The 19th Amendment to the Constitution has barred President Maithripala Sirisena from dissolving Parliament for four and half years from its first sitting day. (REUTERS)
The political equation is constantly changing these days making it difficult for anyone to conclude which side would emerge with the required parliamentary majority to form a stable administration by the time Parliament meets on November 14. The United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) led by President Maithripala Sirisena was scoring high in the political scorecard with the support of 105 members in comparison to the United National Party’s (UNP) 98 seats early this week. However, the UPFA suffered a setback when MP Manusha Nanayakkara, who was sworn in as a Deputy Minister, relinquished his office and stood with the UNP leadership.
It delt a psychological blow to the game of toing and froing. Perplexed, the other members, who had initial plans to switch allegiance to the new Government, now have second thoughts regarding their moves. It has led to the delay in the swearing in of Cabinet Ministers. The remaining 13 Cabinet slots are kept open for anyone defecting from the UNP.
The current crisis has already created a split in the TNA
It is no longer a political exercise driven by policies or ideals. Instead, it is a game of luring members by both sides who are offering lucrative inducements in terms of cash or ministerial perks, if not both. Political integrity, ideals and policies hold little or no value in this game. It has immensely dented the image of MPs before the general public.
By Tuesday, there was disillusionment within certain quarters of the UPFA as some of the UNPers who gave firm assurances earlier were backtracking from their stands. It has happened because the monetary deals they expected were not in their favour.
They were reportedly demanding better packages of cash inducements in addition to ministerial posts.
As reported, on the one hand, these MPs who plan to cross over bargain with the other side to get better deals. At the same time, they also try to make demands from their own party hierarchy threatening to quit unless they agree to them.
In a sense, it is now an opportunity for some cash- strapped politicians to straighten out their financial difficulties.
Crossovers can keep the balance of political power in favour of either side by the day.
As reported, on the one hand, these MPs who plan to cross over bargain with the other side to get better deals. At the same time, they also try to make demands from their own party
By last Sunday, the ground situation looked favourable to the UPFA. There was a glimmer of hope for them as UNP MP for the Puttalam district Asoka Priyantha switched allegiance to them. Nevertheless, it flickered out on Tuesday as Manusha Nanayakkara returned to the UNP. Things became even arduous for the UPFA since the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) decided to throw their weight behind the UNP. They put their stand in a couched language.
Come what may, the country is poised to be politically volatile, unstable and ungovernable. Even if the new Government secures a majority in Parliament, it won’t be a close- knit political front. To govern the country with a loose coalition will be uncomfortable and impractical in the long run. In case, the UNP manages to pass no confidence motion against the Prime Minister, the Cabinet will stand dissolved, but not Parliament. Then, the President will have to appoint another person as the Prime Minister. One cannot expect the President to reconsider Wickremesinghe to the post given the rancour between the two reaching an all-time high. Hypothetically, the appointment of another from the UNP as the PM will create rumblings.
As such, the dissolution of Parliament is the only option and declaring a snap general election looks the most viable option. However, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution has barred President Maithripala Sirisena from dissolving Parliament for four and half years from its first sitting day. If it is to be dissolved before that, a resolution should be passed by two-thirds in Parliament and communicated to the President. It is only possible if the UPFA and the UNP agree. As things stand at the moment, it is unrealistic to anticipate the two parties to strike such a deal.
Therefore, it is reported that President Sirisena is currently mulling a referendum to seek public approval for the dissolution. It is at the sole discretion of the President to declare a referendum on any matter of public interest in his opinion.
Article 86 of the Constitution says, “The President may, subject to the provisions of Article 85, submit to the People by Referendum any matter which in the opinion of the President is of national importance”.
Accordingly, there is a discourse among the legal luminaires associated with the new Government in this regard. The President can seek approval of the people by a referendum to dissolve Parliament. If the people voted in favour of the proposal, the President can proceed with his action overriding current barriers.
Come what may, the country is poised to be politically volatile, unstable and ungovernable. Even if the new Government secures a majority in Parliament, it won’t be a close- knit political front
SLMC, ACMC in moral dilemma
The current political impasse has become a matter of concern for two parties representing the Muslims – Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) and All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC). SLMC Leader Rauff Hakeem and ACMC Leader Rishad Bathiudeen have decided to remain with the UNP.
Let alone, they are perturbed over purported moves by the UPFA to woo their members individually regardless of their party position. According to inside political sources, these two leaders are in a quandary as to what they should do to keep their parties intact amids such attempts.During the past few days, the SLMC engaged with its rank and file, and the Muslim clerics. The Muslim community, by and large, is still with the UNP. Against the backdrop, any crossover from the SLMC or the ACMC will be viewed as an action done purely for monetary gains.
SLMCers describe their current moral dilemma in this regard in reference to the Tamil proverb which says, ‘if anyone drinks milk under a Palmyra tree, onlookers will assume him to be drinking toddy.”
Tamil politicians emulate Muslim counterparts
The current crisis has already created a split in the TNA. Already, its MP for the Batticaloa district S. Viyalendran has taken oath as a Deputy Minister. The TNA rides on the Tamil nationalist sentiments of people in the north and the east and gets votes in en bloc in most cases. Political rights dominate their campaign themes. In fact, development is hardly talked of in their manifestos. This has been the established practice in Tamil politics in the north and the east. The established Muslim parties act otherwise in these two provinces. They have the practice of teaming up with the party in power and getting the development needs of their constituents addressed. So, in the eastern province in particular, vast disparities exist between the Tamil and Muslim majority areas as far as development is concerned. This phenomenon has now driven Tamil politicians to emulate their Muslim counterparts because otherwise their constituencies will continue to lag behind leaving people in backwaters.
Mr. Viyalendran’s crossover to the Government can be viewed in that context. That is to be party to the Government and develop their areas.