If Rajapaksa withdraws from the fray UNP will face a dilemma with President attempting to appoint anyone other than Ranil Wickremesinghe
Within ten years from 1989 to 1999-India saw eight regime changes of which only three had been effected through Lok Sabha (Parliament) elections.
In all other instances, new governments assumed office due to the previous ones failed to prove their majority in the Lok Sabha.
After a decade-long rule by the Gandhi family, Janatha Dal leader V.P. Singh came to power as Prime Minister in 1989 but his administration collapsed in 11 months for want of majority, when the BJP withdrew support, following a row over Babri Masjid issue.
It paved the way for Samajwadi Party leader Chandrasekhar to become the Prime Minister, despite his party commanding the support of only 46 out of 545 members of the Parliament.
When Rajiv Gandhi withdrew support to Chandrasekhar government after three months over an alleged spying incident near the former’s residence, that government also fell.
Since no party came forward to take the reins of the country the President ordered a fresh election in 1991during which Rajiv Gandhi was killed by the LTTE. Backed by Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK, P.V. Narasimha Rao of the Congress Party assumed office then and he was lucky to complete his five-year term.
BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was sworn in as the next Premier after the 1996 general election was in office only 12 days as he was defeated at a confidence vote in the Lok Sabha. Before the 1998 election, another two governments of Prime Ministers H.D. Deve Gowda and Inder Kumar Gujral of United Front fell for want of majority in the House after the Congress Party withdrew support to them. The second government of Vajpayee which was voted in at the 1998 election also faced the same fate when J. Jayalalithaa pulled the carpet under his feet in April 1999.
However, never during this period, a constitutional crisis, such as the one Sri Lanka is currently embroiled in, cropped up in India for the simple reason that the country put in practice a procedure where a confidence vote is taken after every regime change and every major crossover.
This is not only to test the ability of the new ruling party to run the government, rather test thereby the validity of the President’s opinion that his nominee for the premiership commands the confidence of Parliament.
"In a practical sense, Prime Minister Rajapaksa cannot ensure getting any Bill or motion carried in Parliament even if his group is the largest single group, without the support of 113 members"
The absence of such a procedure has landed Sri Lanka now in a constitutional mess as well as a political impasse.
In fact, there is no Constitutional conundrum or a political deadlock hadn’t there been manoeuvring by several leaders for their very political survival. Also, the shamelessness of politicians has also largely contributed to the current imbroglio. To put it in simple terms, both Mahinda Rajapaksa who was appointed Prime Minister on October 26 and Ranil Wickremesinghe who was ousted from the same post on the same day must be ashamed to lay claim to the premiership now without a working majority in the Parliament.
In spite of President Sirisena and Rajapaksa loyalists having claimed earlier that Rajapaksa commanded the confidence of majority members of Parliament; the new ministers now claim that they are the largest single group in the House and that qualifies them to lay claim to the government. That too seems to be wrong.
After the regime change by President Maithripala Sirisena, nine MPs – seven from the United National Front (UNF) and one each from EPDP and TNA - joined hands with Rajapaksa.
Thus, the UNF strength came down from 106 (105 UNPers plus a solitary SLMC member) to 99 while the UPFA amassed 104 seats in the Parliament.
Later, two of those crossed over to the UPFA returned to the UNF’s fold and Manusha Nanayakkara also crossed over to the UNF. Hence, the new ratio between the UNF and the UPFA stands now at 102:101. They along with the Speaker, 15 remaining TNA members and 6 JVP members make up the 225 member House.
On the other hand, a working majority in Parliament is not a party or a group being the largest single group. It is not a matter of prestige, nor is it a matter of ritual; rather it is a matter of practicality.
A ruling party must have a relatively consistent majority power to adopt Bills and motions it presents in the House.
Otherwise, no party or group can run a government or at least a Pradeshiya Sabha.
In a practical sense, Prime Minister Rajapaksa cannot ensure getting any Bill or motion carried in Parliament even if his group is the largest single group, without the support of 113 members.
Mahinda Rajapaksa and Ranil Wickremesinghe must be ashamed to lay claim to the premiership
A working majority in Parliament is not a matter of prestige, nor ritual; it is a matter of practicality
President says the way the motions were carried was legally acceptable but morally not. …morality had no place in this issue
The situation demands sanity and compromise on the part of the stakeholders
Already, two no-confidence motions against Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his Cabinet with 122 signatures have been passed in the Parliament after October 26, despite the legality of their passage being challenged by those supporting Rajapaksa. And another motion for the appointment of a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) has also been adopted with 121 members electronically voting, while the Rajapaksa loyalists had walked out.
President Maithripala Sirisena in an interview with our sister paper The Sunday Times last week had not said that the way the two no-faith motions were passed was illegal.
He says “Standing Orders can be suspended and a vote can be taken by a voice count by the Speaker….Though there is a provision in the Standing Orders, a majority voice vote on a matter of changing the government, nationally important, is not suitable….If the Speaker had taken a vote by name than a voice vote, that would have been better…”
"This is not only to test the ability of the new ruling party to run the government, rather test thereby the validity of the President’s opinion that his nominee for the premiership commands the confidence of Parliament"
In other words, he says the way the motions were carried was legally acceptable but morally not. However, the whole world including the President was watching how the Mahinda loyalists prevented the Speaker from taking a roll-call of the names and was forced to take a voice vote.
Besides, morality had no place in this whole issue.
How could the President morally justify his appointment of Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister, when it was clear that the latter did not and still does not “command the confidence of the Parliament?
What were the moral grounds that would justify both the prorogation and the dissolution of the Parliament, when it is also clear that it was the majority issue that prompted him to take those steps?
It is true, that the Speaker at least on one occasion acted in favour of the UNP, his party when he said soon after the appointment of Rajapaksa as the Prime Minister that he would not accept that appointment.
At a time when the UNP had not legally challenged the sacking of its leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister, Speaker has to accept the new appointment and put it to test in the House, as happens in India.
The Mahinda loyalists seem to boycott the Parliament till the Supreme Court ruling on December 7 against the President’s November 9 decision to dissolve the Parliament, as they fear vote takings on any matter in the House. If the Supreme Court ruling went against the dissolution, Rajapaksa would have to face this situation till February 2020 when the Parliament completes four and a half years since its first meeting in August 2015, during which he would have to pass two budgets among others. Hence, the situation demands sanity and compromise on the part of the stakeholders.
In an unlikely withdrawal of Rajapaksa from the fray, it is the UNP that would face the harshest situation, as there is a possibility of the President attempting to appoint Sajith Premadasa or another from the UNP to the post of Prime Minister. That might bring in cracks in the UNP in the light of the Sajith factor already has made inroads into the rank and file of the party.