiciary. The political crisis ended with a defeat for the SLPP on the one hand, and a gain on the other.